Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s Address to Congress on the War in Libya
As Prepared for Delivery
United States House of Representatives
March 31, 2011
Mr. Speaker. The critical issue before this nation today is not Libyan democracy, it is American democracy. In the next hour I will describe the dangers facing our own democracy. The principles of world democracy are embodied in the UN Charter, conceived to end the scourge of war for all time. The hope that nations could turn their swords into plowshares reflects the timeless impulse of humanity for enduring peace and with it an enhanced opportunity to pursue happiness.
We are not naïve about the existence of forces in the world which work against peace and against human security, but it is our fervent wish that we shall never become like those whom we condemn as lawless and without scruples. For it is our duty as members of a democratic society to provide leadership by example, to not only articulate the highest standards but to walk down the path to peace and justice with those standards as our constant companions. Our moral leadership in the world depends chiefly upon the might and light of truth and not shock and awe, and ghastly glow of our 2,000 lb bombs.
Our dear nation stands at a crossroads. The direction we take will determine not what kind of nation we are but what kind of nation we will become. Will we become a nation which plots in secret to wage war? Will we become a nation that observes our Constitution only in matters of convenience? Will we become a nation which destroys the unity of the world community painstakingly pieced together from the ruins of World War II, a war which itself followed a war to end all wars?
Now, once again we stand poised at a precipice — forced to the edge by an Administration which has thrown caution to the winds and our Constitution to the ground.
It is abundantly clear from a careful reading of our Declaration of Independence that our nation was born from nothing less than the rebellion of the human spirit against the arrogance of power.
More than 200 years ago it was the awareness of the unchecked arrogance of King George III that led our Founders to deliberately and carefully balance our constitution by articulating the rights of Congress in Article I, as the primary check by our citizens against the dangers they foresaw for our republic. Our constitution was derived from the human and political experience of our Founders who were aware of what happens when one person takes it upon himself or herself to assume rights and privileges which place them above their fellow citizens.
“But where,” asked Tom Paine in his famous tract, Common Sense, “…is the king of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal of Britain . . . . so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”
The power to declare war is firmly and explicitly vested in the Congress of the United States under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
Let us make no mistake about it, dropping 2000 lb bombs and unleashing the massive firepower of our air force on the capital of a sovereign state is in fact an act of war and no amount of legal acrobatics can make it otherwise.
It is that same arrogance of power which the former Senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, saw shrouded in the deceit which carried us into the abyss of the war in Vietnam. We determined we would never again see another Vietnam. It was the awareness of the unchecked power and arrogance of the executive which led Congress to pass the War Powers Act.
The Congress through the War Powers Act provided the executive with an exception to unilaterally respond only when the nation was in actual or imminent danger; to “repel sudden attacks.”
Today we are in a constitutional crisis because our chief executive has assumed for himself powers to wage war which are neither expressly defined nor implicit in the Constitution, nor permitted under the War Powers Act.
This is a challenge not just to the Administration, but to Congress itself:
The President has no right to wrest that fundamental power from Congress – and we have no right to cede it to him.
We, Members of Congress can no more absolve our president of his responsibility to obey this profound constitutional mandate then we can absolve ourselves of our failure to rise to the instant challenge that is before us today.
We violate our sacred trust to the citizens of the United States and our oath to uphold the constitution if we surrender this great responsibility and through our own inaction acquiesce in another terrible war.
We must courageously defend the oath that we took to defend the Constitution of the United States of America or we forfeit our right to participate in representative government.
How can we pretend to hold other sovereigns to fundamental legal principles through wars in foreign lands if we do not hold our own presidents to fundamental legal principles at home?
We are staring not only into the maelstrom of war in Libya, but also the code of behavior we are establishing today sets a precedent for the potential of evermore violent maelstroms ahead in Syria, Iran, and the horrifying chaos of generalized war throughout the Middle East. Our continued occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan makes us more vulnerable, not less vulnerable, to being engulfed in this generalized war.
In two years we have moved from President Bush’s doctrine of preventive war to President Obama’s assertion of the right to go to war without even the pretext of a threat to our nation.
This Administration is now asserting the right to go to war because a nation may threaten force against those who have internally taken up arms against it. Our bombs began dropping even before the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry could verify allegations of murder of non-combatant civilians by the Gaddafi regime.
The Administration deliberately avoided coming to Congress and furthermore rejects the principle that Congress has any role in this matter. Yesterday we learned that ‘The Administration would forge ahead with military action even if Congress passed a resolution constraining the mission.’
This is a clear and arrogant violation of our Constitution. This is war. Even a war launched for humanitarian reasons is still a war. And – only Congress can declare war.
We saw in the President’s address to the nation on March 28, 2011 how mismatched elements are being hastily stitched together into a new war doctrine:
1. Executive privilege to wage war
2. War based on verbal threats
3. Humanitarian war
4. Preemptive war
5. Unilateral war
6. War for regime change
7. War against a nation whose government this Administration determines to be illegitimate
8. War authorized through the UN Security Council
9. War authorized through NATO and the Arab League
10. War requested by a rebel group against its despised government.
But not a word about coming to the representatives of the people in the United States Congress to make this decision. At this moment sailors and marines aboard the USS Bataan are headed to a position off the coast of Libya. The sons and daughters of our constituents put their lives on the line for this country. We owe it to them to challenge a misguided and illegal doctrine which could put their lives in great danger. For we have an obligation to protect them as they pledge to defend our nation.
The Administration’s new war doctrine will lead not to peace, but to more war. It will stretch even thinner our military. In 2007 the Center for American Progress released a report on the effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the multiple deployments on our Armed Forces. The report cited a lack of military readiness. It cited high levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide.
The report was released just before President Bush’s surge in Iraq. Just one year after the surge in Afghanistan and after eight years in Iraq, the President commits an all volunteer army to another war of choice. If the criteria for military intervention in another country is government-sponsored violence and instability, over commitment of our military will be virtually inevitable and our national security will be undermined.
It is clear that the Administration planned a war against Libya at least a month in advance. But why? The President cannot say that Libya is an imminent or actual threat. He cannot say that war against Libya is in our vital interest. He cannot say that Libya had the intention or capability of attacking the United States. He has not claimed Libya had weapons of mass destruction to be used against us.
We are told our nation’s role is limited, yet, at the same time, it is being expanded.
We have been told the administration does not favor military regime change, but then they tell us the war cannot end until Gaddafi is no longer the leader. Further, two weeks earlier the President signed a secret order for the CIA to assist the rebels who are trying to oust Gaddafi.
We are told that the burdens of the war in Libya would be shared by a coalition, but the United States is providing the bulk of the money, the armaments and the organizational leadership.
We are told that the President has legal authority for this war under the UN Security Council Resolution 1973. But this resolution specifically does not authorize any ground elements. Furthermore, the administration exceeded the mandate of the resolution by providing the rebels with air cover. Thus this war against Libya violated our Constitution and has even violated the very authority which the administration claimed was sufficient to take our country to war.
We are told the Gaddafi regime has been illegitimate for four decades. But we were not told that in 2003 the U.S. dropped sanctions against Libya. We were not told that Gaddafi, in an effort to ingratiate himself with the West in general and with America in particular, accepted a market-based economic program led by the very harsh structural adjustment remedies of the IMF and the World Bank. This led to the wholesale privatization of his state enterprises, contributing to unemployment in Libya rising above 20%. CNN reported on December 19, 2003 that Libya acknowledged having a nuclear program, pledged to destroy weapons of mass destruction and pledged to allow international inspections.
This was a decision which President George W. Bush has praised saying Gaddafi’s actions “made our country and our world safer.”
We are told that Gaddafi is in breach of UN Security Council Resolutions but now our own Secretary of State is reportedly considering arming the rebels, an act which would be a breach of the UN Security Council resolution which established an arms embargo.
We are told we went to war at the request of and with the support of the Arab League but the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa began asking questions immediately after the imposition of the “No Fly Zone” stating that what was happening in Libya “differs from the aim of imposing a No Fly Zone . . . . what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of civilians.”
Even the Secretary General of NATO, an organization which the United States founded and generally controls, expressed concern saying “We are not in Libya to arm people but to protect people.”
Is this is truly a humanitarian intervention? What is humanitarian about providing to one side of a conflict the ability to wage war against the other side of a conflict, which will inevitably trigger a civil war turning Libya into a graveyard?
The Administration has told us they do not really know who the rebels are, but they are considering arming them nonetheless. The fact that they are even thinking about arming these rebels makes one think they know exactly who the rebels are.
While a variety of individuals and institutions may comprise the so called opposition in Libya, in fact one of the most significant organizations is the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) along with its military front, the Libyan National Army. The NFSL’s call for opposition to the Gaddafi regime in February was a catalyst of the conflict which precipitated the humanitarian crisis which is now used to justify our armed intervention.
But how spontaneous was this rebellion?
The Congressional Research Service in a 1987 analysis of the Libyan opposition wrote:
“Over twenty opposition groups exist outside Libya. The most important in 1987 was the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF) formed in October 1981….The LNSF claimed responsibility for the daring attack on Gaddafi’s headquarters at Bab al Aziziyah on May 8, 1984. Although the coup attempt failed and Gaddafi escaped unscathed, dissident groups claimed that some eighty Libyans, Cubans and East Germans perished.”
Significantly the CRS cited various “sources” as early as 1984 which claimed “. . . the United States Central Intelligence Agency trained and supported the LNSF [Libyan National Salvation Front] before and after the May 8 operation”.
By October 31, 1996, according to the BBC translation of Al-Hayat, an Arabic journal in London, a Colonel Khalifah Hiftar, who was the leader of the Libyan National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the LNSF was quoted as saying “force is the only effective method” in dealing with Gaddafi.
Move forward to March 26, 2011. The McClatchy Newspapers reported that the “new leader of Libya’s opposition military, left for Libya two weeks ago”, apparently around the same time that the President signed the covert operations order. The new leader spent the past two decades of his life in suburban Virginia where he had no visible means of support. His name: Colonel Khalifah Hiftar. One wonders when he planned his trip and who is his travel agency.
Congress needs to determine whether the United States, through previous covert support of the armed insurrection driven by the American-created NFSL, potentially helped create the humanitarian crisis was used to justify military intervention?
If we really want to understand how our constitutional prerogative for determining war and peace has been preempted by this Administration, it is important that Congress fully consider relevant events which may relate directly to the attack on Libya.
Consider this: On November 2, 2010 France and Great Britain signed a mutual defense treaty, which included joint participation in “Southern Mistral” a series of war games outlined in the bilateral agreement and surprisingly documented on a joint military web site established by France and Great Britain. Southern Mistral involved a long-range conventional air attack, called Southern Storm, against a dictatorship in a fictitious southern country called “Southland,” in response to a pretend attack on France by “Southland”. The joint military air strike was authorized by a pretend United Nations Security Council Resolution. The “Composite Air Operations” were planned for the period of March 21-25, 2011.
On March 20, 2011 the United States joined France and Great Britain in an air attack against Libya, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
Have the scheduled war games simply been postponed, or are they actually under way after months of planning, under the name of Operation Odyssey Dawn? Were opposition forces in Libya informed by the US, the UK or France about the existence of Southern Mistral/Southern Storm, which may have encouraged them to actions leading to greater repression and a humanitarian crisis? In short was this war against Gaddafi’s Libya planned or a spontaneous response to the great suffering which Gaddafi was visiting upon his opposition? Congress has not even considered this possibility.
NATO, which has now taken over enforcement of the no-fly zone, has morphed from an organization which pledged mutual support to defend North Atlantic states from aggression in military operations reaching from Libya to the Chinese border in Afghanistan. We need to now ask what role the French Air Force General Abrial and current Supreme Allied Commander of NATO for Transformation may have played in the development of Operation Southern Storm and in discussions with the U.S. in the expansion of the UN Mandate into a NATO operation. What has been the role of the US African Command and Central Command in discussions leading up to this conflict? What did we know and when did we know it?
The United Nations Security Council process is at risk when its members are not fully informed of all the facts when they authorize a military operation. It is at risk from NATO which is usurping its mandate without specific authorization of Security Council Resolution 1973. The United States pays 25% of the military expense of NATO and NATO may be participating in the expansion of the UN mandate.
The United Nations relies not only on its moral authority, but on the moral cooperation of its member nations. If America exceeds its legal authority and determines to redefine international law, we journey away from an international moral order and into the amorality of power politics where the rule of force trumps the rule of law.
What are the fundamental principles at stake in America today?
First and foremost is our system of checks and balances built into the Constitution to ensure that important decisions of state are developed through mutual respect and shared responsibility in order to ensure that collective knowledge, indeed the collective wisdom of the people, is brought to bear. Two former Secretaries of State, James Baker and Warren Christopher have spoken jointly to the “importance of meaningful consultation between the President and Congress before the nation is committed to war.”
Our nation has an inherent right to defend itself and a solemn obligation to defend the Constitution. From the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam to the allegations of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq we have learned from bitter experience that the determination to go to war must be based on verifiable facts carefully considered.
Finally, civilian deaths are always to be regretted. But, we must understand from our own Civil War more than 150 years ago that nations must resolve their own conflicts and shape their own destiny internally.
However horrible those internal conflicts may be, these local conflicts can become even more dreadful if armed intervention in a civil war results in the internationalization of that conflict.
The belief that war is inevitable makes of war a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The United States, in this new and complex world wracked with great movements of masses to transform their own government, must itself be open to transformation, away from intervention, away from trying to determine the leadership of other nations, away from covert operations to try to manipulate events, and towards a rendezvous with those great principles of self-determination which gave us birth.
In a world which is interconnected and interdependent. In a world which cries out for human unity, we must call upon the wisdom of our namesake and Founding Father, George Washington, to guide us in the days ahead.
“The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.”
Washington also had a wish for the future America: “My wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”