Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with a little help from her friends, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and National Security Advisor Samantha Power, is being hailed as a decisive leader for persuading an indecisive President Obama to use military force against Libya in order to prevent "a potential humanitarian crisis" by Muammar Gaddafi against his own people.
Who knew that feminists would go to war against anyone but white male Republicans and Clarence Thomas?
All that's missing is Clinton's announcement that Jane Fonda will be in charge of kinetic workouts for coalition forces. Seriously, the perception that Clinton is in control of a military action isn't helping the President's image as Commander in Chief. A Reuters poll announced March 22 confirms that the public's perception of Obama as commander in chief is not good. Only 17 percent said they viewed Obama as a "strong and decisive" commander of the armed forces; 36 percent said he is "indecisive and dithering;" and 48 percent described his style as "cautious and consultative." Diane Sawyer of CBS News interviewed Clinton on March 23, and asked her if she persuaded Obama to take military action against Libya. Clinton became uneasy and didn't deny the "storyline," which she said needed to be "corrected":
SAWYER: We have read, repeatedly, that you were decisive in this. Did you persuade President Obama? Was yours the voice that turned around the opponents?
CLINTON: That is absolutely, you know, I think, part of a storyline that needs to be corrected soon and decisively. There was a broad debate and discussion within the administration and that's-
SAWYER: Secretary Gates opposed, we were told?
CLINTON: Well, I'm not going to characterize anybody's opinion. You know, I think it was a very thoughtful process.
SAWYER: So, you're not going to characterize yourself in the hierarchy?
CLINTON: No, I'm not going to characterize anyone because it was a decision that was made and the decision speaks for itself.
Nowhere in Sister Sawyer's 17 minute, 30 second interview of Clinton did she bother to ask Clinton why she supports Obama's military action without prior congressional approval since she refused to back then-President George W. Bush if he took military action against Iran. Then Sen. Clinton said in a speech on the Senate floor:
"If the administration believes that any, any use of force against Iran is necessary, the president must come to Congress to seek that authority."
Nor did Sawyer ask Clinton to explain how she squares Obama's use of military force against Libya with his statement as a presidential candidate in 2007 denying presidential authority to do so. According to Charlie Savage reporting for The Boston Globe, Obama said:
"The President does not have authority under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent."
Despite all of Obama's assurances that the mission is "limited" within the confines of UN Resolution 1973, his description of it on March 18 is broader than enforcing a "no-fly zone":
"It authorizes the use of force with an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing, to include the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya. It also strengthens our sanctions and the enforcement of an arms embargo against the Gaddafi regime."
"The United Nations Security Council resolution was very broad but explicit about what was legally authorized by the international community. And we are a hundred percent committed to enforcing it and helping others enforce it. There is nothing in there about getting rid of anybody. It is about protecting civilians, providing humanitarian assistance, but also enabling nations to use whatever means necessary in order to bring that about."
Whether Gaddafi will remain in power remains a mystery because of all of the inconsistent statements that have come from the White House, coalition partners, the Department of Defense, Clinton and military commanders. Clinton announced on March 24 that NATO is assuming "command and control" of the military action. But there's another inconsistency. NATO hasn't agreed to assume responsibility for protecting the Libyan population as well.
Furthermore, relinquishing command and control doesn't mean that the U.S. military won't continue to bear the burden of the military action, that U.S. taxpayers won't foot the bill, or that the U.S. will escape responsibility if Libya continues to be a civil war with civilian casualties.
- What is the goal of the "kinetic military action?"
- What would victory mean?
- Is Gaddafi in or out?
- What is the U.S. policy at play?
- Will we use military force to stop potential humanitarian crises in other countries?
- How will it be funded when we're trillions of dollars in debt?
The Secretary General of the UN demands an immediate account of all action taken pursuant to the Resolution. It's past time for Congress to get answers from the commander in chief.
Jan LaRue is senior legal analyst with the American Civil Rights Union.