So the air war in Libya is not actually a war, according to the White House: It’s “kinetic military action,” or a “time-limited, scope-limited military intervention.” Hmm. That kind of sounds like a type of war, doesn’t it?
The striking thing about the debate over Libya is that almost no one who doesn’t actually work for the Obama administration seems to be defending their actions without any reservations; even supporters add caveats. Nick Kristof celebrates the accomplishment in Benghazi, where a bloodbath was averted when allied fighters took out dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers enroute to Libya’s rebel-held second city. This is indeed something to celebrate, and Americans ought to be proud of the role our airmen, sailors, and Marines have played in averting a humanitarian disaster (for now). But even Kristof concedes “that there are enormous uncertainties: Can the rebels now topple Colonel Qaddafi? What’s the exit strategy? How much will this cost?”
Whatever you think of the wisdom of intervening in Libya, though, it’s pretty preposterous to pretend that bombing Gaddafi’s forces doesn’t amount to warfare. Why is the White House playing these word games? Jack Goldsmith suggests, plausibly, that they’re relying on a legal theory that if it doesn’t amount to “war,” it doesn’t need congressional authorization.
This is absurd; the Obama administration ought to just ask Congress to sign off (I have a hard time believing it would be that hard to get the votes). But it does, at least, give me an excuse to post a clip from Fawlty Towers.
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