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US, UK Governments Commit to Libyan War Despite Citizen Opposition

Another $1 million Tomahawk missile being fired from the USS Stout toward Libya on March 19. (US Navy photo)

While debate in the US drones on about whether Barack Obama needed Congressional approval before launching attacks on Libya, there seems to be little doubt that Congress would have approved the attacks, which cost the US over $100 million on the first day in missiles alone. Taking this action puts the US government directly at odds with its citizens, who favor reducing the defense budget before any “austerity” measures begin to cut Social Security or Medicare. Similarly, a new poll finds that only one in three Britons agree with the attack on Libya, while Parliament voted 557 to 13 in favor of the attack. Why do the US and UK governments push for war while ignoring the peaceful desires of their citizens?

It is admirable on some fronts that both far left and far right politicians have pointed out that Congressional approval is required before military action is initiated. As the New York Times points out:

Some Democratic lawmakers — including Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Barbara Lee of California and Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts — complained in a House Democratic Caucus conference call as the bombing began that Mr. Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority by authorizing the attack without Congressional permission.

That sentiment was echoed by several Republican lawmakers — including Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland — as well as in editorials and columns published over the weekend and on Monday in conservative opinion outlets like the Washington Times editorial page and National Review.

Sadly, though, this small number of elected officials who are calling for Constitutional requirements to be followed would be vastly outnumbered should the question actually be brought to a vote. A huge majority of US lawmakers would quickly rush to put their names on the record as authorizing these attacks, just as they did in the ill-fated attack on Iraq, where the AUMF passed by votes of 420 to 1 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate. Correction, those were the Afghanistan AUMF votes, Iraq was marginally closer, 296 to133 in the House and 77 to 23 in the Senate [h/t Rebecca Griffin for catching the error]. Even when the citizens do not want war, US elected representatives vote overwhelmingly in its favor.

One only needs to go back less than two weeks to find the latest poll in which Americans came out in favor of reducing defense spending:

A majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed.

The poll found 51 percent of Americans support reducing defense spending, and only 28 percent want to cut Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor. A mere 18 percent back cuts in the Social Security retirement program.

Yet, with a majority of Americans wanting to cut the Defense budget, President Obama unilaterally decided to engage the country in another war, blowing over $100 million on missiles in the first day alone. From the conservative National Journal:

With U.N. coalition forces bombarding Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi from the sea and air, the United States’ part in the operation could ultimately hit several billion dollars — and require the Pentagon to request emergency funding from Congress to pay for it.

The first day of Operation Odyssey Dawn had a price tag that was well over $100 million for the U.S. in missiles alone. And the U.S. military, which remains in the lead now in its third day, has pumped millions more into air- and sea-launched strikes targeting air-defense sites and ground-force positions along Libya’s coastline.

The politicians in Washington blather about the need to cut Social Security and to remove all federal funding from NPR, while also complaining that they didn’t get to vote in favor of spending another few billions of dollars the US doesn’t have in a war that does not directly affect US security unless that security is defined only by access to oil at low prices.

It is no better in the UK. Politicians there did get the opportunity to vote on involvement in Libya:

The debate focused on Resolution 1973, passed by the United Nations Security Council last week. This authorises “all necessary measures”, short of bringing in an occupying force, to protect Libyan citizens from the Gaddafi regime, which has been fighting rebel forces.

The Commons motion – which was backed by 557 MPs and opposed by 13 – followed a second night of US-led action in Libya, with Col Gaddafi’s sprawling Bab al-Aziziya complex in Tripoli among the locations hit.

And yet, Britons do not want this war:

Only one in three Britons agree with the decision to take military action in Libya, a poll published Monday showed.

The ComRes/ITN poll found that 43 percent disagreed with the action and 22 percent were unsure. Just under half of those surveyed felt military action was an unnecessary risk for Britain to take.

Haunted by the experience of the recent Iraq war and continued losses in Afghanistan, Britons told Reuters they were wary of getting dragged into another lengthy foreign conflict at a time of belt-tightening at home.

When it comes to war, politicians in the US and UK hear only the call to war, not their citizens’ call to avoid war and cut defense spending to decrease deficits.

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Jim White

Jim White

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