Obama, the Constitution & War

Despite his obvious efforts to separate his approach to matters regarding world affairs from that of former president George W. Bush, President Obama has actually been emulating Mr. Bush, angering and bewildering Obama supporters. His flip-flop on Guantanamo and the Patriot Act are examples. He has decided now publicly that U.S.-ally Yemeni President Saleh has to go under the bus, just as he’s decided lately that the Egyptian and Libyan presidents had to go.

There’s reason to be concerned about his Yemen announcement in light of his actions pursuant to his Libyan announcement last month, i.e., his subsequent making of war on Libya and announcing that NATO would continue the war as the U.S. pulled out of all but a “support” role and after spending probably $650 million or so in the process. The president’s arrogance has no limit.

The obvious question has to do with what the president intends to do since “citizens” protesting in Yemen have been killed just as was the case in Libya, with Obama ginning up his war on Libya ostensibly to protect them from Qaddafi, who continues to insist that he has a right to put down a rebellion, as does Saleh. Does Obama intend to “protect” Yemenis by making war on Yemen, then maybe passing it off to NATO or the EU or some other body? Who knows?

This brings up the matter of presidential responsibilities vis-a-vis the requirements/allowances of the U.S. Constitution. Did the prexy have the right to attack Libya and does he have the right to do the same regarding Yemen or any other country whose head-of-state he decides should get out of Dodge? Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution:“The Congress shall have power…to declare war…to provide for calling forth the militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.”

Article 2, Section 2: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and of the Militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States,…” The president is given the specific power to conduct the military operation if Congress declares or otherwise (under the laws) mandates military action.

It seems clear enough constitutionally that the president carries out the enactments/resolutions of the Congress but does not make policy decisions regarding armed conflict and certainly does not make war as his prerogative, which is precisely what Obama did regarding Libya. Indeed, if insurrections and invasions were to be included as those happening in other nations (Libya, for instance), according to the constitution he would have been required to act in behalf of Qaddafi, not against him.

This military meddling in other nations’ affairs is not the requirement or allowance of the Constitution, of course, but does emphasize when the Congress/president can instigate or carry out military action regarding this nation, i.e., to put down insurrections and/or invasions, as, for instance, in the case of the Confederacy in 1861 or the Barbary pirates off the coast of Libya in the early 1800s, when the buccaneers “invaded” American ships.

Libya obviously did not invade or otherwise violate this country last month; therefore, according to the Constitution, neither the Congress nor the president had any right to bomb sovereign territory and murder Libyans, an absolute act of war, exactly like the action of the Japanese on 07 December 1941 at Pearl Harbor, which did result in war being declared by the Congress, not the president, who then conducted the war. In his action, Obama became a Hirohito, not a Roosevelt, not an attractive comparison.

If the main premise for Obama’s virtually unilateral action has to do with humanitarian considerations, as seems to be the case, this country/president, even if constitutionally allowed, would need a military of many millions to handle the whole world, especially the Middle East and Africa (particularly in Muslim-controlled countries), in order to protect the many populations affected.

Many governments are changed on the point of the sword and blood routinely runs in the streets (think Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Ivory Coast, and many others besides Libya currently), with outcomes that are unpredictable and consequent conditions not necessarily being improved as the result of either in-state actions or interventions by other countries. How many governments does Obama intend to attack?

In any case, the president did not act within his constitutional authority; rather, he acted quite outside it. He compounded his unconstitutional approach by also deciding when the U.S. would essentially withdraw from the action he initiated, something that should have been decided by Congress if he had wisely approached the lawmakers in the first place, thus initiating and ending his own war. The “no-fly zone” and “citizen protection” elements of the UN resolution have actually become a ground war, a killing-field the Security Council may not have envisioned.

Since the actions by Bush and Obama vis-à-vis congressional oversight/declarations and on-the-ground situations were distinctly different, no comparison can be made concerning their actions. Bush gained approval from Congress. Obama gained approval from the UN. His responsibility was to the people of the U.S. through their elected representatives, not the UN or Arab League. Actually, Obama should have listened to his Defense Secretary and Joint-Chiefs Chairman, who warned against his action. He has been complicit in much bloodshed.