The Pentagon is ramping up intelligence-gathering in Libya as the Obama administration draws up plans to open a third front in the war against the Islamic State. This significant escalation is being planned without a meaningful debate in Congress about the merits and risks of a military campaign that is expected to include airstrikes and raids by elite American troops.
That is deeply troubling. A new military intervention in Libya would represent a significant progression of a war that could easily spread to other countries on the continent. It is being planned as the American military burrows more deeply into battlegrounds in Syria and Iraq, where American ground troops are being asked to play an increasingly hands-on role in the fight.
The war on ISIS went from being a supposedly defensive, “limited” intervention in Iraq to an open-ended, multi-year campaign in two countries in a matter of months. The Obama administration was wrong to expand the intervention into Syria, and it would be even more reckless to add yet another country as part of its illegal war. A year and a half after the first bombs were dropped in 2014, the war is on track to become a war against any and every jihadist group that claims to be aligned with ISIS. All of this has happened without any serious debate about the wisdom or necessity of U.S. military action in any of these countries.
The ongoing expansion of an unauthorized war shows how indifferent the president would be to any restrictions that Congress might try to impose on him. The administration continues to hide behind the lie that the 2001 AUMF gives them all the authority they need, and if they can warp and violate that authorization so brazenly there is nothing to stop them from doing the same to a new authorization. Perhaps expanding the illegal war to yet another country will finally spur Congress to question whether the U.S. should be intervening in these places. Perhaps it will provide an opportunity to pass a rubber stamp authorization that endorses whatever Obama wants to do. More likely, Congress will do nothing at all. It is a testament of how sorry our foreign policy debates are that this may be the best realistic outcome.
It shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but ISIS would almost certainly not have its current base in Libya if the old government had not been overthrown. Civil war in Libya might or might not have continued in the absence of U.S.-NATO intervention, but by intervening Western governments guaranteed the destruction of the regime and the creation of the chaotic conditions that ISIS is now exploiting. The destructive effects of the Libyan war continue to add up, and it is foolish to think that more military intervention in that unfortunate country is going to limit or repair the damage that is being done.