Followup on the Senate’s Symbolic Gift

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Last week I wrote about the Senate’s gift to President Obama in the form of a unanimous resolution authorizing him to establish a no-fly zone over Libya and do whatever else is necessary to protect the Libyan people.  There’s no point in my repeating the whole thing when you can read it here.

I first phoned and later e-mailed the resolution’s sponsor and 7 of the 10 senators who signed on as co-sponsors. I said I’d report back on the responses I received.

I truly wanted to get the benefit of their thinking. Mine was/is that I couldn’t understand why they would allow the President to bypass Congress — both Senate and House — which has the sole power under the US Constitution to declare war. I hoped to discover the reasoning by which a senator could decide that bombing a country’s air force installations and firing rockets on the home of its ruler are not acts of war.

Of course, I didn’t express my own opinion in contacting the press people. I was fully prepared to listen to what they had to say, and to modify my opinion if I heard anything that would justify doing so. Years of reporting on politics and public affairs have taught me the discipline to withhold judgment until I have sufficient information.

Well, I have no more information than I did when I set out to find out what the senators were thinking.  Only one office responded, and that press officer said the resolution was purely symbolic and didn’t matter. No other office either called or wrote in response to my request.

So much for the senate as a deliberative body. So much for the cognitive processes of some of the senate’s most progressive members.

To be fair, none of these offices had any obligation to respond to me, since I’m not their constituent.  But I did identify myself as a member of the online press. I said I was doing a two-part story and that I had already published the part that told about the resolution’s provisions and the fact that it was passed without objection, that is, by unanimous consent. I said I hoped for a reply for the second part, in which I would explain the reasoning behind the resolution.

I was rewarded with silence.  Utter silence.

So now I’m free to draw my own conclusions and here they are. Bear in mind that I have no proof and no way of proving any of this, but it makes more sense to me than anything else I can come up with. And absent any explanation from anyone in a position to explain, I think I’m on the right track.

Here’s my theory: Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, was particularly hot to get involved in Libya. That much was evident from her public statements made before President Obama had expressed himself on the matter. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was co-chair of Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008. I think Clinton asked Menendez to sponsor S. Res. 85, which purports to be a condemnation of Moammar Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator, but which actually authorizes both a no-fly zone over Libya and whatever other actions it would take to depose Qaddafi. This is not the same as a roll-call vote authorizing the president to take us into war, but it makes a pretty good fig leaf.

Clinton is politically very close with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), another of the sponsors.  I think she recruited him, and that he recruited the junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, and recruitment of the eight other liberal senators proceeded from this nucleus of three.

Given what I’ve learned over the years about Clinton’s persuasiveness, ethical sensibilities, and intellectual integrity, I think she persuaded Menendez and Schumer, at least, that the whole thing would be over in a day and would escape public notice, but that it would give the president the support he needed to ask the UN Security Council for the resolution authorizing what she wanted him to do.

Clinton was right that the voting would be over in a day. The resolution was introduced March 1 and approved the same day. On March 17 the Security Council approved Resolution 1973, authorizing the no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians — even, apparently, if they were armed and shooting at the Qaddafi military.

I would have gone to my grave thinking that Obama completely bypassed the Congress on this, were it not for MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who did a “Rewrite” segment on March 30 alerting me to S. Res. 85. (If you want to read the transcript of the segment, follow the link and search on “rewrite.”) O’Donnell’s focus was on the hypocrisy of Sen. Ron Paul (R-Tea Party), but he inspired me to see who else was involved. Hence my March 31 article.

Now that I’ve gone out on a limb with my theory of how a bunch of generally good and intelligent senators seem to have been manipulated into giving Clinton the ammunition she wanted — not that I excuse the senators for being manipulated, you understand — I’m going to give them another chance to respond, and this time correct my impression. Politicians watch for their names in the press and on the Internet.  I’m going to put their names in the list of “tags” that search engines scan.  The senators who haven’t answered me will know — or at least their press people will know — that this article exists.  Said press people have my phone number and e-mail address.  Clinton’s name will be in the tags, too.

Let’s see if any one of them sets me straight.

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