CommunityThe Bullpen

White House Starts a Mini-War in Africa

I guess Leon Panetta’s admonition against reducing the US military presence had some foreknowledge. The President, in a letter to Congress, just acknowledged that he deployed approximately 100 combat forces to central Africa to assist in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) there. Here is an excerpt from the letter to Congress, sent to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (it’s Daniel Inouye):

For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa. The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security. Since 2008, the United States has supported regional military efforts to pursue the LRA and protect local communities. Even with some limited U.S. assistance, however, regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders from the battlefield. In the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, Public Law 111-172, enacted May 24, 2010, the Congress also expressed support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.

The President notes in the letter that the combat team deployed on October 12, two days ago. And he promises that a “second combat-equipped team” will deploy sometime in the next month.

This relatively small force will be able to go into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, subject to approval from each of those countries. So you have a small roving band of US military personnel trying to take out Joseph Kony in Africa.

The Administration’s claimed legal justification comes from a law called the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, originally sponsored by Russ Feingold. Human Rights Watch were among the endorsers of the bill. I’m not sure this is what they had in mind. The bill authorizes the President to “provide additional assistance” to the region affected by the LRA, but there is absolutely nothing explicit about the deployment of combat forces in that law. The Constitution reserves the power to declare war to Congress alone, and they did not do that in the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. There’s a clause about “political, economic, military, and intelligence support” that I suppose is the thin reed upon which this all hangs. The signing statement by the President after passage of the law says absolutely nothing about the deployment of forces.

More from ABC. The forces are combat-equipped but supposedly only giving logistical advice. However, the order is a capture or kill order on Joseph Kony. But I guess it doesn’t constitute “hostilities.”

A couple other things. I’m sure Joseph Kony is a horrible person, among all the horrible people in the world. The question is whether it’s worthwhile or wise for the United States to be constantly policing the world, sending out US troops and spending US money to do it.  Second, this is really what was at stake with the Congressional debate over Libya. Some Constitutionalists argued that the President didn’t have the unilateral right to commit the US military to action in Libya, and in fact the House never passed any resolution authorizing force even after the fact. But nobody took the next logical step to try to shut down the US contribution to the NATO mission.

This furthers a long, slow decline whereby the President becomes a unitary executive in matters of foreign policy, even though Congress has explicit rights regarding war powers. If Congress fails to use them, it only emboldens the executive, who then feels free to inform Congressional leaders after the fact that he deployed troops to central Africa.

…to be clear, we have logistical military personnel in probably every country on Earth. The problem here, as I see it, is the degradation of war powers under the Constitution.

Previous post

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy: markup of DOMA repeal in the queue

Next post

Friday Night at the Revolution [OWS]

David Dayen

David Dayen