The Skeptics

Kucinich, Boehner and Gates on Libya

Later today, the House of Representatives is poised to debate two competing resolutions—one by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, the second by House Speaker John Boehner—pertaining to the ongoing war in Libya. The Kucinich measure would require President Obama "to remove the United States armed forces from Libya" within fifteen days of passage. Its cosponsors include Massachusetts Democrat Michael Capuano and Indiana Republican Dan Burton.

According to the New York Times, Majority Leader John Boehner and "the [House] leadership feared that the Kucinich measure would pass with backing from an unlikely coalition of liberals and conservatives, a step they contended would send the wrong message to allies engaged in other conflicts with the United States."

Boehner declared yesterday that "The Kucinich measure would have long-term consequences that are unacceptable, including a precipitous withdrawal from our role supporting our NATO allies in Libya—which could have serious consequences for our broader national security." (emphasis mine)

The Boehner alternative, not surprisingly, is pretty weak tea. The object seems to be to allow members to vent their frustration with the war without actually forcing the Obama administration to reverse course.

Still, the mere prospect that Congress might have some say in when, whether, and where the United States fights its wars has outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wailing to reporters. "Secretary Gates believes that for the United States, once committed to a NATO operation, to unilaterally abandon that mission would have enormous and dangerous long-term consequences," read a statement. "Once military forces are committed, such actions by the Congress can have significant consequences," press aide Geoff Morrell elaborated. "It sends an unhelpful message of disunity and uncertainty to our troops, our allies and, most importantly, the Qadhafi regime."

If Gates’ gripe is that the United States has a Constitution that delineates a separation of powers between the branches, perhaps he could find a job as SecDef in a country that allows its leaders to wage war at will?

But I digress. The thrust of Gates’ concern is that a congressional resolution expressing the will of the American people would send a signal of "disunity" within the NATO alliance.

Among the many flimsy arguments put forward by the Obama administration to justify this foolish war, this is one of the flimsiest. As my Cato colleague and fellow Skeptics blogger Ben Friedman explains in this just-released video we should "have allies for war, not war for allies."

Ben continues: "The Secretary of Defense…said that we had to be there because our allies are. We don’t have a vital interest, but they thought they had a vital interest. And because they helped us in Afghanistan, we had to help them in Libya….That’s just absurd. If our allies are in Afghanistan, just because of an alliance, that’s a mistake we shouldn’t emulate in Libya."

Indeed, one of the leading reasons why the Founders were leery of "permanent" alliances was precisely this: they were likely to drag us into wars that we would otherwise avoid.

Returning to Boehner’s claim that the U.S. military is "supporting" our allies, this graphic might clarify what that means, in practice. (H/T MT) If this is what "leading from behind" looks like, I’d hate to see leading from the front.

But, again, I digress. This post is meant to be mainly an argument against the war in Libya, not NATO, per se. This war was poorly considered from the outset, does not advance vital U.S. national security interests (and likely undermines them), and should be terminated post-haste. That the Libya war has revealed (yet again) the gross imbalance between Congress and the White House when it comes to the most important of government’s powers—the power to wage war—is merely another brick in the wall.

I hope that today’s House debate over the Kucinich and Boehner resolutions will surface some additional reasons to oppose this war. I don’t hold out much hope, however, that they will actually end it.