The troubling issues arising from US’ image as “Policeman of the World” are difficult to understand
The Reuters News Agency reported today that a move to stop funding for President Barack Obama’s military intervention in Libya was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives.
On a vote of 199-229, the House rejected the proposal to block defence funds in fiscal year 2012, which begins October 1, for US military participation in the NATO-led mission against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. Sponsors of the failed measure were Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich and Republican Representative Justin Amash.
In another move, however, the House did vote 225-201 to bar any money being spent on military equipment or training for Libyan rebels. The measure would have to also get Senate approval and be signed by Obama before becoming law.
If these two developments are not alarming enough, the third one should be. It is the unbudgeted-for cost to the US of its involvement in the Libyan crisis. Before today’s vote, Democratic Representative Norm Dicks said the Obama administration estimated the conflict would cost the US a little over $1 billion by September 30, 2011.
Republican Representative Bill Young said there were no funds in the fiscal 2012 defence spending bill for Libya, anyway, because the administration had said that it was taking the money from the “base budget” that had already been appropriated in the current fiscal year.
It is not as if the US has too much money and too little to do that it is playing this “Father Christmas” role everywhere on the globe. The ongoing controversy surrounding budget talks between the Obama administration and the political forces in Congress suggests that the US economy is in dire straits. Statistics on the slow growth and high unemployment rates don’t warrant any reckless spending on a military campaign whose necessity is obviously neutralized by better options for resolving the Libyan crisis—but which have been ignored so far.
The more the US disregards its own internal economic constraints and concentrates on spreading itself too thin on the globe to prosecute wars, the more likely it is that what the House of Representatives has begun drawing attention to will excite vigorous public reaction to undermine the Obama administration. Having already angered his critics over this Libyan conflict, Obama is likely to face more opposition as the tension builds up.
As noted by Reuters, the House has held several votes on the Libyan operation. Last month, it defeated another move to curb the intervention, while also refusing to formally authorize the US participation. The Senate has yet to take any votes on the war, although a resolution to authorize the US role has passed a committee.
These developments are significant not only because they reveal the under-currents of mixed feelings but also because they portray the continuing climate of discontent among the law makers who still feel embittered that by unilaterally pushing the US headlong into the Libyan conflict, Obama had usurped Congress’ law-making powers (as specified in the Wars Powers Resolution, 1973).
To proponents of the US’ involvement in the Libyan conflict, today’s rejection of the proposal to block defence funds may be good news to spread. Of course, the argument had already been laid that cutting off funds at this stage would jeopardize the military campaign and present the US in a bad light to its NATO allies. Thus, the defeat of the measure isn’t surprising.
But this defeat doesn’t end the growing discontent with the US’ involvement in the Libyan crisis; nor does it mean a clean slate for the Obama administration to do as it pleases in the circumstance. The vote to bar any money being spent on military equipment or training for Libyan rebels is an equally strong counter-measure. So also is the revelation of the huge expenditure on the mission, which should alarm the US tax-payer into questioning the justification for the campaign, after all.
If anything at all, the defeat also underscores what the Reuters calls “Congress’ unhappiness with the undeclared war.” This unhappiness cuts across partisan political lines and suggests that the matter will definitely assume more serious dimensions as the main electioneering campaign period approaches.
The Obama critics will make much political capital out of the issue as they pinpoint it to undercut him. Whether their politicking along this line will harm Obama’s political fortunes is in the womb of time. But it does portray the bad-blood relationship that currently exists between him and these outspoken critics.
As Reuters put it, “Both political parties split over the measure, highlighting how tensions over US involvement in Libya’s civil war have crossed party lines and created unusual alliances.”
Those Republicans and Democrats who have continued to argue that Obama violated the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution by failing to secure congressional authorization for US military operations in Libya will not let go their sentiments just because of what happened today.
We can infer from the utterances of Republican Representative Justin Amash, one of the sponsors of the failed measure, that the bickering will continue.
“We are at war….The Constitution vests Congress with the exclusive power to declare war…. it is embarrassing to hear the Obama administration’s “flimsy” arguments for being involved in Libya, but it would be even more embarrassing if Congress did nothing about its constitutional role being ignored…. We must stand up and say stop.”
These are very fervent sentiments being strongly expressed to portray the extent of discontent among Obama’s critics in the House.
The ongoing controversy over the US’ involvement in the war has serious implications that no one should attempt brushing off with impunity. As Reuters rightly pointed out, the House’s actions reflect growing war fatigue among lawmakers after a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have cost more than $1 trillion and have helped fuel a $1.4 trillion budget deficit.
Whether rushing into conflicts anywhere on the globe and spending so much on them is designed to prop up the US’s image as the “Policeman of the World” or not, the troubling issues arising therefrom are difficult to understand. Of course, by involving itself in such conflicts, the US may be projecting itself as a problem-solver on the global stage; but is it really worth it?
We can tell from what is happening in Libya that the US and its allies may be up against forces that will make their military campaign equally expensive and controversial, especially now that the initial mission of solving humanitarian problems has been over-extended to driving Gaddafi from power—and being embarrassed that the fighting has produced nothing but a painful stalemate.
And there is no guarantee that by September, NATO would have accomplished its objectives in Libya, which will call for more expenditure and other means to go the extra mile in ridding Libya of the so-called Gaddafi menace. What the Obama administration is spending is an isolated case. We don’t yet know the quantum for the other NATO allies to be able to say categorically what the actual cost of this conflict is to the 24 countries that have ganged up against Gaddafi. When nitty comes to gritty, however, it will be clear that this military campaign is a needlessly expensive venture.
Can’t anybody see its futility so as to support the less expensive and non-violent political and diplomatic means to resolve the Libyan crisis?