Politics & Policy

The Unintended Consequences of Interventionism

Libya’s civil war should have never been our fight.

On Saturday, our State Department fled the chaos of the Libyan civil war. One wonders if President Obama ever reconsiders his unilateral presidential war with Libya?

President Obama went to war in Libya without congressional authority. The Constitution is quite clear: The power to go to war resides with the legislature. Madison made this point explicit when he wrote: 

The Constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war to the Legislature.

President Obama is not the first president to ignore the Constitution and Madison’s warning. But the tense situation in Libya is but the latest example of unintended consequences.

Not only was President Obama’s war in Libya unconstitutional, it made the region less stable. Like the Iraq War, the Libya war was well intentioned — its purpose was to remove a dictator. But the problem is that what replaced the dictator was a jihadist wonderland full of chaos and more war.

Some will argue that a bombing campaign without troops on the ground is not war. Would they have made the same argument when the Japanese bombed us at Pearl Harbor?

There was a time when President Obama thought the Constitution mattered.

As a candidate Obama said,

The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

He then elaborated:

History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action. 

Few, if any, Americans would call President Obama’s intervention in Libya a success.

I once asked the president why he reneged on his campaign pledge to consult Congress before going to war. He replied that Benghazi was in imminent danger from Qaddafi’s tanks.

Really? The standard for undeclared war is now anyone, anywhere being in “imminent danger”? I think many of President Obama’s original supporters should be dismayed to find out that imminent danger doesn’t mean imminent danger to the United States or our citizens.

A year after Obama’s unconstitutional 2011 intervention in Libya, Americans in Benghazi would face imminent danger from extremists. Ambassador Christopher Stevens requested that the Obama administration give them the proper tools and military manpower to protect them from any threats.

When it came to protecting Americans from imminent danger, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration ignored the requests of Ambassador Stevens.

When the Libyan war began, I warned the president of the unintended consequences of unilateral presidential intervention:

Libyan president Moammar Qadaffi is every bit the madman Ronald Reagan once said he was, but are the rebels adherents to Jeffersonian democracy or Bin Laden’s radical jihad? . . .

When, or if, there is regime change in Libya, what kind of leadership, exactly, will replace Qadaffi? Who are the Libyan rebels exactly? . . . some Libyan rebel leaders now claim they have members of al-Qaeda within their ranks and are glad to have them. Why do we have American soldiers, our best and bravest, helping people in Libya who may be the very same people we ask our military to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq? 

The subtext to the president’s speech concerning Libya was “What if we had done nothing?” But a better question might be “What if helping Libya’s interest actually hurts America’s interests?”

Last weekend, 70 members of our State Department and 80 Marines were forced to flee from our embassy to Tunisia to avoid the fighting between rival groups in Tripoli. They had to leave because it was not our fight.

Libya’s civil war was never our fight.

Mr. President, next time follow the Constitution.

— Rand Paul represents Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.


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