Ruinous Victories

Politicians are chronically myopic and generally ill-educated. Whenever they claim victory abroad, skepticism is justified. The latest case of Libya is no different.
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Recent United States military triumphs in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and against suspected international terrorists anywhere on the planet have evoked hallelujahs by politicians, the media, and the American people. Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Anwar al-Awlaki are dead. Libya is no longer tyrannized by Gaddafi. Iraq has been emancipated from Saddam's villainies. Afghans are not oppressed by Taliban. And Pakistan and Yemen have not been overrun by international terrorists or Islamic extremists.

But to borrow from King Pyrrhus of Epirus after defeating the Romans in the Battle of Asculum, these so-called victories threaten the ruination of the United States. They established precedents, practices, and principles that vandalized the Constitution, crippled the rule of law, subverted individual liberty, generated new enemies, and drained trillions from the national treasury. If there are better ways to destroy the handiwork of the Founding Fathers, they do not readily come to mind.

President Obama commenced war against Libya to save civilian lives. But Congress did not authorize the war as required by Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution. And Congress did not appropriate funds for the war as required by Article I, section 9, clause 7. Obama embraced the counter-constitutional principle without congressional challenge that the President is empowered to initiate war against any nation, organization, or person on the planet to advance whatever he unilaterally ordains is a national interest. The President also flouted the War Powers Resolution of 1973 by failing to receive congressional authority to continue the Libyan war longer than 60 days with the Orwellian excuse that dropping bombs and firing missiles are not "hostilities"-- unless the United States is the target.

Obama's Libyan adventure has been wrongly portrayed as a gain for human rights or democracy abroad. To be sure, Gaddafi was a tyrannical wretch, but he was not the responsibility of the United States. His successors could be worse, and the United States is now saddled with moral responsibility for their accession to power.
Generally speaking, Libyan allegiances are to tribe, ethnicity, religion, or oil riches. Due process, elections, the rule of law, a separation of religion from government, non-discrimination, and checks and balances are alien to their intellectual and cultural universes. Accordingly, revolutionaries detain thousands of Libyans without accusation or trial. Torture is routine. Black Africans have been imprisoned or killed solely because of race. And Gadaffi's execution in custody provoked no emphatic condemnation from the transitional Libyan government.

Political power in Libya grows out of the barrel of a gun. Libya's new Constitution contemplates Sharia as the guidepost for all laws, as announced by the departed head of the National Transitional Council. Convicted but freed Lockerbie bomber Ali al-Megrahi has not been delivered into United States custody. Finally, the Libyan war was fought without even a pretense of advancing American safety, freedom, or prosperity.

President Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 pursuant to an unconstitutional delegation of congressional authority to commence war. The reason for the invasion remains opaque. Many of the principals involved remain clueless as to what motivated Bush's decision. The intelligence products of the C.I.A. were manipulated or misrepresented by the Bush administration to manufacture public and congressional support for attacking Saddam Hussein. Abu Ghraib and Blackwater severely tarnished the American escutcheon. More American soldiers have died in Iraq than civilians were killed in the 9/11 abominations. The United States has expended $1 trillion on the Iraq war, excluding the costly medical care that will be required to treat injured or traumatized American soldiers.

The Iraq war unwittingly harmed professed United States national security interests. Iran became the regional hegemon, and accelerated its nuclear arms program. Iraq's oil production plunged. The United States alienated Turkey by cosseting Iraqi Kurds in the north, providing refuge for the PKK. Iraq is now hostile towards Israel and friendly towards the Palestinian Authority and Syria.

Even with the depraved Saddam as a benchmark, human rights and democratic practices have only marginally improved under Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The judiciary is neither independent nor impartial. Iraq is a government of men, not of laws. Corruption is ubiquitous. Torture is commonplace. The nation is fractured between Shiite, Sunni, and Kurds, with the Shiite exerting political domination. There is no agreement on the division of oil revenues between the central and regional governments or the fate of oil-rich Kirkuk. The Iraqi Constitution makes Islam the official state religion and a fundamental source of legislation. No law may contradict its universal tenants.

The United States war in Afghanistan and against international terrorism gave birth to torture with impunity; indefinite detentions of alleged enemy combatants (including American citizens) at Guantanamo Bay without accusation or trial; military commissions denuded of the trappings of due process to prosecute alleged war crimes; illegal interceptions of the phone conversations or emails of Americans without judicial warrants in criminal violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; and, presidential assassinations of an American citizen and his 16-year-old apolitical son based on secret evidence and secret law. The war against international terrorism also established the precedent of perpetual war and a planet-wide battlefield where military force is always legitimate.

The United States has expended more than $1 trillion on the Afghan war at a rate of $350 million per day. Approximately 2,000 American soldiers have died there. Predator drones have created enemies by killing innocent civilians through imprecise or erroneous targeting. The Afghan Constitution makes Islam the state religion, and stipulates that no law may contradict the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam. The Afghan government is corrupt, illegitimate, ineffectual, weak, and popularly execrated. Opium production flourishes. Loyalties are to tribes, ethnic groups, or religion--not to the nation. Women remain third-class citizens. Human rights like free speech, free press, and freedom of religion are honored more in the breach than in the observance.

The Afghan war is objectless. The United States can easily defend its sovereignty from any attack emanating from Afghanistan with soldiers deployed at home. An anticipatory self-defense perimeter thousands of miles away is preposterous and prohibitively expensive.

Politicians are chronically myopic and generally ill-educated. Whenever they claim victory, skepticism is justified. The United States crowed about evicting the Soviet Union from Afghanistan through underwriting the mujahedeen, including Osama bin Laden, the Haqqani network, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with money and stinger missiles. And then came 9/11, perpetrated by our erstwhile anti-Soviet friends--turning a previous victory into ashes.

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