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Barack Obama has been challenged this week. John Boehner, leader of the House of Representatives, wrote to the dear leader claiming that under the 1973 War Powers Act, his decision to authorize US military action in Libya without consulting congress was illegal under US law. The White House swiftly replied, stating that military action in Libya was not sufficiently serious that it necessitated congressional approval.
There is much to say merely on this footnote of the story. We might well debate the separation of powers, or the rights of the commander-in-chief, deep into the night. However, there is a much more important point to make, and one that Boehner’s challenge conveniently prompts. The war in Libya is undoubtedly illegal, regardless of US law.
Let’s begin with a little recent history. On March 18th 2011, President Obama delivered a speech announcing a NATO military operation in Libya, and the imposition of a no-fly zone. The media was almost unilaterally supportive, as it has remained ever since. Later that same day, Mark Mardell (BBC North America correspondent) sycophantically praised this new “Obama doctrine”, which entailed “acting within limits, leading only as a first among equals”.
“Barack Obama has been morbidly belligerent from the very first day he took power.”
To argue that Mardell’s assessment proved to be mistaken would be to miss the point, because even the limited measures announced on March 18th were transparently illegal (UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorized an internationally organized no-fly zone, not a NATO imposed one), and there was absolutely nothing ‘new’ about this facet of Obama foreign policy. Barack Obama has been morbidly belligerent from the very first day he took power. Within 12 hours of stepping into the elliptic office, he opted to order unmanned drone strikes in Pakistan – a precedent he has continued. George Bush authorized drone attacks in Pakistan a total of 45 times in his whole second term; just within Obama’s first year, he sent 53. The drone attacks themselves constitute a serious war crime, having killed at least 1,500 civilians and a mere handful of supposed ‘militants’. Obama has been carrying out an illegal bombing campaign in Yemen for the past two years, and still maintains the war in Afghanistan.
The White House response to Boehner openly claimed that the Libyan operation was not a war, but a mission to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power. Sickeningly, this script has become familiar to the point of tediousness. The US, UK or NATO announce ‘an intervention’, or a ‘humanitarian campaign’. The campaign, it is said, will be completely different from all previous wars. Strikes will be ‘targeted’, ‘collateral damage’ will be negligible, and of course just as the British government said in 1914, it will be so swift that it’ll all be over in a couple of months. Then the mission changes. A campaign that was authorized by UNSC resolution 1973 only to protect civilians in Benghazi by stopping Gaddafi’s airforce becomes a NATO “mission to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power”. According to any interpretation of Just War theory, this alone flagrantly disregards international law. Furthermore, the repeated air strikes on Gaddafi’s compound (and home) have made it absolutely clear that NATO are attempting to kill him. Whatever one thinks of the ‘intervention’ in Libya, we must accept that it is yet another illegal war.
Where does it go from here? On June 15th UK armed forces chief General Sir David Richards spoke to relieve fears that Britain would be unable to maintain its part in the war: “We can sustain this operation as long as we choose to” he confirmed, “I am absolutely clear on that”. His statement will no doubt come as a salve to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has stated that the UK is in Libya “for the long haul”.
This is revealing in itself. Regardless of what happens, or of what the current Libyan leadership does, NATO has confirmed that it will be there “for the long haul”. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi announced on the 16th of June that his father Muammar was willing to hold elections in Libya (monitored by the international community). NATO, I’m sure, will ignore this statement. The goal was never the promotion of democracy in Libya, or the protection of civilians, nor was it – I suspect – even “regime change”. The goal is simply ‘to be’ in Libya. Another oil rich Arab nation; another illegal war.