It is getting hard to keep track of the many farcical dimensions of the Libya enterprise without a scorecard. The hypocrisy of our anti-war President and say-anything Vice President set a new land speed record even among politicians. The vagueness of the mission has received wide comment and appropriate scorn from all sides. As Jonah Goldberg remarked on the Fox News panel last night, Obama has achieved a rare daily double of angering peacenik hippies (aka, the Democratic Party) and bomb-before-breakfast neocons.
Obama has–for the moment at least–avoided the trifecta of angering our European allies, who had a more robust attitude about the matter from the beginning, by handing over direction of military operations to NATO. While the legal controversy over whether Obama should have consulted Congress or asked for a vote of approval (or perhaps a formal declaration of war–on what grounds exactly?) will grind along for another few days or weeks, the NATO command decision should raise eyebrows a whole lot more–not because of the additional confusion it may introduce into battlefield decisions (are we really going to decide bomb targets by committee?), but because Obama is abrogating his constitutional responsibilities as commander in chief.
The new role of NATO is not receiving the scrutiny it should because NATO is an old and revered institution, and after all an American military officer (currently Navy Admiral James Stavridis) is the supreme commander of NATO. But this is not your father’s Cold War skirmish taking place. Everyone understood during the Cold War that NATO was primarily a political enterprise keep western Europe united, and secondarily a military convenience for the United States should open war with the Soviet Union break out. To be sure, in the event of war, the President would have consulted closely with European leaders, but no one doubted who would be calling the shots, and as a practical matter the President of the United States would be in direct command of the war 24/7.
Under the current operation, however, Obama’s place in the chain of command is ambiguous. Even though an American sits at the apex of NATO, it appears as though the command decisions involving American military forces will be coming from a NATO committee rather than from the commander-in-chief. This is almost certainly an unconstitutional delegation of the President’s command responsibilities; it is incompatible with the “commander-in-chief” clause of Article II of the Constitution. Among other things, it dilutes Obama’s accountability for the results. This may well be Obama’s strongest innermost desire, of course. He clearly has no stomach for his duties as commander-in-chief, and in handing over to NATO is voting “present” once again.
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