Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Constitutionality of the Attack on Libya

Obama's belated decision to launch attacks on the Libyan regime of Moammar Ghaddafi has sparked some debate on the home front over the constitutionality of his action.

Hate to say anything that defends Obama, but I would argue that the president does have a constitutional and legal authority to deploy the armed forces into a conflict despite the lack of a declaration of war. First of all, Congress does have the option to cut off funding for U. S. military actions at any time. Because of that, the legislative branch does have power and leverage over a protracted, but undeclared war.

Secondly, there is the precedent set by the Founding Fathers themselves. I will skip over John Adams' deployment of the navy in an undeclared war against France and Thomas Jefferson's attacks on Tripoli which were also undeclared. Neither one of these men had anything to do with the creation of the Constitution. James Madison, as president, in 1816 deployed the United States Navy against Tripoli and the other Barbary Pirate states. Since he was the man who more than anyone else drafted the Constitution and its first ten amendments, it is reasonable to assume that he did not intend for a president's decision making power over war to be limited to formal declarations.

Of course Barack Obama himself argued that military strikes ordered unilaterally by the president were unconstitutional during the Bush Administration. Liberal and left wing Democrats have tried to remind him of that stance lately. It was incorrect, but it is interesting to watch Obama once again enrage his own base. They can't be happy that Guantanamo Bay is once again in the same mode as under President Bush.

That all being said, I still am of the opinion that we should have recruited a country such as India to play a role here. That way this action could not be perceived as neo-colonialism. With active conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and North Korea rattling its sabre, we cannot afford to get seriously invovled in Libya. Let Europe, if no one else is available, take the lead and the griping that comes with it.


  1. In your third paragraph you wrote that "Neither one of these men [Jefferson and John Adams] had anything to do with the creation of the Constitution. I do believe that this statement by you is FALSE. Although we do know that James Madison had more influence on the creation of the U.S. Constitution, negating the other men in attendance of the Constitutional Convention is not to be pardoned or discounted. At no time in the history of the world, up until that time, had more qualified academics, schololars and philosophers been assembled into one room. The sole purpose was to CHANGE the Articles of Confederation. Those 55 representatives ignnored the rules and created an entirely new constitution -- the present day U.S. Constitution. I will say that our Constitution along with the 1215 Magna Carta issued by King John are THE most precious and important documents in the world -- then and now. I have had the great honor of seeing the originals of both.

  2. Although Jefferson and Adams were away on diplomatic missions at the time of the convention, I was wrong to say that they had nothing to do with it. They were the leading political intellects of the Revolution and certainly their ideals guided the thoughts of many. Jefferson was, in many ways, the mentor of Madison. So I should have said "direct impact" on the creation. It is interesting that these three men all did not seek official declarations of war when they chose to deploy U. S. power against the French and Barbary Pirates.