The grotesque extremes to which Muammar Qaddafi has gone to threaten the people of Libya—and to act on those threats—have left the self-proclaimed “king of kings” with few defenders in northern Africa, the Middle East or the international community.
Even among frequent critics of US interventions abroad, there is disgust with Qaddafi, and with the palpable disdain he has expressed for the legitimate aspirations of his own people.
So it is that the advocacy for military intervention has spread far beyond the usual circle of neoconservative hawks.
The circumstance is made easier by the fact that the bombing of Libya by US and allied planes is being carried out under the auspices of the United Nations. And with his words and his initial reluctance with regard to taking military action, President Obama has seemed to avoid many of the excesses of his predecessors.
Yet, now the headline on CNN reads “Libya War.”
And anyone who takes the Constitution seriously should have a problem with the fact that, once again, the United States is involved in a war that has neither been debated nor declared by the Congress of the United States.
The penchant of presidents of embark upon military adventures without consulting Congress is now so pronounced that it is barely noted anymore that the Constitution says “Congress shall have power to…declare War.”
Unless the United States is immediately threatened, presidents aren’t supposed to declare wars or launch them on their own.
Of all the checks and balances outlined in the Constitution, none is more significant than the power to declare war.
Yet, since World War II, presidents have launched attacks, interventions and wars without declarations. And now that has happened again.
There are plenty of explanations for why this happens. Treaties that require to bind the United States to the United Nations. The War Powers Act. The general sense that members of Congress would prefer to let presidents call the shots.
But the Constitution does not establish any exit strategies for members of the Congress, They are supposed to provide advice and consent—or to deny it.
Unfortunately, that just does not happen anymore.
When the United States ratified the United Nations treaty after World War II, Henrik Shipstead and William Langer were the only senators to cast “no” votes on the UN Charter. Other senators, California’s Hiram Johnson and Wisconsin’s Robert M. La Follette Jr., expressed reservations.
What was their fear? The senators worried that, under the agreement with the United Nations, presidents would involve US troops in wars launched by the United Nations—without ever consulting Congress.