Gates: No vital national interest or imminent threat in Libya before Odyssey Dawn

posted at 10:15 am on March 27, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Jake Tapper reminds ABC why they foolishly spent money on Christiane Amanpour last year for the anchor job on This Week with a tough joint interview of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  Tapper asks Gates exactly what vital national interest the US has in Libya and what kind of imminent threat to our security Moammar Gaddafi posed at the beginning of Operation Odyssey Dawn.  Gates says … none in either case:

On “This Week,” ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper asked Gates, “Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?”

“No, no,” Gates said in a joint appearance with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “It was not — it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about.  The engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake,” he said.

Gates then says that refugees from Libya could have destabilized Tunisia and Egypt, which is true — obviously, the revolutions in those places helped destabilize Libya — and that somehow that was of interest to the United States.  That is certainly an arguable point either way, but that point should have been argued in Congress before committing the US to war.  The War Powers Resolution requires there to be “(1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” before a President can send US military forces into a new conflict.

People have disputed the constitutionality of the WPR ever since Congress passed it, but no President has ever had the nerve to challenge it.  Moreover, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ran for the presidency in 2007-8 by challenging George Bush’s record on military adventurism, and now-VP Joe Biden specifically campaigned on the promise to impeach Bush in his final year in office if he violated it.  Gates’ admission leaves Obama with very little room to pretend that he followed his own campaign rhetoric on warmaking.

Hillary felt the need to swoop to the rescue.  She claimed that Obama didn’t need to go to Congress because this coalition is so darned multilateral:

Tapper asked Clinton, “Why not got to Congress?”

“Well, we would welcome congressional support,” the Secretary said, “but I don’t think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama was speaking of several years ago.”

“I think that this had a limited timeframe, a very clearly defined mission which we are in the process of fulfilling,” Clinton said.

Obviously, the Secretary of State has trouble with both math and the law.  There is no “multilateral” waiver in either the WPR or the Constitution, but even if there were, Obama would be the least likely President to qualify for it.   This coalition is the smallest since World War II involving the US in military action, only half the size of  George W. Bush’s Iraq War coalition.

She also fails vocabulary test in her claim that the mission has a limited timeframe.  Later, Gates says that no one knows how long this will drag on:

On “This Week,” ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper asked Secretary of Defense Gates how much longer we might be there.

“Some NATO officials say this could be three months, but people in the Pentagon think it could be far longer than that.  Do you think we’ll be gone by the end of the year?  Will the mission be over by the end of the year?” Tapper asked

“I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that,” Gates said.

This administration has had trouble throughout this Middle East crisis getting its stories straight from day to day.  Now they can’t even get their stories straight in the same interview.

Smart power.

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Neither the European weenies through NATO nor the USA has any business refereeing AGAIN between Muslims. It is the Arab bloc of 57 nations that should be required to “save” their people (as though Muslims actually care about the deaths of fellow Muslims, especially black ones except as a cudgel to beat fool western dhimmis about the head. The biggest killers of Muslim civilians in the world are other Muslims). But that’s the pretense here, that it is a humanitarian interference to save Muslim lives. So why are the Arab states all in the washroom when it comes time to pay the bill? Let them use up their military resources defending Muslims instead of husbanding them to attack Israel and the West at some future date. Let the idiot western leaders turn to the Arabs and say: “You apparently don’t think this is worth your gold and military lives. Are we supposed to show more concern for Muslim lives than you do? Maybe we should just follow YOUR lead and believe that your co-religionists who die are going to their better place. Bye now”

Heckle on March 27, 2011 at 9:22 PM

jp on March 27, 2011 at 8:28 PM

Have you read the multiple articles by Fisher of the CRS? I didn’t think so; he’s been saying it for years.

Not a Paultard, thanks. Just ain’t a cheerleader like you seem to be for a return to absolute monarchical power. Your king-like Presidency is precisely what we fought a friggin’ revolution over. People like you who want a return to that simply astopnish me. You cloak yourself in patriotism, but you are no PATRIOT.

Firefly_76 on March 27, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Time to get over yourselves and this must talk to Congress crap. For the most part, the Libyan situation is like police in hot pursuit to save lives have privileges that police doing investigations don’t have. Waiting to involve Congress in this ‘hot pursuit’ would just have made the mess worse by more delay.

Obama should have taken Palin’s suggestion and put the no-fly zone into being very soon after the suggestion was made.

As for the legalities — it’s going to end up as a NATO deal. We have existing treaties with NATO that obligate us to take action in concert with other NATO allies. Yes, the paperwork is currently a messy work in progress. That’s the nature of ‘hot pursuit’ and why you don’t always have the luxury of dotting every i and crossing every t.

So get over all the fine print. One way or the other, what is being done needed to get done. Because of silly dithering by Obama, it had to get done at the last moment and after a lot more (preventable) damage had been done….

Time to move on to “Support the troops”…

If one is looking for something of relevance to toss into the debate — the Libyan situation happened because there is no 2nd Amendment right to bear arms in Libya (and the UN also trends against that right too)…. Go figure…

drfredc on March 27, 2011 at 11:50 PM

drfredc on March 27, 2011 at 11:50 PM

“Save lives”, huh? Whose lives are we saving exactly? Our enemies? Seems like we are “saving” Al-Qaeda! We shouldn’t have gotten involved at all at anytime. We are aiding the enemy.

-Aslan’s Girl

Aslans Girl on March 27, 2011 at 11:54 PM

Mind. Numbing. Hypocrisy.

scotash on March 28, 2011 at 12:17 AM

Nothing but brainless bluster from “drfredc”.

police in hot pursuit to save lives

No, our armed forces are not some kind of glorified “Peace Corps”. You sound like a Lib, fredc.

We have existing treaties with NATO that obligate us to take action in concert with other NATO allies.

Nato is a mutual defense pact- you ass. If a NATO country is attacked, we are bound to respond. There is nothing that obliges us to act if a NATO country initiates hostilities against a state that poses us no threat.

Paperwork is messy? Get over the fine print?

You sound like the Democrats talking about ramming through Obamacare- anything is doable if you can bend and even break the rules to get it done. Complete lawlessness.

What’s on display here is power that accepts no limitations on itself. We’re going down the road to disaster with this.

If you want to make a case for attacking Libya, then go ahead. But simply asserting: “It had to be done, get over it you Teabagger!” – is not going to cut it.

You’re pathetic, drfredc.

sartana on March 28, 2011 at 12:41 AM

We have existing treaties with NATO that obligate us to take action in concert with other NATO allies.

drfredc on March 27, 2011 at 11:50 PM

If that was true, France would’ve joined us in Iraq.

-Aslan’s Girl

Aslans Girl on March 28, 2011 at 1:24 AM

blink on March 28, 2011 at 1:00 AM

Beat me to it. Well considering I’m an hour past the latest post…

I guess The Bammer thinks we have an obligation to help British Petroleum, French oil interests and Italy’s desire not to have refugees wash up in Sicily.

What was that “No Blood for Oil” nonsense, again?

reaganaut on March 28, 2011 at 2:32 AM

How about we just cut out the White House and State Department and ship them to Geneva where they’ll feel more at home. And let John Boehner become President.

flataffect on March 28, 2011 at 5:24 AM

What Kadaffy did with the Berlin disco bombing and Pan Am 103 were acts of Private War

Lybia/Gaddafi declared war on the US in the 80′s, via multiple acts of war.

From 2008:
George W Bush phones Col Gadhafi to laud claims settlement deal

President George W Bush telephoned Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi to express his satisfaction over a $1.5bn payment that Tripoli made to settle a long-standing dispute over terror attacks, including the bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, the White House has said.

In their conversation, the two “discussed that this agreement should help to bring a painful chapter in the history between our two countries closer to closure,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

Libya’s Oct 31 payment cleared the last hurdle in restoration of full normalisation of diplomatic relations between Washington and Tripoli. The money will go into a $1.8bn fund that will pay $1.5bn in claims for the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of a German discotheque. Another $300m will go to Libyan victims of US air strikes ordered in retaliation for the disco bombing, which killed two American soldiers.


And to commit military forces the President must state that this is the case. This gives justification for commitment of forces.

He has not done so.

If the White House were to take the jp/ajacksonian line they would be making themselves look completely ridiculous. What could be more Orwellian than thanking someone for compensation payments for past terrorist attacks, declaring the matter settled, and then using the same attacks as justification for airstrikes two years later?

Besides the 80’s attacks aren’t even close to being the real reason for the airstrikes. The real reason is because Gadafi is a dictator, and hence undemocratic, and the US feels the need to support democracy everywhere.

The PanAm bombing and other attacks from 20-30 years ago are not a justification for these airstrikes except as a post-facto justification in the imagination of some conservatives.

aengus on March 28, 2011 at 6:51 AM

This thread gives new meaning to the phrase “Zombie Reagan”.

aengus on March 28, 2011 at 6:54 AM

That is what is galling about the modern age: we refuse to call warfare what it is

To pretend that the NATO intervention happening in Libya now is a belated response to attacks from 20-30 years ago is refusing to call warfare what it is. Who do you think you’re kidding?

aengus on March 28, 2011 at 7:05 AM

Then, why are we there? Scooter speaks tonight.

kingsjester on March 28, 2011 at 8:01 AM

Glad to see everyone in this Administration is on the same page. Clown college looks more organized than this Administration…sheesh!

SPGuy on March 28, 2011 at 8:45 AM

The Left and the Right suck. The Democrats and the Republicans suck. They both want war when they are in charge. They are both simply special interest groups who represent similar interests.

j_galt on March 28, 2011 at 9:31 AM

Aslans Girl on March 28, 2011 at 1:24 AM

Uh, France is not in NATO.

That said, NATO is a defensive alliance and does not commit members to support each other in starting a war.

MJBrutus on March 28, 2011 at 10:58 AM

Correction, France was not a NATO member when we began the OIF. They have since rejoined.

MJBrutus on March 28, 2011 at 11:01 AM

The American public, as usual, is being played for fools ( a fair bet given they believed Obama’s lies about transparency, etc…). Any military incursion Obama wishes to do can be “justified” as a “humanitarian” act morally called for in a “unique” situation.

The only up side to Obma’s military action in Libya is that maybe this civil war can now continue longer so that these “death-to-America” celebrators of the Lockerbie terrorist can wreak greater destruction on each other.

Chessplayer on March 29, 2011 at 8:55 AM