It was thus fittingly symbolic that when Barack Obama announced he had ordered the U.S. military to intervene in Libya's civil war, he did not do so from the Oval Office or the well of the U.S. House of Representatives, but from the capital city of Brazil.
In that speech, delivered March 19, 2011, Obama repeatedly used the first-person pronoun, I, in explaining who had decided America would intervene in Libya.
"Today I authorized the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians," Obama said.
"I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice, and it's not a choice that I make lightly," said Obama.
On what authority had I, Barack Obama, taken America into war?
"In this effort, the United States is acting with a broad coalition that is committed to enforcing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for the protection of the Libyan people," Obama said from Brazil.
"Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced," he said. "That is the cause of this coalition."
The U.N. Security Council's permanent members include not only the United States, France and Great Britain, but also Russia and the People's Republic of China, which, according to Obama's State Department, is still governed by communists. In 2011, the Security Council also included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Columbia and Gabon, Nigeria and Lebanon, Portugal and South Africa, and the government of Brazil, which hosted Obama's war announcement.
Obama's case was plain: The governments of these nations -- not the constitutionally elected representatives of the American people -- had given him authority to decide whether America would go to war in Libya, and he had decided America would go to war in Libya.
In a speech delivered from the White House a day before his speech from Brazil, Obama spoke of Libya's revolutionaries as if they shared the perspective of America's Founding Fathers.
"Last month, protesters took to the streets across the country to demand their universal rights and a government that is accountable to them and responsive to their aspirations," he said.
But what did Obama know about the revolutionary forces in Libya, the so-called "thuwar," before he ordered the U.S. military to take up their cause? What sort of prudential analysis had he done about the potential aftermath of this intervention? What consideration had he given to who would restore order and security in Libya and how they would do it? Why did he believe a truly representative government in Libya was likely let alone possible?
Obama was either so mindlessly confident in Libya's post-intervention outcome or so worried about the potential political costs of putting "boots on the ground" that he vowed from the start that no U.S. ground forces would ever be needed or deployed there.
Thus, I, Barack Obama, made another proclamation. "I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing," he said in his March 18, 2011 speech from the White House. "The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya."
"As I said yesterday," he repeated in Brazil, "we will not -- I repeat -- we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground."
Thanks to the same United Nations whose "writ" Obama said he was defending in Libya, we now know that the revolutionary forces in Libya started committing war crimes even before Obama ordered the U.S. military to intervene on their behalf.
On March 2, the U.N. International Commission of Inquiry on Libya published its report on human rights violations there. "The Commission received reports of executions by the thuwar," said the report. "Over a dozen Qadhafi soldiers were reportedly shot in the back of the head by thuwar around 22-23 February 2011 in a village between Al Bayda and Darnah."
According to the U.N., the crimes of the revolutionaries mounted during the revolution and continued after it was over.
"The Commission has also concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by thuwar and that breaches of international human rights law continue to occur in a climate of impunity," said the U.N. report. "The Commission found acts of extra-judicial executions, torture, enforced disappearance, indiscriminate attacks and pillage.
"No investigations," said the U.N. report, "have been carried out into any violations committed by the thuwar."
Had Obama followed the U.S. Constitution and sought congressional authorization for his use of force in Libya, the members of Congress who voted for such an authorization would have shared the responsibility for what that intervention helped bring about.
As it is, the responsibility for exceeding his constitutional authority and intervening in a civil war he did not understand lies solely and deservedly with Obama himself.
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