Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Obama’s Impeachment: Mr. Jones and the War Powers Act 1/2

by Nomad
Republican  Congressman
Walter Jones of North Carolina
Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina recently sponsored a resolution (H.CON.RES.107) “expressing the sense of Congress that the use of offensive military force by a President without prior and clear authorization of an Act of Congress constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under Article II, section 4 of the Constitution.” 

It would all too easy to write off Jones’ resolution as just another time-wasting exercise by a Congress that has already engaged in such foolishness as reciting the Constitution on the House floor. (If Vanity Fair’s calculations are accurate, that political stunt cost taxpayers a cool $1.1 million.

Or the embarrassing reaffirmation by Congress of the national motto “In God We trust” a resolution proposed by Rep. Randy Forbes, Republican from Virginia. (Only nine risked God’s wrath and the measure was passed 396-9, with 2 abstentions.) These are merely two examples from a list of proposals and resolutions. This kind of silliness might account for the fact that a New York Times poll in October of last year found that Congress' approval rating fell to an all-time low of 9 percent. The 112th Congress will undoubtedly go down in American political history as the most disliked. 

The resolution sponsored by Jones succeeded in grabbing headlines and raced around the  blogosphere  like a frantic lab rat. Most of the discussion undoubtedly came from Right Wing talk radio or even less reputable, Fox News analysts. With some justification, one might think it is all a bit of wishful thinking by the Right wing. A self-induced thrill from stringing together the words “impeach” “Obama” and “high” and “crime.” A bit of bluster signifying.. a big fat zilch. 
Also, to be clear, this resolution has very little real value in itself. A concurrent resolution is not presented to the President nor does it have the force of law like a joint resolution. As the wording of this resolution suggests, concurrent resolutions are more commonly employed as a method of expressing an opinion on some question. 

Still it does come across as quite intimidating and impressive. Many sites are ready to pounce at any claim no matter how insubstantial. For example, Infowars, Paul Joseph Watson made a series of outlandish claims in his article, Coup D’etat: Pentagon & Obama Declare Congress Ceremonial
In June last year, President Obama arrogantly expressed his hostility to the rule of law when he dismissed the need to get congressional authorization to commit the United States to a military intervention in Libya, churlishly dismissing criticism and remarking, “I don’t even have to get to the Constitutional question.”
In fact, the full transcript of what Obama said gives us a better idea why he should have made such an odd statement. At a press conference not long after the events, when a reporter asked the president if he believed the War Powers Act was constitutional, he replied:
I want to talk about the substance of Libya because there’s been all kinds of noise about process and congressional consultation and so forth. Let’s talk about concretely what’s happened.

Muammar Qaddafi, who, prior to Osama bin Laden, was responsible for more American deaths than just about anybody on the planet, was threatening to massacre his people. And as part of an international coalition, under a U.N. mandate that is almost unprecedented, we went in and took out air defense systems so that an international coalition could provide a no-fly zone, could protect — provide humanitarian protection to the people on the ground.

I spoke to the American people about what we would do. I said there would be no troops on the ground. I said that we would not be carrying the lion’s share of this operation, but as members of NATO, we would be supportive of it because it’s in our national security interest and also because it’s the right thing to do.

We have done exactly what I said we would do. We have not put any boots on the ground. And our allies — who, historically, we’ve complained aren’t willing to carry enough of the load when it comes to NATO operations — have carried a big load when it comes to these NATO operations. And as a consequence, we’ve protected thousands of people in Libya; we have not seen a single U.S. casualty; there’s no risks of additional escalation. This operation is limited in time and in scope.

So I said to the American people, here’s our narrow mission. We have carried out that narrow mission in exemplary fashion. And throughout this process we consulted with Congress. We’ve had 10 hearings on it. We’ve sent reams of information about what the operations are. I’ve had all the members of Congress over to talk about it. So a lot of this fuss is politics.

And if you look substantively at what we’ve done, we have done exactly what we said to do, under a U.N. mandate, and we have protected thousands of lives in the process. And as a consequence, a guy who was a state sponsor of terrorist operations against the United States of America is pinned down and the noose is tightening around him.

Now, when you look at the history of the War Powers resolution, it came up after the Vietnam War in which we had half-a-million soldiers there, tens of thousands of lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars spent — and Congress said, you know what, we don’t want something like that happening again. So if you’re going to start getting us into those kinds of commitments you’ve got to consult with Congress beforehand.

And I think that such consultation is entirely appropriate. But do I think that our actions in any way violate the War Powers resolution? The answer is no. So I don’t even have to get to the constitutional question. There may be a time in which there was a serious question as to whether or not the War Powers resolution act was constitutional. I don’t have to get to the question.
It is hard to define or measure “churlishness” accurately but, in any event, Watson’s quote out of context is misleading in the extreme. (They used to call it lying but now they call it spinning.). But the writer for Inforwars carries it beyond that.
Obama tried to legitimize his failure to obtain Congressional approval for military involvement by sending a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner in which he said the military assault was “authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council.”

In boldly asserting the authority of international powers over and above the legislative branch, Panetta and Obama are openly declaring that they no longer represent the American people and instead are water carriers for a global dictatorship that has usurped the sovereignty of the United States.
However, as we shall see, the War Powers Act does not read that way. It requires that the president only consult with Congress- ideally within 48 hours of any action that places American forces in harm’s way. Under those circumstances, any action continuing longer than 60 days would require a Congressional declaration of war. (More about that in the following post.)

The site, Impeachobamacampaign.com makes this fiery but easily refutable charge against the president:
President Obama’s ordering of the March 19, 2011, attack on Libya, without even consulting Congress, let alone getting a Declaration of War or other type of Congressional approval for the attack, has led to a good amount of discussion as to how the President could very well be impeached for having unilaterally ordered such an attack.
In a statement so crammed with inaccuracy, it's hard to know where the refutation begins. Let's begin with a review of the timeline. 

On March 1 2011, The US Senate unanimously passes non-binding Senate resolution S.RES.85 urging the United Nations Security Council to impose a Libyan no-fly zone and encouraging Gaddafi's to step down.

It was the Congress itself that urged action and not as the writer above calls a “unilateral” step by the president. 
The following day in a Congressional hearing, Secretary of State Clinton warned that US forces might have to play some role in the crisis. She specified a logistical role “in areas where the US is welcome.” Both senators and administration officials reviewed the possibility and complications of establishing a no-fly zone. CNN explains:
Senator John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, called for the United States to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. While he noted that the Libyan people weren't asking for foreign troops, he said they "do need the tools to prevent the slaughter of innocents on Libyan streets."
The Defense Secretary gave a implied warning about military intervention.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking to a House committee, said creating a no-fly zone would have to begin with an attack on Libya.
"If it's ordered, we can do it, but ... there's a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options, and let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone, and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down," he told a House Appropriations hearing. "But that's the way it starts."
President Obama making public announcement
Events on the ground were, as the cliche goes, spiraling out of control. Up until that time, a circumspect, hands-off policy had been maintained by NATO.

On March 18, 2011 as the crisis was becoming more and more of a humanitarian crisis and had all the makings of a massacre in the making, the president held a meeting with eighteen senior congressional leaders to consult with them about his plans to participate in the “NATO-led and UN-authorized civilian support mission and no fly zone.” Ninety minutes later, Obama made his formal public announcement. 

Among those who attended the meeting at the White House were 
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), 
  • House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), 
  • Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), 
  • Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-TX), 
  • Rep.Mike Rogers (R-MI), 
  • Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), 
  • Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), 
  • Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), 
  • Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), 
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), 
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 
  • Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), 
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), 
  • Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), 
  • Rep. Buck McKeon (R-NY), 
  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL),  
  • Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA).
Republican John McCain and Independent Joe Lieberman, both ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee,  gave firm support of the Libyan intervention by NATO forces. Of the action, McCain said with his typical pre-Bush bombast,
"This is a moment of historic proportions, and this will give us a moment of opportunity to help with the spread of democracy."
All of these events prove false the statements that Obama failed to consult members of Congress. 

American military involvement in the mission began on 19 March 2011, with the US playing a key role in destroying the air defense system. The majority of sorties were then flown by British and French forces. At no time- with the possible exception of covert rescue forces or CIA agents acting as liaison - were American troops on Libyan soil. 

On 25 March 2011 NATO Allied Joint Force Command in Naples took command of the no-fly zone over Libya and combined it with the ongoing arms embargo operation under the name Operation Unified Protector

On 28 March, Obama addressed the nation and explained that in any future coalition operations in Libya, the United States would be playing “a supporting role—including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications.”

As ABC news reported, President Obama, wrote to congressional leaders on May 20 2011 stating his reasons why he had decided that, because of the limited scope of the operation, no prior approval was necessary.
“Since April 4,” the president wrote, “U.S. participation has consisted of:
(1) non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance;
(2) aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone; and
(3) since April 23, precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets in support of the NATO-led coalition's efforts.”
With the death of Gaddafi at the hands of rebels forces, the NATO mission ended on 31 October 2011. By that time, the capital had fallen, Gaddafi’s regime had been driven out of power. President Obama, acting within the in his constitutional limits as commander in chief, and using the combined NATO forces, with a UN sanction accomplished what Ronald Reagan once attempted back in 1986. (Incidentally, when Reagan launched missiles at Libyan forces on March 26, 1986, there was never any mention of the War Powers Act, consulting Congress or seeking authorization.) 

It is no wonder the Right Wing is seething.

Still it’s one thing when gullible radio listeners or angry Internet crusaders get caught up in this nonsense but it is quite another thing when a representative like Congressman Jones falls for such foolishness and misrepresentations of the record. It didn't make much sense.
I felt that there was something more going on. Something a bit more than a just anti-Obama stunt by Rep. Walter Jones. 

In the second part, I will reveal what I learned. You might find it surprising.
So what do you think about the resolution? Don't miss the second part of this series where we will look at the real reasons behind H.CON.RES.107, and  the War Powers Act in principle and in practice. Bookmark Nomadic Politics or become a follower!