The White House would forge ahead with military action in Libya even if Congress passed a resolution constraining the mission, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a classified briefing to House members Wednesday afternoon …Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who asked Clinton about the War Powers Act during a classified briefing, said Clinton and the administration are sidestepping the measure’s provisions giving Congress the ability to put a 60-day time limit on any military action.
“They are not committed to following the important part of the War Powers Act,” he told TPM in a phone interview. “She said they are certainly willing to send reports [to us] and if they issue a press release, they’ll send that to us too.” ~TalkingPointsMemo
This is an outrageous statement, but it’s entirely consistent with what the administration has been illegally doing for the last 12 days. They seem to believe quite seriously that, as long as they don’t call it a war, it doesn’t fall under any laws regulating war powers or the Constitution. The sliver of good news in all of this is that Obama and his officials are showing such contempt for American law and institutions that they are exposing themselves to a serious political backlash. War supporters won’t be able to hide behind the conceit that the war is legal. As far as U.S. law is concerned, it has never been legal, and only people making the most maximalist claims of inherent executive power can believe otherwise. Anyone who continues to support the war from this point on will be revealed as being either a blind Obama loyalist, an ideological liberal interventionist, or a devotee of the cult of the Presidency.
This is as good an occasion as any to make a few observations about the loaded language of “values” in the Libya debate. As the debate has unfolded, opponents of the Libyan war have framed our arguments most in terms of national interests and repeatedly demonstrated that the Libyan war doesn’t serve any vital or significant interests. Those are important arguments, and they’re necessary for showing why the war is wrong and unnecessary, but no less important is what the war says about American “values.” War supporters would very much like to make the debate over war an argument between people who support democracy and human rights (their side) and people who couldn’t care less about them (the other side), but what they have missed is that it is the backers of humanitarian intervention who are assaulting some basic American republican and democratic political principles. As David Rieff said the other day:
Why Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, or David Cameron feel that who rules Libya is any of their affair, and why they were more intent on securing the (grudging) assent of the Arab League than the assent of their own legislatures, shows just how misguided the doctrine of humanitarian intervention really is. These leaders are more intent on imposing democracy by force than in honoring the democratic judgment of their parliaments at home.
So, yes, this is an argument over “values” as well as interests, and the supporters of the war are willing to sacrifice concrete interests and jeopardize fundamental American values for the sake of intervening in another country’s civil war for what are very debatable humanitarian reasons. Americans are being asked to choose what we value more. Do we actually value self-government, the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, and constitutional republicanism, or are we content to let all of those things be trashed on the whim of a relative handful of people for the sake of ideology and good intentions? Do we believe that the President must act within the law, or do we believe he is above it? Will we resist “angelic Caesarism” (as Rieff put it) or fall in line like the passive subjects the administration expects us to be?