On War

Harold Koh on what does and doesn't make for a war:

Koh, a former Yale Law School dean who wrote about the War Powers Resolution during his academic career, said the “narrow” role of U.S. warplanes in the mission doesn’t meet the definition of hostilities.

The circumstances in Libya are “virtually unique,” he said, because the “exposure of our armed forces is limited, there have been no U.S. casualties, no threat of U.S. casualties” and “no exchange of fire with hostile forces.”

With a “limited risk of serious escalation” and the “limited military means” employed by U.S. forces, “we are not in hostilities envisioned by the War Powers Resolution, Koh said.

As an outsider to the political process, it has been absolutely hilarious watching a White House full of children of the 1960's retroactively justifying Nixon's Christmas bombings of Cambodia.  It's not a war, they claim, as long as our soldiers are safe and we are mostly just killing citizens of other nations from the air.  Of course, by this definition, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not an act of war.

There are many reasons to put separation-of-powers-type scrutiny on war-making that go beyond just the risk to American lives.  In particular, killing people from other countries can radically change our relationship with other nations.  I find it ironic that that White House has deliberately put blinders on and declared that the only reason to get Congressional approval is if US soldiers are at risk, since it was Obama who lectured the nation on the campaign trail about how damaging to our world image he felt Bush's wars to be.


  1. ettubloge:

    I love your statement that Pearl Harbor, according to the WH definition of "war" or "hostilities", is then not an act of war.

    However, beyond this instance, there is nothing about the O administration that evinces a respect for the US Constitution when it may impede some policy they deem will be a social good.

  2. michaelskoerner:

    Stockholm called and they want their Noble Peace prize back.

  3. TJIC:

    > Of course, by this definition, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not an act of war.


  4. Tam:

    Yeah, they were just enforcing a No-Fly Zone over Honolulu.

  5. marco73:

    What, 3500 American military flights over Libya isn't an act of war? Dropping ordinance 132 times on "enemy" positions is not an act of war?


    Although I have a lot of confidence in the abilities of our fighting men and women, does anyone really believe that flight 3501 won't result in an aircraft going down, maybe not by enemy fire, but by weather or equipment failure? What if one of the air crew is captured or killed?

    Does anyone really think that Quaddafi will just hand over bodies or prisoners of "kinetic actions" without getting something in return?

  6. staghounds:

    So we have just designated Libya as an aircraft practice range?

  7. mjude:

    Yeah, but at least at Pearl Harbor the U.S. did shoot down 29 planes.

  8. me:

    Brilliant writing - you're on a roll today. Thank you.

    This example is exactly what I am thinking about when I state that it's not about Republicans vs Democrats. It is striking how both Bush and Obama turned out to be horrible leaders for the US, costing the country both in terms of civil liberties as well as in economic terms despite great campaign rhetoric.

    The more pertinent question of course is - how do you go about fixing this once great country when the political process as well as the judicative and executive are controlled by utterly corrupt parties?

  9. John Moore:

    It is amusing. The Cambodia example is a bit flawed, however. The US invaded Cambodia in 1970 in a clearly defensive action against an enemy with whom we were engaged in a brutal war. The subsequent bombing was part of that same war. Only silly legalities - the fantasy that Cambodia (and Laos) were neutral countries - caused twisted explanations. The reality was that eastern Cambodia and Laos were completely controlled by the North Vietnamese.

    The Libya thing, however, is absurd.

    Every president, correctly, objects to the war powers act as an unconstitutional restriction on executive war powers. The congress has other, constitutional ways of stopping the executive from engaging in war - such as the (execrable) Bolin amendments in the 80's that led to the Iran-Contra scandal.

    Obama, if he were truly a Constitutional scholar rather than a poseur, would assert the unconstitutional nature of the war powers act. Then he would go to congress and ask for authorization for his not-war(as Bush 41 and 43 did).

    Since the Constitution is not a suicide pact, the president *clearly* has the power to engage in war in exigent circumstances, such as a direct attack. The executive does not have that power to use just for the good feelings it brings, although many presidents, especially FDR, have had miscellaneous little wars without authorization.

  10. Ian Random:

    Damn, John Moore stole my rolling thunder. :-) At least he is repeating the Carter administration. People don't realize that rebels can be worse than dictators like Iran and it looks like Libya too. Someone summed up liberals on foreign policy as they are only for actions not in the interest of the US. Basically, they seem to believe the world is like college and you can talk to them, when it really is elementary with bullies. Losertarians are slightly better only in that they don't believe in government competition abroad, leaving China and Russia to buy friends abroad.


  11. Hasdrubal:

    I still don't understand why America is flying sorties over Libya in the first place. This is a UN sponsored mission, and the British, Germans, Swedes, even the French all have perfectly good aircraft with which to bomb a non-resisting country. We already have two wars to deal with, why are we doing Europe's dirty work on this one?

    This is really one where the EU should be taking the lead, and I see no reason whatsoever for us to be there.

  12. John Moore:

    The EU has very little military capability. They have already run out of precision munitions, and they probably have nothing like the US capability for coordinated attack using advanced sensors, communications and weapons.

    Europe gave up the idea of defending itself or anyone else, which is one reason they are so enraptured with the idea that the UN and the ICC and diplomacy will solve all problems.