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Checking Up on Libya

June 28, 2011

by Andrew Parker

Libyan rebels score some sweet loot from a munitions dump

(Photo: Samuel Aranda/NYT)

As President Obama spoke a few days ago about the expected drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, he devoted a small footnote to the current US mission in Libya. The intervention there is under increasing fire from many US politicians on both the left and the right. They claim President
Obama is in violation of the War Powers Act, which requires Congressional approval for military actions that exceed 90 days. My question is: does the War Powers Act even apply in this situation?

Considering our already significantly diminished role in what is now officially a NATO mission, I think the United States is hardly “at war” in Libya. Currently our most active military role involves the use of unmanned Predator drones to strike Gadhafi’s military equipment. This is essentially the same level of military involvement as what we are doing in Pakistan and Yemen, and no members of Congress have sought authorization for those actions. Thus the strange isolationist coalition of progressives and Tea Party members in Congress has little to no case in demanding the ability to give (or more likely deny) approval to the mission unless they apply it uniformly. Already the House has voted to do essentially nothing, neither granting authorization nor cutting funding. The UNSC resolution has sufficient authority to carry out the mission. If Congressional authorization absolutely must be granted, it should be through the bill Senators John McCain and John Kerry are sponsoring. This bill would allow the US to remain involved in Libya for a year and would rule out ground troops. In his speech, Obama emphasized the fact that we have no ground troops in Libya, making the mission much less expensive than Iraq or Afghanistan. There is really no direct comparison to either of those wars, war weary as the United States is.

Having said that, how long will the Libyan conflict go on? Will a year be enough? Though NATO has not really boosted its air campaign to a level I think is suitable to dislodge the Gadhafi regime, the rebels do seem to be creeping out of the stalemate that had plagued the conflict for many weeks. They purged the city of Misurata of Gadhafi’s troops, and even advanced a few villages toward Tripoli. The rebels in the western Nafusa mountains are making a push as well, coming to within 70 miles of the capital city. Slow going indeed, but better than nothing. The eastern front between Brega and Ajdabiya is completely static, but looks more like a NATO enforced inertia. To end the conflict, NATO will have to step up its air campaign, or at least coordinate with the rebels more closely. Otherwise this could drag on longer than anyone would like, leaving Gadhafi as the only benefactor.

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