by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
June 30, 2011
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's a good thing that President Obama got his Nobel Peace Prize early in his first term. He certainly wouldn't get it now for running six wars.
Six wars? That's the count of Tom Englehardt, proprietor of TomDispatch.com.
There's Iraq, which despite the promised withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by the end of the year, will continue on as a low-level counterinsurgency operation indefinitely.
There's Afghanistan, which despite the Obama Administration's plans for a partial troop withdrawal, will continue to be a full-bore counterinsurgency campaign for years to come.
There's Pakistan, which is a full-scale CIA-run covert war waged with armed aerial drones and assorted other secret operations, such as the one that killed Osama bin Laden.
There's Libya, which is officially a NATO-led air war, but the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are helping out, and U.S. personnel are involved in either carrying out air strikes or providing support for the NATO and Arab allies that are also doing the bombing.
There's Yemen, another covert air war like Pakistan, that has picked up in intensity as political unrest continues in that country.
Finally, there's the so-called Global War on Terror, the umbrella title for the war began by the Bush Administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. While the Obama Administration no longer uses the name, it remains global and it remains a war, with U.S. personnel in at least 75 countries.
Six wars, all being waged with a combination of U.S. military forces, U.S. intelligence agencies, the State Department, and private military contractors. The blur between what's civilian and what's military increases by the year, and the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about 50 years ago reigns supreme. With that reign, of course, has come the most draconian provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which has curtailed not only our fundamental rights but our exectations of privacy in our person and in our homes.
Congress chose to go after President Obama for only one of these six wars - specifically, for going to war with Libya without first seeking their authorization as required in the War Powers clause of the Constitution, or under the provisions of the Vietnam-era War Powers Resolution.
Even the Pentagon and the Justice Department believe the Obama Administration is on shaky legal ground. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled House botched a chance last week to put an end to the Libya adventure.
First, it voted 295-123 against authorizing even a limited use of force against Libya. But then it voted 238-180 to reject cutting funding for the Libyan campaign.
For all of House Speaker John Boehner's talk about wanting to uphold the Constitution, his chamber ended up inadvertently helping President Obama maintain an illegal and unnecessary war.
Plus, as a bonus, we got a big helping of hypocrisy as Democrats and Republicans alike voted against the war, but voted to fund it, thus having it both ways on the issue.
Only 70 Democrats voted against the Libyan war. They were joined by 225 Republicans. But when it came time to vote against limiting funding for the Libyan war, only 36 Democrats and 144 Republicans supported doing so.
The White House would have preferred Congress didn't vote on the war at all, but it will happily accept this muddled outcome as authorization for its mission.
Sadly, Mr. Obama is continuing the "unitary executive" theory that governed how the Bush Administration acted on matters of war and peace - i.e., the proposition that a president has the right to commit U.S. forces anywhere, for any reason, without consulting Congress first.
President Bush at least made token efforts to include Congress in the decisions to wage the so-called Global War on Terror and to invade Iraq. But in the Obama Administration's reaction to Congress questioning the war in Libya, they are showing utter contempt for the right of lawmakers and the people they represent to question the legality of what is, for all intents and purposes, an illegal war.
There has not been a formal declaration of war since Dec. 8, 1941, when Congress voted to authorize war against Japan. Every other American military action since World War II has been carried out without the formal Congressional imprimatur required by the Constitution.
After a decade of silence, Congress is finally beginning to discover that once the executive branch gains new powers, it is somewhere between difficult and merely impossible to roll them back.
President Obama seems to have no intention of ending the Bush Administration's policy of unlimited power in national security matters. The secret prisons still exist, and the detention without charges of terrorism suspects continues. The warrantless surveillance of Americans continues. The assaults on civil liberties still continue. And the undeclared wars, all six of them, continue.
As a nation, we are long overdue for a serious debate on what war powers are reserved to Congress and what are reserved to the president. While the clumsy attempt by Boehner and congressional Republicans to hold President Obama accountable for Libya was motivated more by politics than a genuine concern about the Constitution, at least the debate has come out in the open.
Unchecked militarism, like unchecked capitalism, will ultimately destroy our nation.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.