I Just Don’t Understand

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

I wish someone who approves of what we Americans are doing in Libya will explain to me why it qualifies as a humanitarian act. It seems to me that when you pick up a gun and start shooting people — whether you’re a tyrant or rebelling against a tyrant — you forfeit the right to be saved by humanitarian intervention. Libya, in this regard, is not to be confused with Egypt, or Tunisia, or the nine other nations that have toppled tyrants in the recent past by means of non-violent rebellion.

And what about the other Middle East countries where people are trying, without waging war, to overcome oppression? Shall we institute no-fly zones for all of them?  It doesn’t seem so. Truthout observes,

On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even gave the US stamp of approval to the brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain, saying the country’s authoritarian rulers “obviously” had the “sovereign right” to invite troops from Saudi Arabia to occupy their country and carry out human rights abuses, including attacks on injured protesters as they lay in their hospital beds.

In Yemen, which has received more than $300 million in military aid from the US over the last five years, the Obama administration continues to support corrupt thug and president-for-life Ali Abdullah Saleh, who recently ordered a massacre of more than 50 of his own citizens who dared protest his rule. And this support has allowed the US to carry out its own massacres under the auspices of the war on terror, with one American bombing raid last year taking out 41 Yemeni civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, according to Amnesty International.

Let’s get the gun thing out of the way first, so we don’t get distracted by flak from the Right to Arm Bears lobby. I have nothing against firearms, per se. I’m fine with people who use them for target practice. Once upon a time I got pretty darn good at shooting cans off fence posts with an air rifle. I’m OK with hunters and legal, in-season shooting of game they intend to eat. That’s about it, but it’s not because I’m a pacifist that I’m furious about this Libyan adventure.

The thing that gripes me is that up until a few weeks ago the US, Britain, and France – among others — had sold Libya hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons. Not just guns, but also fighter jets and bombs. It seems kind of unfair to take Qaddafi’s money and then punish him for using what we sold him.  I think we’re more wrong for selling those instruments of death than Qaddafi is for buying them. Money, it seems, trumps decency.

I have other objections to what we’re doing in — and to — Libya.

For one thing, what does the Obama administration know that makes them think the rebels are into building a democracy if they win? What’s going on in Libya looks much more like a civil war than an uprising of people bent on self-determination for any but themselves. What business do we have taking sides in Libya’s civil war?

For another, the Constitution reserves to Congress the right to declare war. Obama had time to persuade the UN to say it’s OK to do what it takes to get Qaddafi’s forces to stop shooting at the people who are shooting at them. Obama had time to recruit a new Coalition of the Killing, to draw in (maybe) the Arab League so it wouldn’t look like another case of palefaces beating up on brownskins. (I know, I know, but it’s beginning to look like the folks who said he wasn’t black enough had it right.) How come Obama didn’t have time to put Congress in the picture?

He’s not the first to ignore what the Constitution says about declaring war.  The last time a president came to Congress for permission, it was Franklin Roosevelt wanting to declare war on Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary on June 5, 1942. Since then, we’ve been at war in Korea, Serbia, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan (in no particular order; I’m pulling them out of my head), without much of a peep out of Congress. Every president, from Harry Truman on, has used subterfuge and twisted semantics to justify ignoring Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution.

I blame Congress for this.

Now there’s talk about impeaching Obama for this Constitutional violation. The people who have been looking for a way to tie up this administration in knots so it can’t do anything but defend itself have just been handed a great big gift, with a ribbon bow on top.

The criterion for impeachment is “high crimes and misdemeanors.” If they could impeach Bill Clinton for being a raunchy old low-life, what would stop them from impeaching Obama for bombing Qaddafi’s home compound? That’s an act of war if ever there was one. Imagine if someone tried to do that with the White House.  They’d be vaporized.

Clinton was impeached and tried, but not convicted. Still, the human energy wasted in the process could have harnessed the sun. If Obama is impeached and tried, I don’t think he’ll be convicted, either. But the resulting waste will make the Clinton business look like a day at the beach. And how will the impeachers explain letting the two Bushes off without so much as a scratch?

But wait, there’s more.  We’re broke, say the Republicans. Well, almost broke, say the Democrats, including Obama.  How, then, can we afford to spend hundreds of millions on rockets and bombs and every other damn thing? Where’s the human value in doing all this, while cutting out all kinds of help for poor people, people with disabilities, and the very old?

When children are starving and old folks are dying in their homes of hypothermia next winter, will Obama and those who support this thing we’re doing now be proud?  Will they say it was worth it?

What has become of us?

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If They Can Do It, Why Can’t We?

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