The Corner

How the most transparent administration in history gets a transparent congressional debate on war in Libya

Greetings from sunny southern California, where I’m nearing the end of a week of speechifying.

… Speaking of which, that sure was some senate debate on whether we should go to war with Libya, didn’t you think? No? You didn’t hear it? Funny thing, neither did anyone else apparently … even though I’m told the State Department has started telling anyone who’ll listen that the administration has won congressional authorization for its “kinetic” intervention.

So what happened? Well, the Senate, as the Senate is wont to do, passed a chest-thumping resolution a few weeks back, “strongly condemning the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya.” It was the predictable blather, duly decrying that “Muammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya for more than 40 years by banning and brutally opposing any individual or group opposing the ideology of his 1969 revolution, criminalizing the peaceful exercise of expression and association, refusing to permit independent journalists’ and lawyers’ organizations, and engaging in torture and extrajudicial executions,” etc. — and conveniently failing to mention that, for the last eight years, the thug has been doing all these things while being subsidized by the U.S. Congress and lauded by senior senators as a “valuable ally” of the United States against terrorism. The resolution called on Qaddafi to cease and desist, in addition to praising the U.N. for referring Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court, imposing sanctions, and so on.

Pretty tame stuff, and completely non-binding, which is probably why it passed by unanimous consent on March 1, without debate or the presence of very many senators. Except, it didn’t pass as it was teed up. I’m told that unbeknownst (and certainly unnoticed) by most senators was a paragraph the principal sponsor, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, tucked into the final version. It declares that the Senate “urges the United Nations Security Council to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory.”

The resolution has no force of law … except, as we’ve seen in other contexts, the Obama administration takes the position that bothersome technicalities like the constitutional procedures for how bills become laws, how international agreements get ratified – and, apparently, how military force gets authorized – are too quaint to bother with. If the progressives on some governmental or international body resolve to support some Obama position, the Obama administration rationalizes that “authority” for its policy has been created – whether through hocus-pocus like “customary international law” or some other device. Thus, it’s now saying Congress (the Senate is “Congress,” right?) has approved the deployment of the U.S. armed forces for purposes of a no-fly zone and for any other action that may be necessary to protect civilians.

I am hearing that many in Congress are not amused. Let’s see if they actually do anything about it.

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