“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ron Paul on Libya, Unintended Consequences and Hiding Behind UN

US foreign policy is the same as it has been and will only force us into bankruptcy sooner rather than later. The Republicans and conservative bloggers are uncertain which way to go. I am not. We have far bigger problems and this adventure into Libya will make them worse.

Libya and the Zone of Twilight
by Chad Pergram | March 21, 2011

One issue and two words comprised the debate at Philadelphia's Constitutional Convention on August 17, 1787.

The Founders struggled with whether they should grant war authority to the legislature or the executive. And the Founders also wrestled with what verb they should use when entering into war: "make" or "declare."

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina worried about vesting war power with the legislature. Pinckney argued that legislative proceedings were "too slow" to respond to something as critical as war.

Meantime, Virginia's George Mason expressed concern about depositing war powers in the lap of the executive. Mason didn't think the executive branch could be "trusted" with such a broad prerogative.

Pierce Butler of South Carolina indicated the president would never "make war" unless the nation backed him.

Butler's use of the word "make" apparently caught the attention of Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Virginia's James Madison. They moved to strike "make" and inserted "declare" instead. But Connecticut's Roger Sherman resisted Elbridge and Madison. Sherman fretted that the word "declare" narrowed "the power too much."

Finally, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut stated that "there is a material difference between the cases of making war and making peace. It should be more easy to get out of war than into it."

In the end, the Founders agreed to "declare." And in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, they granted Congress the power "to declare war." Right in between authorizing the legislative branch the ability "to end and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas" and to write "Letters of Marque and Reprisal."


On March 2, Defense Secretary Robert Gates appeared at the witness table before a meeting of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) queried Gates about the chances of the U.S. patrolling a no-fly zone over Libya while simultaneously committed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gates minced no words about what a Libyan mission might require.

"A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down," Gates replied. "It also requires more airplanes than you would find on a single aircraft carrier."

Frelinghuysen noted he wasn't "endorsing" that the U.S. implement a Libyan no-fly zone. But the New Jersey Republican worried that some factions in Africa could interpret what it takes to build a no-fly zone as "a war, aggressive action on our part."

Gates responded that up to that point, the United Nations had not authorized the use of force in Libya.


A few weeks later, the U.N. changed its tune when it came to a no-fly zone in Libya. And on Friday, President Obama summoned key Congressional leaders to the White House or had them dial in to brief them about U.S. involvement in Libya.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) was one of the few lawmakers who attended the session in person. Afterwards, Rogers fully backed the action, describing it as a "support role." But Rogers added this caveat:

"If this is going to go long or if there is going to be a mission change, I think (the president) has to come back to Congress for an affirmative vote," Rogers said.

By Saturday, the U.S. had already lobbed more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets near Tripoli and Misrata to help establish the no-fly zone. These Tomahawk missiles cost $600,000 apiece. Later, B-2 bombers and Harrier jets executed additional strikes on Libyan soil.

On Saturday afternoon, House Democrats convened a conference call with many expressing concern that the president didn't have the power to authorize such strikes without consulting Congress.

And by Sunday afternoon, it wasn't just Congressional Democrats who were skeptical about how the president involved the U.S.

"Before any further military commitments are made, the admnistration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

"I am concerned that the use of military force in the absence of clear political objectives for our country risks entrenching the United States in a humanitarian mission whose scope and duration are not known at this point and cannot be controlled by us," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) in a statement. "A United Nations' Security Council resolution is not and should not be confused for a political and military strategy."

Lawmakers typically lodge two types of reservations when the U.S. intervenes in conflicts like Libya.

For starters, liberals are usually concerned about whether the president, Democrat or Republican, is usurping the Constitution by deploying U.S. forces or other military assets overseas. Furthermore, Republicans express disquiet about whether the president is using the military the "right" way.

After last fall's purge at the polls, there are few moderate Democrats left in the House. Nearly all Democrats who remain are liberal. Thus, it's natural that those ranging from Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to Jerry Nadler (D-NY) would express reservation about not only whether the U.S. should deploy the military but if the president followed the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution. The resolution requires the president to tell Congress within two days of commencing military action and prohibits the use of force for two months without a Congressional declaration of war.

But the electoral makeup of this Congress is a little different than in years past. Last November, voters dispatched dozens of conservative lawmakers to Washington with the backing of the tea party. Many of these newly-minted members ran on a platform of sticking strictly to the Constitution. Moreover, few of these lawmakers have yet to weigh in on any foreign policy issue at all. Nearly all of the debate in Washington this year has focused on spending and repealing the health care law.

So this begs an interesting question. After Friday's White House consultation, most Republicans were mum about the Libya operation.

But Sunday's comments from Boehner and McKeon suggested there was more than a little concern among Republicans. And no one quite knows where these new, conservative members will come down on this issue.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) isn't a neophyte lawmaker. But he is one of the most conservative voices in the House and is closely aligned with the tea party movement. King says he favors the U.S. mission "if this is to be a limited engagement" and that he didn't "quibble with Obama not going to Congress." But King added he would have concerns if the operation expanded.

"Republicans don't want to handcuff the commander-in-chief but we have to be willing to handcuff the president," King said.

Which is precisely the crux of the Constitutional debate as to which branch of government has the power to "declare" war. And whether U.S. action in Libya constitutes "war."To hearken back to the debate at the Constitutional Convention, it's pretty clear in this case which branch of government "declared" it was going to intervene in Libya and which branch didn't have a say in the process.

That could stir up many of the constitutionalists on Capitol Hill because it runs afoul of Article I, Section 8.

There isn't too much out there on how the Congressional newcomers feel about this. On his website in November, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) stated that "when we must fight, we declare war as the Constitution mandates."

But perhaps an even more intriguing example of where freshmen could drive this debate rests with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). Amash has already made a name for himself on Capitol Hill by voting "present" on several issues this year. That's where a lawmaker votes, but doesn't weigh in with a "yea" or "nay."

Late last week, Amash took the rare step of casting back-to-back "present" votes on wildly diverse issues. One vote asked lawmakers whether they should yank federal dollars from NPR. The other resolution would have required the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan.

At the start of the year, Amash stated he would vote "present" if he supports a bill, but believes the legislation "uses improper means" to accomplish its goal and violates the Constitution.

"I took an oath to uphold the Constitution. I take that oath seriously and I consider the constitutional implications of every action I take as a representative in Congress," Amash said on his Facebook page.

On the NPR measure, Amash believed Congress was "picking one viewpoint over another." He suggested that violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. When it came to Afghanistan, Amash argued that the resolution was unconstitutional because it created a "legislative veto."

By Sunday night, Amash again invoked the Constitution over the president's decision to join the international effort against Libya.

"It's not enough for the president simply to explain military actions in Libya to the American people, after the fact, as though we are serfs," Amash wrote on Facebook. "When there is no imminent threat to our country, he cannot launch strikes without authorization from the American people, through our elected representatives in Congress. No United Nations resolution or Congressional act permits the president to circumvent the Constitution."

It will be interesting to see how many freshmen question this intervention on Constitutional grounds.In short, the debate over which branch of government can "declare" war dates back to that August day in 1787. And it's even murkier now than it was then.

Many of you have heard of Rod Serling and "The Twilight Zone." Fewer have heard of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and the "zone of twilight." In a 1952 decision about presidential powers, Jackson wrote that "there is a zone of twilight" where the executive and legislative branches may have "concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain."

Jackson noted that presidential power plummets to "its lowest ebb when he takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress."

It's hard to assess what the "expressed or implied will of Congress" is on Libya. There are definitely concerns. And Congress certainly didn't "declare war" as prescribed by the Constitution.

Which is why the U.S. now resides in Jackson's "zone of twilight" when it comes to military action in Libya.


  1. The New York Time's Favorite War

    At War in Libya
    Published: March 21, 2011

    Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has long been a thug and a murderer who has never paid for his many crimes, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The United Nations Security Council resolution authorized member nations to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians and was perhaps the only hope of stopping him from slaughtering thousands more.
    The resolution was an extraordinary moment in recent history. The United Nations, the United States and the Europeans dithered for an agonizingly long time and then — with the rebels’ last redoubt, Benghazi, about to fall — acted with astonishing speed to endorse a robust mandate that goes far beyond a simple no-fly zone. More extraordinary was that the call to action was led by France and Britain and invited by the Arab League.

    American commanders on Monday claimed success in attacking Libyan air defenses and command and control operations. Over the weekend, there were strikes against Libyan aircraft on the ground, forces headed toward Benghazi and even Colonel Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. Colonel Qaddafi remained defiant and announced plans to arm one million loyalists. He gathered women and children as human shields at his compound. On Monday, his forces drove rebels back from the strategically important town Ajdabiya.

    There is much to concern us. President Obama correctly agreed to deploy American forces only when persuaded that other nations would share the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law. The United States is already bogged down in two wars. It can’t be seen as intervening unilaterally in another Muslim nation. But even with multinational support, it should not have to shoulder the brunt of this conflict.

    After endorsing a no-flight zone 10 days ago — a move that allowed the Security Council resolution to go forward — the Arab League is sending mixed messages. This military operation requires the Arab states to reaffirm support for the coalition and contribute their own arms, forces and cash. Qatar made a commitmment: four fighter jets. Colonel Qaddafi will find it easier to dig in his heels if he thinks the region is divided.

    There has been unsettling dissonance from the allies, too. The operation was portrayed as led by France and Britain. Yet the Americans — which have the ships and cruise missiles to take out Libyan air defenses — are actually directing this phase. They say command will soon shift, but it’s not certain if that will put NATO, France or Britain in charge. A permanent alternate command needs to be established as soon as practical and the broadest possible coalition must be engaged.

    We also have questions about the objective. President Obama has said Colonel Qaddafi has lost legitimacy and must go. He also insisted the military aim is only to protect civilians and American ground troops will not be deployed. We hope he sticks to those commitments. There are enormous questions: What will the United States and its allies do if the rebels cannot dislodge Colonel Qaddafi? At a minimum, they must be ready to maintain indefinite sanctions on the regime while helping the rebels set up a government, should they actually win. Mr. Obama should have brought Congress more into the loop on his decision, and must do so now.

    There is no perfect formula for military intervention. It must be used sparingly — not in Bahrain or Yemen, even though we condemn the violence against protesters in both countries. Libya is a specific case: Muammar el-Qaddafi is erratic, widely reviled, armed with mustard gas and has a history of supporting terrorism. If he is allowed to crush the opposition, it would chill pro-democracy movements across the Arab world.

  2. The Republicans are too busy running around telling us how Qaddafi has to go. there is no time for that ridiculous thing called a constitution!! It's only words on paper right?

  3. From The American Conservative

    On March 19, 2011, the eighth anniversary of the Iraq War, Barack Obama started the Libyan War. Those who might claim that it was not the President, but Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi who started this war, ignore that it only became our fight the moment Obama decided to intervene. Those who support our bombing of Libya to enforce a no-fly zone claim that these actions will not lead to a larger or more entrenched conflict. This claim not only contradicts most of America’s foreign policy history, but proves that our political establishment has learned virtually nothing from the lessons of Iraq.
    Syndicated columnist George Will is an exception to the Washington rule. When he was asked by ABC’s This Week host Christiane Amanpour if he believed Obama’s bombing of Libya was the “right thing to do,” Will replied: “I do not. We have intervened in a tribal society, in a civil war. And we have taken sides in that civil war on behalf of a people we do not know or understand, for the purpose—not a vow, but inexorably our purpose—of creating a political vacuum by decapitating the government. Into that vacuum, what will flow we do not know and cannot know.”
    Will is right, and it is typically unforeseen circumstances that perpetuate the excuses for perpetual war. US forces remain in Iraq today precisely because we fear what kind of regime might arise in our absence—yet there was very little discussion of this important issue before the invasion. After taking the fight to the Taliban in 2001 as payback for 9/11, we remain in that country a decade later out of fear of a resurgent Taliban. Much of the discussion concerning Afghanistan today is whether we can ever leave due to this eternal concern. Similarly, instead of benefitting in the long term from Obama’s shortsighted military action in Libya, there is far more potential that America will now be involved in yet another prolonged Middle Eastern war…

  4. {…}

    The open-ended and inexplicably optimistic manner in which we began our intervention in Libya reeks of past American foreign policy blunders. Noted Will on This Week:
    There is no limiting principle in what we’ve done. If we are to protect people who are under assault… we are not only logically committed to helping them, we are inciting them to rise in expectation. The mission creep began here… before the mission began, because we had a means not suited to the end. The means is a no-fly zone that will not affect the end which is obviously regime change.
    If the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have not given us regimes preferable and stable enough to allow the US to exit, how will simply enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya force Gadhafi out? Even if it could, what kind of regime will replace him? How easy will it be? Always eager for any and every new war, were the neoconservatives in the Bush administration who assured us that Iraq would be a “cakewalk” and that US troops would be greeted as “liberators” really that idealistic? Or were they willingly duplicitous in their efforts to establish a permanent US presence in that country; something they had vocally desired throughout Bill Clinton’s presidency? The same neoconservatives are now claiming that America’s new war will also be user friendly, or as Charles Krauthammer said of Libya on FOX News a day before the bombing: “The terrain is uniquely favorable. We’re the greatest naval power ever. It’s all happening on the coast. The Qaddafi forces are all exposed. It’s a desert. There is nowhere to hide. If we can succeed anywhere, it would be there.”...

  5. {…}

    Though excited by it and characteristically supportive of it, Libya is not a neocon production. This is Obama’s war and that of the liberal internationalists in his Cabinet and his party who have always differed little in their foreign policy from hawkish Republicans. Reluctant to get bogged down in any new conflicts, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned against enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya. Not sharing Gates’s reluctance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped shepherd the deal.
    If Obama first rose to political prominence due to his early antiwar, anti-Bush rhetoric, his performance since becoming president—staying in Iraq, escalating in Afghanistan, extending the Patriot Act, maintaining Guantanamo—has been nothing short of a Bush redux. Declared candidate Obama in 2007: “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.” But what imminent threat did Gadhafi present to the US? President Obama has shown the same infidelity to the Constitution as his predecessor and now with Libya, he has once again exhibited the same foreign policy insanity. As with Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s not farfetched to assume that in the years to come we will all be wondering how we got involved in the Libyan War. It’s also not farfetched to assume that we will still be wondering how or when we might get out of it.

  6. One last thought (for now):

    When Obama was running for president and the press and US public was mesmerized by his wisdom and insight, Obama said repeatedly that Afghanistan was a “war of necessity,” while in contrast Iraq was a “war of choice”.

    What kind of war is Libya? Necessity or choice?

  7. It is truly amazing how some people respond to Western action. When the West acts to prevent a civilian slaughter, untold hordes clamor out of the woodwork to cry jingoism. Alternatively, when the West sits back and does not intervene, the same multitude sing in unison that this 'proves' the West cares nothing for human rights and so forth but instead only cares for natural resources.

    It is quite clear to everyone that if had Gaddafi been allowed to continue his attack on the rebels and had he captured Benghazi then he would have staged a massacre in the city. This point is not debatable. Given this possible outcome, the West chose the only serious option for those interested in protecting innocent lives: intervention. I wholly support the action taken by my country and its allies.

    Personally, I hope that we do not get too deeply involved in terms of physically helping rebuild and provide security with our own citizens in uniform on the ground. In fact, given that either side, if victorious, seems likely to do great damage to the other, I support a partition of the country until a peaceful resolution can be worked out. But that is a discussion for another day. Today, I am proud that the West has employed its great military arsenal in the pursuit of a high and noble end.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. .

    Today, I am proud that the West has employed its great military arsenal in the pursuit of a high and noble end.


    Bold words (and naive).

    One would think the person uttering them would be proud to use the screen name we all recognize him as. Evidently, not.

    It's always easier to utter bold words under the anonimity of the blank persona of the anonymous anonymi.


  10. A high and noble end.

    Close air support of tribal warfare, with al-Qaeda's enthusiastic approval because they will be avenged upon the West for the thing with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

    Who are these bozos we're rooting for? One of them flew a jet, kamikaze-like, into a loyalist compound to get one of Khaddafi's spermazoid sons.

  11. I am so happy Jamie Rubin loves the third war and the NY Times is so approving. I could not have said it better, …There is no perfect formula for military intervention. It must be used sparingly — not in Bahrain or Yemen, even though we condemn the violence against protesters in both countries. Libya is a specific case: Muammar el-Qaddafi is erratic, widely reviled, armed with mustard gas and has a history of supporting terrorism. If he is allowed to crush the opposition, it would chill pro-democracy movements across the Arab world.

    Such noble words from the draft dodgers who run the New York Times and we all know about Obama's distinguished service. If Qaddafi or any of the other shits out there need killing, that is why we have sniper rifles.

  12. …and of course Lance Corporal Jamie Rubin.


  13. Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood gains upper hand
    Islamist reformers seemed to be gaining the upper hand over their secular rivals in Egypt on Monday after gaining a boost in a referendum on constitutional change.

    A Muslim Brotherhood banner in Cairo calling for a 'yes' vote in the referendum on constitutional changes

    By Adrian Blomfield, Middle East Correspondent 7:47PM GMT 21 Mar 2011
    The Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed for decades by Egypt's military rulers, took an important stride towards winning political power for the first time after voters overwhelmingly backed its call for a "yes" vote in polls over the weekend.

    Some 77 per cent of voters gave their approval to a hastily prepared package of constitutional reforms that will limit the overarching powers of the presidency and pave the way for quick legislative and presidential elections in the autumn.

    The youth movements and other secular figures who led hundreds of thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other parts of the country had opposed the vote, saying the reforms were too piecemeal.

    More importantly, elections so soon will give the reformers little time to organise. Under the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak, genuine opposition parties did not exist, meaning the reformers will have to start from scratch. Although outlawed, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose goals are murky, operated a highly efficient, underground movement.

    The referendum was considered one of the cleanest votes held in Egypt and turnout was almost unprecedented, but the Muslim Brotherhood was accused of intimidating voters by telling them it was their "religious duty" to vote "yes".

    "The referendum, while it was free of fraud, was not free of 'influence', especially by the Muslim Brotherhood and the religious trend in general," Suleiman Gouda, a liberal commentator, wrote in the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

    "The mosques were used by these groups to influence the voters."

  14. Influence, societal and cultural, is what democracy is all about.

    To use "influence" at the ballot box, instead of the bullet locker, is the cause we support, across the whirled.

    The US supports the rapid implementation of electoral politics, in Egypt. We have "learned" the lessons of Iraq, where we deterred free and fair elections for as long as we could.

    But where, regardless of the delay, political forces unfriendly to US interests prevailed, electorally.

    Same as in Afghanistan.

    The folk in the Islamic Arc are not being bamboozled by US media spin, they see first hand the continued Imperial over reach of the "West".

  15. While the US has a history of attempting to separate "Church & State" that is not the norm, for the rest of the whirled.

    Nor is the separation of "Church & State" a strategic value that the US has attempted to export.

    Indeed, both in Europe and the Middle East the US has, in the wake of military victories, endorsed the marriage of "Church & State".

    The two Islamic republics we have founded in the past ten years and the prominence allowed the Christian Democrats of Germany in the years after WWII exemplify the US endorsement of combining politics and religion elsewhere in the whirled.

  16. .

    The first F-15E crashes near Benghazi. Went down because of mechanical problems. Crew rescued by the rebels.

    Deuce talked about the cost of the Tomahawks. What does an F15E cost?
    Is there an expense account for that? Do we write a chit for it?

    And if the pilots had died would that be considered "the cost of doing business", collateral damage like the innocents that are bound to be killed in the conclict due to the bombing (a certainty, as someone said earlier, this point is not debatable.)


  17. That wasn't me Quirk..

    Back in the days of the good King Idris, when wishing could still lead to something, and the women were virtuous, and American servicemen tanned on the beaches of the sky blue Mediterraen sea, and farming was still prosperous in the eastern sections of Allah's blessed desert Land of Libya, there weere B-52's parked on desert tarmac runways, low slung wings, loaded, lethal beyond belief, a nightmare of death, protecting the Western Way of Life, a brave and cunning upstart officer and his conspirators of a different tribe overthrew the King, and .......

    Read Qadafi's rap sheet at wiki. There are things even I had forgotten, like his support of Idi Amin the Human Flesh Eater, for instance. I know the fear is something worse will come along but he's an hard act to follow. His first act was imposing sharia, for instance.

    Since we've become involved, divide the country up along tribal lines is probably the best can be hoped for. After a long civil war.

    Anonymous bosch

  18. I've been reading 10 Poems to Move Your Heart, with commentary, and horseback riding, which beats beating one's chest and tearing one's hair over Libya.Neruda is one hell of a poet, albeit a commie and an atheist. By what transcendental slight of hand a man can believe the imaginatin is creative of what's to come and not in this world only, and be a commie and atheist only Scott Fitzgerald might understand.

    anonymous bosch

  19. .

    Back in the days of the good King Idris...

    Good lord.


  20. Oh all right.... back in the days of King Idris....when wishing usually lead to nothing much....

    anonymous bosch

  21. Don't blame Libya on me. My only recommendation was to bomb Iran early on, in concert with Israel.

    It's back to the condo of no internet connection for me, with aching back.

    anonymous bosch

  22. Bolivian President Evo Morales has called for US President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked following his decision to attack Libya.

    Hear, hear!