Crossing the Rubicon 

Obama's attack on Libya an irrevocable mistake

When President Obama took office, he promised "change and hope." But this week, in his rush to lead the attack on Libya, the only change from his infamous predecessor George W. Bush is that we are now in three wars in the Middle East instead of two. A change all right, but certainly not what we were hoping for. As an outraged Congress mulls the situation, another change might be worthwhile—having the president ask the American people before he commits our nation, our tax dollars and our soldiers to prohibitively expensive, incredibly pointless and totally unwinnable wars.

President Obama's decision to launch hundreds of cruise missiles and air strikes against Libyan targets came while Congress was recessed. What that means is that although he met with a few select members of the House and Senate, the other 500 elected representatives of the American people were left wholly out of the equation. In other words, President Obama decided to launch a war basically on his own—just like Bush.

The travesty here is two-fold. First, Obama is now following the precedent set by Bush that vastly increased the power of the executive branch and significantly diminished both the power and options available to Congress. Second, he is blatantly reversing a very clear statement he made as a senator in 2007: "The president does not have power 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."

Does the situation in Libya comport with President Obama's words? No, it clearly does not. There is no "actual or imminent threat to the nation" in the Libyan situation. It is, just as clearly, a matter of internal strife, where a faction of the populace seeks the removal of a ruler while other factions remain loyal to that ruler. That sure sounds a lot like civil war, doesn't it? Where is the threat, in any conceivable manner, to our nation?

There will be those who point to the actions by the United Nations condemning Libyan President Moammar Gadhaffi's attacks on his own people as justification for using American armed forces in acts of war under the rubric of a "humanitarian" effort. But nothing the U.N. does or says trumps the U.S. Constitution, nor can it direct our armed forces, nor can it compel our people to acts of war. Only we can do that.

Supposedly, had we not launched the attacks, we're to believe that Gadhaffi would have decimated his own populace. Thus, it's "America to the rescue" with Operation Odyssey Dawn, in which we are already spending $100 million a day that we know of. I say "that we know of" because we do not yet know the full extent of our nation's involvement and the White House isn't telling us. Many news sources have already reported that we have "boots on the ground"—not just in the air—in Libya. These would be Special Forces teams that directed the more than 100 laser-guided cruise missiles already launched from ships and the laser-guided bombs being dropped by our jets.

So let's see, while the national debate about our deficit centers around such deplorable options as whacking away at Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, our president is opening the treasury to, once again, unleash the American war machine on another hapless foreign nation. Is there something wrong with this picture? You bet there is.

For one thing, what do we get out of this new war? Well, the simple answer is that Libya has oil, which is all the excuse we've ever needed in the last 50 years to launch wars. But the truth is that Libya's oil supplies a mere two percent of world output and none of it comes to us. That hardly seems worth committing our nation to a lead role in a new war unless you take a little broader view of who has run America's foreign policy and, apparently, continues to do so.

This quote from John Gibson, the chief executive of Halliburton's Energy Service Group, in a May 2003 interview with International Oil Daily might cast a little light into the darkness. "We hope Iraq will be the first domino and that Libya and Iran will follow. We don't like being kept out of markets because it gives our competitors an unfair advantage." And remember, Vice President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's CEO before he moved into the White House with fellow oil man George W. Bush. So we're protecting not our nation, or its interests, but more likely those of a multinational oil conglomerate. Some would say. "What's new?"

Knowing the motivation, however, is not the same as knowing the outcome. Aggressive Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been very vocal in demanding that Libya's current leader must be removed. Like a parrot, Obama now mouths the same demand, that "Gadhaffi must go." Once again, in the parlance of George W. Bush, President Obama is not just calling for "regime change" in a sovereign nation, he is actively committing American lives and dollars to achieve exactly that. But there's no guarantee Gadhaffi will lose this fight—none at all.

Many in Congress are outraged over Obama's rash actions and abuse of executive power. And rightfully so. Some, such as Congressman Dennis Kucinich, say the president's actions amount to an impeachable offense. Certainly, in light of the constitutional requirements for congressional approval prior to waging war, Obama has already crossed his Rubicon.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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