Another War of Jenkins' Ear

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Libya is not Iraq

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Adam Serwer, now:

Both of the above statements could not be farther from [Obama] who, in 2002, said that war in Iraq Saddam Hussein “poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.” Whatever we’re doing in Libya, it can’t really be described as an attempt to eliminate an imminent and direct threat to the United States.

As Daniel Larison points out, all of what Obama said about Hussein can be said about Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. But the Libya intervention seems to have revealed a genuine ideological transition from the Barack Obama of 2002, from a kind of neo-realist to a full fledged liberal internationalist. Both approaches would have justified intervening on moral grounds, but the character of Obama’s intervention is differentiated by its reliance on international institutions.

That’s demonstrably not true. As I just posted, Voice of America reported the EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner is warning of a massive influx of refugees to Europe. Sure, this does not threaten the United States of America, but it sure does threaten Libya’s neighbors in the region – look at reports from the Tunisian border. There’s no indication those sorts of things are going to get better if Gaddafi levels Benghazi. But the regional effects is both the legal justification for action AND the one difference from Yemen, Bahrain (spilling outward is not the same as spilling inward), the Ivory Coast, etc. And by contrast, there was no real exodus I am aware from prior to the Iraq war (if anything, the war caused one). I don’t think being aware of how humanitarian crises spill over into international relations makes one doomed to be as bad as George W. Bush. Rather, it makes Obama conscious of actual international destabilizing actions, not just illusory ones.

(Moreover, any road to a new policy on Israel and Palestine has to include the issue of refugees. Recognition of that elsewhere can only help).

PS: This DOES NOT mean that Obama will not make some of the same mistakes in Libya that Bush made in Iraq or that it means whatever is done in Libya is just a great idea. Just that there’s more legal and political justification for the actions taken than in Iraq.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Parsing Libya

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Allow me to prove some of my liberal bona fides before making some points that will be ill-received: the war in Iraq was a bad idea that was executed poorly once the Hussein government fell. The Afghanistan was was a necessary war at some level (even Kucinich wanted a police action at the time if I recall correctly), but by now it’s clear they can’t rebuild the entire country from the ground up. So the United States should switch to the Al Qaeda only force with a smaller footprint that Biden had in mind (and if that does not work, they should reconsider again).

With that said, allow me to pose questions to myself and answer them.

Are there any compelling interests here?

Yes there are. For one, there’s a threat of refugees to Europe if Gaddafi continues his current assault on the rebels (there’s no perfect word to describe them, so I’ll just pick this). Voice of America yesterday:

The EU’s humanitarian aid commissioner said Thursday that Europe must be prepared for the worst.

Kristalina Georgieva says that until now, humanitarian efforts have been geared to repatriate foreign nationals, many of them Asian and African, who have fled Libya en masse.

But she says if Libyans join those leaving the embattled country, they may not have a home to return to.  European nations, she says, may need to accommodate them as permanent refugees.

Many European nations are worried about the situation.  Italy, in particular, has already seen a wave of migrants landing on its tiny southern island of Lampedusa.  It has called for its European neighbors to do more to help it deal with the influx of people.

A British member of the European Parliament, Jean Lambert, says European countries don’t help one another deal with refugees and asylum seekers.  She says they will have to pull together.

This chaos has already spread to Tunisia. Some may say that this makes this a preemptive war. Well, yes. But given that Saif Gaddafi threatened to take over the rest of the country within t48 hours and Muammar Gaddafi had just finished a speech promising to take Benghazi at any time, then it’s pretty clear it would fall under the imminent threat exception. Moreover, even with the ceasefire offer today, there are numerous credible reports Gaddafi is still on the attack.

Part of the problem here is that the Bush Administration, by trumping up nonsense about being nuked by Iraq, inadvertently shrunk what real interests can be. Regional destabilization is a threat – again, look at Clinton handling Haiti (or rather, after going in for the right reasons, completely mishandling it). And destabilization is a threat not because one in a million might be a terror baby and nuke something, but rather because dealing with that sort of influx of refugees can bring a system to its knees, especially when it’s already stretched thin.

Intervening against a dictator managing his country in such a way that the entire region is at imminent risk of destabilization is exactly what UN action is meant for. That does not mean that this will be run in the most efficient manner, or it’s the best idea, or they have a great exit strategy. That does not mean there are not serious problems elsewhere in the world. All of the above are real problems. But officially engaging in the situation is not some prima facia error on the part of the Arab League or the west.

Should the US have supported this resolution?

Yes. Either by voting yes or by abstaining. I would prefer abstention but I understand voting yes to support our allies.

Should the US be involved in actively prosecuting this war?

No. There are two different reasons here. First, the compelling reason for Europe and Africa does not apply to the United States. and aside from logistical support, they might not be needed. The US Navy would have to enforce the embargo at sea, of course (and that is fine for humanitarian purposes – I would expect the same for Bahrain or the Ivory Coast or Yemen or what have you.)

Preliminary indications have the US taking far more of an active role than I would like.  (Silver lining, hey, they might be taking some resources out of Afghanistan and Iraq. About time.)

Daniel Larison writes:

In the next few days, allied governments and presumably the U.S. along with them will embark on an unnecessary war against a government that has done nothing to any of our citizens or countries to merit the use of force.

The American people through their representatives have not consented to this, and they evidently do not want the United States involved. If Obama decides to have U.S. forces participate in this war, he will be doing so without a clearly-defined goal or exit strategy, and there will be absolutely no public consensus that it is necessary for American security. If Congress does not support a declaration of war against Libya, it will also be unconstitutional. Even if the U.S. is not directly involved in the fighting, Obama will own part of the Libyan war, because he and his administration facilitated it and helped give it legal and political cover.

Based on everything we know right now, a war against Libya is not wise for any of the states that intend to join in an attack on Libya, and it is obviously not necessary for the security of the Gulf states that may participate in the attack. Judging by the criteria of just war theory, a war against Libya is not a just one. Even if we grant that there is right intention, there is no just cause. Libya’s current government has not wronged any of its would-be attackers, and there are no present injuries that any of these states have suffered that require or justify the use of force. It does not meet the standard defined in the Catholic Catechism’s definition of just war that holds that “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.” The international institution that is supposed to be dedicated to international peace and security is deliberately turning a civil war into a much broader, international conflict. It is hard to think of examples of small wars that were made better through escalation.

The second concern is something Larison mentions above: that Congress has not voted on this at all. But that’s only a concern if the United States is involved. Any administration has the complete legal right to advocate sanctions or any acts of war through the United Nations. So let’s dial back Larison’s point to only American actions in Libya itself.

One thing that IS clear is that the AUMF regarding actions subsequent to 9/11 does not apply here by any stretch of the imagination.

Despite the threat to Europe, Article 5 of the NATO Charter is unlikely to be invoked (which if invoked would justify action given that treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land according to the Constitution). First, the west does not want it to appear to be just them intervening. Second, the Germans are so reluctant to get involved that they’d probably block it. (Not to mention Turkey).

But is there a specific legal problem here? The War Powers Resolution – which is still good law – specifically allows “the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities” only in three situations: if there is a Declaration of War, if there is “specific statutory authorization” or if there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” None of these three has happened, even arguably. But a further section of the act essentially gives Obama 90 days to get this authorization from Congress, though candidate Obama did not appear to agree with that interpretation.

A separate law regarding the United Nations Security Council does state that “The President shall not be deemed to require the authorization of the Congress to make available to the Security Council on its call in order to take action under article 42 of said Charter . . .  except . . . nothing herein contained shall be construed as an authorization to the President by the Congress to make available to the Security Council for such purpose armed forces, facilities, or assistance in addition to the forces, facilities, and assistance provided for in such special agreement or agreements.” So by my reading of this, the passage of the UN resolution does provide legal justification for deploying troops, but only within the strict limitations of that resolution. (By the way, in case you want to argue this is an article 43, action, the previous sentence in the law applies to article 43 and is as or more broad.)

The passed Security Council resolution only refers to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and not specifically an article. Article 42 seems to be the most on point, as it refers to military actions when (article 41) sanctions fail. Again, even if it’s article 43, this would not change the legal obligation. (If anything the specific reference to Chapter exemption seems meant to not implicate this law.

My conclusion: this is a legal action by Obama. But that’s because most people forgot this law is even on the books, probably. And this is a very unexplored area of law, as mentioned on page 5 here.

Lastly, though, I think it’s a good idea politically for Obama to actually do a better job selling this. Contra Larison, there is public support for multi-lateral action, but it’s important for the President to marshal that support and get Congressional authorization, just from a basic legitimacy point of view. He should do that soon.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm

One Two Three Four, I Declare a Trade War

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The EU and The US have declared a trade war against China:

The US trade representative issued a statement this afternoon criticising restrictions China has placed on exports of raw materials, to the disadvantage of American firms. Together with Europe, the US will start formal “dispute resolution consultations” at the WTO, claiming China has breached the rules of the international marketplace.

The trade representative said: “For American industrial manufacturers, this is a critical step toward market equality. China’s export restrictions on a broad range of raw materials have given unfair competitive advantages to their own manufacturers while raising the costs of doing business for US companies.”

The complaint concerns the minimum export prices and tariffs China imposes on several resources, including bauxite, magnesium and zinc. The EU claims the restrictions not only break general WTO rules, but specific promises China made when it joined the organisation in 2001, becoming a fully-fledged player in global markets.

A lot has been made comparing the current economic climate to that in the 1930s. A key difference is the existence of a forum like the WTO to negotiate these claims in. One can imagine an alternate reality where it did not exist causing increasing protectionist rhetoric.

I’m disappointed in the press corps, though. This broke relatively late in the day, but inovling so many big players – China, EU, and the US – it should have been the focus of a question at the press conference today. It went unmentioned.

Written by John Whitehouse

June 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Economics, News Media

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