Tag: Barack Obama

The Legitimacy of the Libyan War

President Obama’s speech last evening offers a chance to assess the implications of the war in Libya.

President Obama is not the first president to order attacks on another nation without the authorization of Congress.  This case, however, seems different. Prior to the intervention, the President’s national security advisors had determined that the nation had no vital interest at stake in the Libyan civil war. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has repeated that conclusion after the intervention began. For his part, President Obama emphasized in last night’s speech and before, that the war would preclude a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Why did that rationale win out over the realism of his advisors?

President Obama tends to see our nation and the world as divided between oppressors (victimizers) and the oppressed (victims).  In this view, politics should help the oppressed and do justice (i.e. harm) to the oppressor.  In Libya, this outlook provides a clear division between a oppressor (Qaddafi and his loyalists) and his victims (the rebels). Morality thus demands war against the oppressor on behalf of his victims.

But there is a problem with America acting alone. Many people in the Middle East and elsewhere see the United States not as a vindicator of the oppressed but rather as a oppressor.  Truth be told, more than few Americans share that view.

Those who share this view believe that the United States cannot act unilaterally to help the victims in Libya. This would be true even if Congress authorizes the war as required under Article I of the United States Constitution.  The authorization to go to war must come from someone else other than an American political official or institution.

Hence, President Obama sought international authorization for the war in Libya. True, he sought that authority for pragmatic reasons. A coalition meant shared burdens and (Obama believes) a quick way out of Libya. But the authorizations by the U.N. Security Council and earlier by the Arab League also could be seen as giving legitimacy to the enterprise. Those authorizations meant the United States could go to Libya as a true protector of the oppressed.

If you doubt any of this, examine closely what the President has said about the war. In his speech, the rebels become victims at the mercy of an oppressor. Congress gets a fleeting mention related to consultation about, rather than authorization of, war. True legitimacy for the war comes from a “U.N. mandate and international support.” In his letter to Congress announcing the war, the first sentence reads “at my direction, U.S. military forces commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe…” Here again the legitimacy for the war comes the United Nations, the European allies, and the Arab League. Congress has neither power to deny the president nor legitimacy to bestow on his work.

There is much to say about these reasons for war. Some people might see in Libya a civil war between two armed gangs. Lacking the frame of oppressor and victims, they will be less willing than the President to assume that the people in the territory called Libya wear either black or white hats. We may learn to our cost that our new allies are victims now and oppressors later.  If we take the President seriously, we will be obligated to make war against them, too.

We have now taken on a default obligation to help every victim and to punish every oppressor throughout the world. We have two constraints on fulfilling that obligation. The first, mentioned by the president, is costs. Eventually the financial markets may limit our efforts on behalf of victims. Second, and more important legally, a president must seek authorization for war from the United Nations, the European union, the Arab League or….well, anyone except the United States Congress.

It is not just that this president, like others before him, ignored Article I of the Constitution. Nor is this president the first to shun moral complexity in favor of a Manichean outlook. President Obama is the first, however, to assert that his broad powers to initiate war should be limited primarily by people who are outside the American social compact.  On this account, sotto voce, the Constitution is not just ignored. It is irrelevant.

Tuesday Links

  • Shifting America’s focus away from individual liberty is waging war on the future, not winning it.
  • U.N. “authorization” is the Emperor’s new fig leaf for war with Libya.
  • Why are we fighting Mexico’s drug war?
  • David Boaz remembers Geraldine Ferraro, who helped advance the war against gender discrimination in politics.
  • Chris Preble eulogizes the Weinberger/Powell doctrine against the backdrop of the Libyan war:


Tuesday Links

Monday Links

  • The New Health Care Law: What a Difference a Year Makes,” featuring a keynote address from constitutional attorney and counsel in Florida v. HHS David Rivkin, and panels including economist and former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Cato director of health policy Michael F. Cannon and vice president for legal affairs Roger Pilon, and many more, begins at 1pm Eastern today. Please join us as we stream the event at our new live events hub, or watch on Facebook. If you prefer television, the forum will be broadcast live on C-SPAN 2.
  • “The next time gun-control advocates point to violence in Mexico and call for more restrictions on gun sales or a revived assault-weapons ban, they should consider that the problem may not be with the laws on the books, but with those who enforce them.”
  • The Bush administration far underestimated the divide between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish Iraqis before 2003–the Obama administration may be making the same type of mistake in Libya.
  • The U.S. military currently far exceeds its legitimate function of national defense:


Obama’s Trip to Latin America

As Ted Carpenter notes below, President Obama is departing on an important trip to Latin America. The countries that he will visit exemplify the macroeconomic stability and advancement of democratic institutions now found in much of the region.

Brazil, by far the largest Latin American economy, has enjoyed almost a decade of sound growth and poverty reduction. Chile is the most developed country in the region thanks to decades of economic liberalization, a process that has also made it Latin America’s most mature democracy. And El Salvador is undergoing a delicate period in its transition to becoming a full-fledged democracy with its first left-of-center president since the end of the civil war in 1992.

In an era when most Latin American nations are moving in the right direction—albeit at different speeds, with some setbacks, and with notable exceptions—the United States can serve as a catalyst of change by contributing to more economic integration and the consolidation of the rule of law in the region.

Unfortunately, despite President Obama’s assurances that he’s interested in strengthening economic ties with Latin America, his administration is still delaying the ratification of two important free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. President Obama also continues to support a failed war on drugs that significantly exacerbates violence and institutional frailty in the region, particularly in Mexico and Central America.

It’s good that President Obama’s trip will highlight significant progress in Latin America, but his administration’s policy actions still don’t match the U.S. goals of encouraging economic growth and sound institutional development in the region.

Thursday Links

  • “If financial institutions are indeed better than consumers at managing interest risk, then those companies should be able to offer consumers attractive terms for doing so — without the moral hazard of an enormous taxpayer backstop.”
  • We should be thankful that the president is spending time on his golf game.
  • After all, he recently reinstated military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay and has continued the use of extra-constitutional prisons in the U.S. after the Bush era.
  • It’s odd that debate here centers on a no-fly zone, a form of military intervention that shows support for rebels without much helping them.”
  • Does Haley Barbour really want to cut defense spending? Or is he just really politically astute? 

ADA Service Animals: The Silence of the Goats

As I note in a New York Post opinion piece published on Sunday, today marks an unusual milestone: the executive branch of the U.S. government is actually rolling back a significant burden imposed on business owners and others under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Because the subject matter is an unusually colorful one – the widespread misclassification of household pets, including such exotic species as iguanas, goats, and boa constrictors, as “service animals” under the ADA – you’d think there’d be major press coverage. And yet with scattered exceptions here and there, public attention has been muted. And there’s a story in that too.

In the early years of the law (as I observe in the Post piece) the ADA’s mandate that businesses admit service animals caused little stir because dogs trained to help persons with blindness, deafness and some other disabilities are skillfully trained to stay on task while ignoring such distractions as food, strangers and the presence of other animals. But given the law’s lack of definitions, combined with lopsided penalties should a defendant guess wrong – $10,000 is possible for a first violation – shop owners began seeing more and more rambunctious spaniels and irritable purse dogs, to say nothing of rabbits, rats, ferrets, lizards and critters of many other sorts. Doctors obligingly wrote notes testifying that the animals were helpful for mood support or to fend off depression; you can buy “therapy dog” vests online with no questions asked.

The new rules toughen things up. With a minor exception for miniature horses, service animals will now have to be dogs; they’ll have to be trained to perform a service; and while that service can relate to an “invisible” disability, including one of a psychiatric nature, it cannot be based simply on mood support or similar goals. Also, they’ll need to be on-leash unless their service requires otherwise.

In revising the rule, the Obama administration was heeding the wishes not of frazzled retailers but of disabled-rights advocates themselves. As press coverage recounts, persons who employ well-trained service animals suffer not only from public backlash but also from more tangible setbacks such as disturbances that can arise when other, less well-trained animals challenge their dog in an indoor setting. If the new change counts as deregulation, it’s a sort of accidental and tactical deregulation not arising from any notion that it’s better to leave private owners free to set their own rules.

And that helps explain the absence of fanfare, not to say stealth, with which the Obama administration is letting the new rule go into effect. Knowing that the change will be unpopular with some of its own constituents, it seems happy to forgo credit with constituencies that might favor deregulation – notwithstanding the public fuss a few weeks ago about the President’s newfound interest in reducing regulatory burdens. That interest remains, to say the least, untested.