On Monday morning’s FrontPage discussion on Stevie Wonder’s KJLH radio station, I mentioned to Dominique Diprima that Congressional approval of American military action against Libya under the 1973 War Powers Act, would not automatically mean that Congress had declared war against Libya.

In fact, Congress could approve military operations along a continuum from a limited and time-sensitive engagement all the way to a full-scale declaration of war.

But the real problem within this discussion, however–the elephant in the room–was the other portion of it: President Obama had not requested War Powers authorization from Congress. He just overruled two of the government’s top military attorneys in deciding he didn’t need to and was not going to ask Congress to approve his on-going military exercise in Libya.

Like other presidents before him, Obama had concluded that his definition of United States involvement in Libya as a, ‘minimally invasive procedure,’ did not rise to the level of hostilities called for in the War Powers Act. He was not committing U.S.A. troops on the ground, NATO was leading the assault, and America’s involvement was essentially air and weapons support.

Although this was far from the first time a sitting American president had taken this course of action, it was rare for a president to ignore the advice of his own legal experts on military engagement, and it demonstrated that he was very committed to continuing along this risky Libyan path, in spite of the damage it was doing to his international and domestic reputation as a reluctant warrior and Peace Prize laureate.

The president threw down the gauntlet and declared himself ready for a constitutional showdown on the issue, if necessary.

Why, is still the operative issue here. Libya is just not that important to American interests, as detailed in my March 22, 2011 column in OurWeekly.

This point was recently reiterated by outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said in an ABC interview in April that Libya posed no discernible threat to America, and it represented no vital American interests, foreign or domestic. So why this big throw down with the threat of an all-in constitutional move?

In that same ABC interview, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that we were involved in Libya as a favor to our European allies who had helped us with Iraq and Afghanistan. We were there to protect civilians, and we were there to help bring democracy to part of the Arab world. Bob Gates added that allowing Libya to cause a gigantic refugee problem in Tunisia and Egypt by driving thousands of Libyans from their homes would create more regional instability and make the latter much more difficult to achieve.

At first glance, these all seem reasonable, although not the kind of substantial stuff one would think significant enough to cause the president to dig his heels in so deeply. However, on second glance, France, the ally which dropped the first bombs on Libya, clearly seems intent on murdering Mr. Qaddafi, if it can, and most certainly on removing him from office. The three-plus months of the campaign have already soured many European citizens on the whole enterprise and desperation may be seeping into continuing military operations. The issue of Libya creating more instability in the region is pure nonsense, given the continuing actions of Syria, Bahrain and Yemen in the region, with all three randomly and repeatedly shooting their own residents with impunity and rapid response. Why did nobody protect the lives of those several thousand dead?

And Arab democracy? That is indeed a pipe dream.

For those who’ve read seriously even a portion of American foreign policy history and the evolving patterns of international rules of engagement, it is clear that one of the prevailing code words within that context is ‘intervention for humanitarian purposes–to save lives.’ This is short hand for ‘regime change,’ ‘political assassination’ and ‘ignored sovereignty.’ Along this pathway, achieving Col. Qadaffi’s death or failure in that and watching him survive are the most probable ignominious results of the president’s Libyan choice. Both are no-wins for America.

Make no mistake, the president is setting no precedent here (except ignoring his own military attorneys’ advice and being the first African American president to invade an African country).

From the 1788 ratification of our current constitution to 1950, presidents of the U.S.A. have regularly exerted their muscle by sending American troops into foreign military engagements, violating or bending the intent of Article I, Sections 11-16 of the U.S. Constitution, which in non-ambiguous language gives the power to Congress, and only to Congress, to declare war on an enemy of this country.

Most of the times, however, from Washington to Roosevelt, including President Lincoln’s famous order to engage the South in the Civil War while Congress was in recess, the presidents always consulted with Congress and got its approval, even belatedly, for large-scale military operations.

However, starting with President Harry S. Truman and his response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1949-50, American presidents have looked for and found convenient political ways to avoid having Congress “interfere” with presidential authority to send American troops into military hostilities, and they have created a very fuzzy standard for any of us to reference.

In fact, truth be told, President Truman provided current President Obama, himself a presidential scholar, the very road map he needed in handling the Libyan situation. Recommended by his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, President Truman requested and got from the United Nations–then a five-year old body–the written authority to launch a military campaign against North Korea under the auspices of an international gathering of troops, thus avoiding any need for congressional approval. Fifty-odd years later, recommended by his Secretary of state Hiliary Clinton, President Obama circumvented congressional authority by requesting and receiving permission from the U.N. to attack Libya.

Congressmen then sued the president, and lost. Former Congressman Ron Dellums sued former President Bush over Desert Storm. He, too, lost. There is now another gathering body of congressmen who have filed suit against President Obama for violating the War Powers Act. They, too, will lose as the federal court, with precedent on its side, will again refuse to hear the case.

The only real option Congress has is to de-fund President Obama’s Libyan war, no matter what euphemism is used to describe that situation. Otherwise, the $800 million this particular escapade has already cost will balloon into $1.5 to $2 billion for a war America simply should not be engaged in, not now, not next week, and not next month.

One must admire the president’s logic and analytical skills. But one must also question why he has this time chosen to throw American money into a dark, dark hole. Is there something warrior-strange about the water in the White House?

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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