House Libya Vote: Anti-War or Just Anti-Obama?

The Republican-dominated US House of Representatives voted down an authorization for President Obama to have the US participate in the Libya War on Friday. (Many Democrats also joined in). The House did not agree to cut off funding for the war.

With regard to US domestic politics and the rule of law, the vote would have virtues if it finally showed some congressional gumption with regard to the imperial presidency. Those who are voting on principle and have moral and legal reasons to oppose the war should be applauded for expressing their conscience. In a Republic, dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

But the likelihood is that at least some in the House do not have a newfound sense of independence and dedication to pacifist principles. Rather, many representatives are probably just playing politics. It cannot go without comment that many of the same Republicans refused to criticize W. during the Iraq War, when that administration created a “lock step” mood in the country and lambasted war critics like myself as unpatriotic. In fact, I rather fear that many of the same politicians who cast a vote against war on Friday will, if there is a Republican white person in the White House in 2013, gladly turn around and authorize aggressive war on Iran.

Let us just remember what the same House did in fall 2002 when W. asked it to authorize an illegal war launched on phony premises and lacking in UNSC authorization:

On Oct. 11, 2002, the Senate gave Bush the go ahead to fall upon Iraq by a 77-23 vote, and the House had agreed by 296-133.

‘The president praised the congressional action, declaring “America speaks with one voice.” “The Congress has spoken clearly to the international community and the United Nations Security Council,” Bush said in a statement. “Saddam Hussein and his outlaw regime pose a grave threat to the region, the world and the United States. Inaction is not an option, disarmament is a must.”

In contrast, the Libya intervention was authorized by the United Nations Security Council and so is legal in international law. There was a pressing humanitarian crisis as Muammar Qaddafi sent jet planes and tanks to bomb his own people. Qaddafi threatened to blow up civilian airliners over Europe. NATO allies wanted to intervene, just as NATO had done in the Balkans in the 1990s (the cynical should remember that there is no petroleum in the Balkans).

The vote does underline that Obama would have been much better off going to Congress for authorization in the first place, and lobbying the representatives to get their agreement. It would have been in line with the Constitution. And if he lost, he would be no worse off than he is now, politically speaking.

Whatever its domestic meaning, the vote undeniably sent unfortunate signals abroad. You have to wonder whether, for good or ill, the vote is the end of NATO. The US House can hardly ask the British and French to risk their young soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan if it can’t be bothered to vote to help defend the latter’s aircraft over Libya.

Tripoli erupted in celebratory fire and the dictator’s few partisans exulted that he had “won.” It was a dramatic change of mood. Just yesterday, dissidents in Qaddafi’s own capital of Tripoli found a way surreptitiously to express their dissatisfaction with him, holding sit-ins in mosques to support Syrian protesters against Qaddafi’s ally, Bashar al-Assad. It seems to me that the House vote certainly just prolonged the Libya war.

Qaddafi brigades are still launching GRAD rockets at noncombatants in the dissident city of Misrata, and may now be expected to launch a major push to massacre that city, which they had already half-destroyed with shelling and cluster bombs, killing over 1000 people even though they failed to reduce the city.

Posted in Libya | 35 Responses | Print |

35 Responses

  1. Thanks for the numbers from the 2002 Senate and House votes for the Iraq War. Though I knew authorization to go to war had been granted fairly easily, I hadn’t realized the votes were that much of a majority. Makes me curious what the votes from 2002 and today would look like if the country were not constrained to a two-party system and if politicians actually voted based on principles.

  2. From your 10 June blog
    “The International Criminal Court not only has evidence that Libyan soldiers have been using rape as a way of punishing and humiliating rebel populations, it has credible evidence that the policy was ordered by Muammar Qadhafi himself, and that the soldiers were provided with viagra to make them better rapists. ”

    Are you going to comment on the report fron both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that after three months by a Libyan- based investigator, there is no evidence of organized Viagra fueled rape and the claim comes back to one Doctor who can not substantiate the allegations?

    All wars are surrounded by clouds of lies. Do you wish to refute those claims shown to be without foundation or do you wish to spread propaganda?

    • What propaganda?

      Juan just reported what the icc claimed and that it was investigating the issue.

      This is true.

    • Only the Viagra claims have been questioned. The use of rape as a weapon of war has been confirmed from numerous sources.

      Way to miss the point. It’s OK if they weren’t given Viagra?

      • the use of generic equivalents rather than Viagra might be an infringement against Pfizer. steerpike might have valid concerns and not be too worried about mass rape as much as outraged by drug counterfeiting.

      • The claim is Muammar Qadhafi has personally ordered his troops to rape. The Observer reports:

        “Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”.

        She stresses this does not prove that mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: “We have not been able to find evidence.”

        We have been here before with WMD in Iraq, reported as claimed by politicians, verified by experts, and so an undeniable fact. Those who report such a claim have a responsibility to set the record straight when the story is discredited.

  3. According to the Washington Post, the split vote came because neither resolution would actually end US involvement in the war:

    At least one apparent contradiction became resolved during Friday’s floor debate in the House: Most members had rejected the second resolution (on limiting funding of the Libyan operation) not because they support U.S. operations in Libya, but rather because they viewed the measure as a back-door authorization of U.S. participation in the NATO-led mission.

    “(The defunding measure) specifically grants to the President what up until now he has completely lacked: Congressional authority to engage in every conceivable belligerent act short of actually pulling the trigger,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said on the floor of the House.

    The two votes effectively gave the House members a choice of supporting full US involvement or supporting some US involvement; what many in Congress seemed to want was an opportunity to vote for no US involvement.

    I would also respectfully point out that Amnesty International has cast serious doubt on the accusation that pro-Qaddafi forces engaged in mass rape.
    link to independent.co.uk

    • And what do you conclude from the fact that a resolution forbidding US involvement entirely never came up for a vote?

      Congress isn’t going to do a thing, like it or not. They want to pose for the cameras, but they don’t actually want to take responsibility for ending the war. Or supporting it. Or influencing it.

      It makes it a bit tough to argue for Congressional responsibility when Congress itself is making it so clear that they don’t want it.

  4. The trend seems to be vote for Barely Moral Quagmire vote against Humanitarian Intervention (last no vote from congress was for Clinton intervention in Bosnia).

    This is a really big mistake by the House.

  5. Do we now have proof that Gaddafy used fighter planes to attack his own people?
    Please give me a link to said info

    Thank you

      • Siun is one of the least fair and balanced and reliable people it’s ever been my misfortune to find on firedoglake. she personally reduces the quality and reliability of the entire blog.
        she’s shallow of thought and reprints crap from other unreliable people and repeats it as gospel.
        she’s a damned poor thing upon which to link.

        • Those highlighted words in her post are links. You should read them.

          I’m certainly not a big FDLer, either, but that’s not the point.

        • Joe, I’m not anti-FDL at all. Love Marcy Wheeler, admire bmaz, TBogg and many others there. Matter of fact, I have a family member who used to have a blog on FDL.

          Mostly just haven’t the stomach for Siun, her dishonesty, her bigoted friends and her entirely unreliable sources.
          She’s a propagandist….at best. And not for anything good.

  6. The end of NATO? ‘Twould be a good thing. NATO was formed to resist the Soviet Union and to tame Germany. Neither is a problem any longer. Instead, by expanding NATO eastward in violation of our promises, it became a provocation to Russia.

    If Bush had gone to war without so much as a “by your leave” to Congress, the liberals would be screaming. Obama has taken a step toward dictatorship.

    • Oh, please. George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan actually invaded countries (Grenada and Panama) with ground forces, took over their territory, overthrew their governments, and installed new ones, without any Congressional authorization.

      Obama’s actions here, whatever you think of them or about war powers in general, are a great deal less significant than what numerous presidents have done before him. He isn’t taking a step towards anything. He’s walking over well-trod ground, and not even going as far as his predecessors.

    • And once the Republicans take the White House back, in 2012 or 2016, the crusade against Russia will resume, with China thrown in for the sake of moral absolutism. The Tea Party cannot tolerate an outside world that rejects feudalist, white supremacist robber-baron capitalism, and our economy can’t survive without the exploitation of the outside world. Then what will all us good anti-war folks do?

      • Maybe it is depends ‘what’ republican gets into to office, but I highly doubt they would go after Russia. But there is a whole back story to this anyhow.

      • Super390 here is a reason why there is no worry on GOP going after Russia.

        Russian entered a war with Afghanistan on December 24, 1979 by ended on February 15, 198 with the finial withdrawal of Russian troops. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan America intelligence knew little of Afghanistan. Under President Carter he authorized the training of anti-communist troops in Afghanistan. The training was under the Central Intelligence Agency, the program was dubbed Operation Cyclone. It would be wise to google in Operation Cyclone, since this has a bearing on issues today.

        Today, Russia is part of NATO and in Afghanistan NATO.
        Odd, huh?
        link to dailymail.co.uk

        Besides Putin’s eyes where looked into, remember? Looked deep into his dark soul.. the rest is history.

        Myself, looking into Putin’s eyes would remind me of the KGB, but to each their own.

        Not a chance of the GOP going after Russia.

        • The problem is the crusader mentality of Americans. Conservative Americans are now indoctrinated that socialized medicine, gay marriage, tolerance of Moslems, decent unemployment benefits et al are proof of the greatest evil, comparable to Hitler and Stalin and thus a prelude to aggression against America. So no matter how much Ron Paul yammers about how friendly America will be with the rest of the world once we do shut down the empire, what will libertarians say when the rest of the world rejects his restoration of 19th century laissez faire and states’ rights in horror, kicks out our imperialistic corporations, stops propping up our dollar, and even starts boycotting us when we actively reject global warming?

          The libertarians will stand there slack-jawed, and the Christian fascists, whom most of the public can’t distinguish from libertarians because the mass media wraps them in the same flag of unimpeachable white patriotism, will rush in and scream that the Commies are coming and that America must shut off all contact with the evil outside world, and take away all rights from those who might be contaminated by alien influences.

          I mean, this has all happened before. But this time, it means that when everything gets privatized, only American businessmen will be allowed to bid and that’s worth a vast amount of campaign funds from them. Consider what will happen when public schools are dismantled to root out leftist influences – a half trillion dollars in your tax $ will go as vouchers to whatever groups are fanatical and xenophobic enough to pass muster. By the time that the statistics have been gathered to prove that such a miseducation completely fails to produce a workforce competitive with the outside world, the leaders will have solved the problem by escalating crusades against any country whose success might discredit their ideology, and no one will be left who can understand that simultaneous war with Europe, Russia, China, Latin America and the Middle East is insanity.

          I mean, do you really think our capitalist class would veto such a train wreck as long as they can cash out at the height of the final bubble?

        • America will not take on Russia; and especially the GOP will not take any action against Russia. There is a reason, but right now I will not go public with the reason.

  7. Apparently, when pro-war dems call those who oppose new wars isolationists, pacifists or even Leninist conspirators, this does not work any more.

    With these resolutions, Obama follows politically clumsy and non-charismatic Gordon Brown in the UK. He made another step to his political death.

  8. Thanks, Juan, for all your detailed and thoughtful coverage of this issue. You’re quite right that the UN vote in favor of intervention in Libya is a good and important thing. However you seem to entirely miss the point that Obama has engaged the US in hostilities without even consulting the Congress, never mind getting permission. This is, IMO, an absolutely terrible precedent. The next President will take it even further, and just make war on whoever he/she wants to, UN agreement or not. These are dictatorial powers, there is no other word for it.

    • Actually, Obama did consult Congress before and at the time of the beginning of the mission. He just didn’t get authorization.

      And numerous presidents have already made war, to a much greater degree (think Panama and Grenada) than Obama has, without Congressional authorization.

      It’s simply not true to claim that Obama is setting new precedents here. Whether you like the presidential war powers that have developed over our country’s history or not (I don’t), Obama hasn’t even gone as far as several of his predecessors along that path.

      • Presumably the difference is that the sheer one-sidedness and ruthlessness of the operations against Panama and Grenada guaranteed that they’d end quickly enough to avoid anyone bringing up the War Powers Act. Putting a clock on war-making powers may not make them less violent, but in fact might encourage the use of ground forces to ensure a quick, mediagenic kill.

  9. A Senate hearing maybe five years ago that addressed the U.S. military with respect to the number of accusations of rape against them from both fellow soldiers, male and female, illuminated perhaps the worst accounting of these crimes and the figures showed that war had little to do with the atrocities. Something like 40% of the women who enter military service accuse fellow soldiers with crimes starting with abuse, to multiple rapes and repeated attacks by the same individual. While most Americans have no problem pointing their fingers at other groups, nationalities and cohorts, why is it so difficult to cover ourselves in that context?

  10. —“I rather fear that many of the same politicians who cast a vote against war on Friday will, if there is a Republican white person in the White House in 2013, gladly turn around and authorize aggressive war on Iran.”–

    I fear that the “white person” part of the sentence was gratuitous and rather juvenile.

  11. Say what you like about George W Bush, at least he bothered to ask for Congress’ support before going to war. In some ways, Obama seems to be more the “Imperial President’ than Bush ever was. Check out our ever-eroding civil liberties as an example.

  12. Prof Cole/all
    have you read this by Glenn Greenwald
    link to salon.com
    Climate of Fear: Jim Risen v. the Obama administration
    The Obama DOJ’s effort to force New York Times investigative journalist Jim Risen to testify in a whistleblower prosecution and reveal his source is really remarkable and revealing in several ways; it should be receiving much more attention than it is. On its own, the whistleblower prosecution and accompanying targeting of Risen are pernicious, but more importantly, it underscores the menacing attempt by the Obama administration — as Risen yesterday pointed out — to threaten and intimidate whistleblowers, journalists and activists who meaningfully challenge what the government does in secret.

    The subpoena to Risen was originally issued but then abandoned by the Bush administration, and then revitalized by Obama lawyers. It is part of the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent whom the DOJ accuses of leaking to Risen the story of a severely botched agency plot — from 11 years ago — to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, a story Risen wrote about six years after the fact in his 2006 best-selling book, State of War. The DOJ wants to force Risen to testify under oath about whether Sterling was his source.

  13. The first on-site investigator (before AI) who found no evidence of the mass-rape, particularly not the viagra claim, was the head of a 3 member commission sent to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity on behalf of the UN Human Rights Commission.

    Cherif Bassiouni (former ICC investigator, including for Yugoslavia) collected lots of evidence of war crimes/against humanity.

    But no actual evidence of claims of mass, state-directed rape, and certainly not the viagra hype.

    He immediately disputed the claims of Moreno-Ocampo when issued, correctly noting that there had been no evidence produced by him, nor an explanation of what verifiable process was used to investigate this locally. (There were claims of a survey of tens of thousands mailed and returned, claims not backed up and ridiculous in terms of imagining so successfully functioning a current postal system.)

    But for some, if you don’t keep escalating claims of atrocity to whatever degree desired, and insist upon good evidence (including skeptical questioning of the same), then you are objectively pro-Qaddafi and minimizing the crimes of mass rape where they have indeed been thoroughly documented.

    link to thenational.ae

  14. link to salon.com

    The Obama DOJ’s effort to force New York Times investigative journalist Jim Risen to testify in a whistleblower prosecution and reveal his source is really remarkable and revealing in several ways; it should be receiving much more attention than it is. On its own, the whistleblower prosecution and accompanying targeting of Risen are pernicious, but more importantly, it underscores the menacing attempt by the Obama administration — as Risen yesterday pointed out — to threaten and intimidate whistleblowers, journalists and activists who meaningfully challenge what the government does in secret.

    The subpoena to Risen was originally issued but then abandoned by the Bush administration, and then revitalized by Obama lawyers. It is part of the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent whom the DOJ accuses of leaking to Risen the story of a severely botched agency plot — from 11 years ago — to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, a story Risen wrote about six years after the fact in his 2006 best-selling book, State of War. The DOJ wants to force Risen to testify under oath about whether Sterling was his source.

    • and asking Risen whether Sterling was his source is supposed to be some sort of abuse of power?

      maybe not.

  15. As long as the sheeple are engaged in the minutia of what ever it is they are engaged in, then the main crux of the act is hidden, able to move forward. In today’s atmosphere, it’s smoke & mirrors. This goes way back in time, but it seems that no one wises up. How does the saying go; “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”? After awhile, the majority will believe what ever B.S. is produced. With Trolls & Apologists in abundance here on the web, the subterfuge continues.

  16. Why is no one taking Obama to task for bombing Yemen, killing innocents – 21 babies – and then getting caught trying to cover it all up? Forget Libya, let’s hear him explain why he saw fit to have Patreus bribe Saleh millions of dollars to hide the fact it was our bombs who killed all those children.

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