Jacob Sullum

After U.S.-backed Libyan rebels entered Tripoli on Sunday, The Washington Post noted that NATO "has been anxious not to be seen acting as the rebel air force in a coordinated strategy" because its "United Nations mandate is limited to the protection of Libyan civilians."

Still, a "senior NATO official" admitted, the alliance's firepower and intelligence sharing helped bring about "the collapse of the regime and its capability to direct its forces," so "the effect of what we were doing was not dissimilar."

No kidding. Since the United States and its allies began taking sides in Libya's civil war five months ago, it has been clear that protecting noncombatants was a pretext for overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi. But even if the U.N. had endorsed the latter goal (a dicey proposition, given the implicit threat to the autocracies that supported the intervention), a vote to replace Gadhafi would not have explained why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, created to defend Europe and the U.S. against a hegemonic, totalitarian threat that no longer exists, had a legitimate stake in the internal power struggles of a North African desert kingdom.

Nor could any U.N. resolution, no matter how broad, authorize American participation in the assault on Gadhafi's forces, because the U.S. Constitution gives Congress -- and not, as President Obama seems to think, the U.N. Security Council -- the power to declare war. Since there was no threat to national security, let alone an immediate one along the lines of an armed invasion, Obama was required to seek congressional approval for his war against Libya.

In a New York Times op-ed piece published a few weeks ago, Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker and Yale law professor Oona Hathaway suggested "the president didn't try very hard to get Congress to agree to the intervention" because "he didn't think he had the votes."

Didn't try very hard? He didn't try at all. Only after the operation was underway did he let it be known that a congressional endorsement would be swell -- though not, in his view, strictly necessary. And who, aside from U.S. presidents and rebellious children, thinks it's OK not to ask for permission because the answer might be no?


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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