Anne-Marie Slaughter's End Zone Dancing and Situational Constitutionalism*

Former top Hillary Clinton adviser and current foreign policy New Frontierswoman Anne-Marie Slaughter gives the "ha ha ha, and yah, boo" treatment to Libya-intervention opponents, in a Financial Times op-ed entitled "Why Libya sceptics were proved badly wrong." Excerpt:

Let us do a thought experiment. Imagine the UN did not vote to authorise the use of force in Libya in March. Nato did nothing; Colonel Muammer Gaddafi over-ran Benghazi; the US stood by; the Libyan opposition was reduced to sporadic uprisings, quickly crushed. The regimes in Yemen and Syria took note, and put down their own uprisings with greater vigour. The west let brutality and oppression triumph again in the Middle East.

This is the scenario many wise heads were effectively arguing for with their strong stands against intervention to stop Col Gaddafi. Over the months those analysts have reminded us of their views, calling Libya a quagmire.

Ah, the Q-word. Brings me back to nine-plus years ago, when pro-Afghanistan War commentators used it as their go-to term of ridicule for anti-interventionists after the swift military victory in Kabul. Nearly a decade on, the U.S. has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and is reportedly negotiating a deal to keep American forces there through 2024.

But Slaugther, like the Obama administration she recently left, insists that this time there's a crucial difference: We've got no boots on the ground there, no matter what those other Beltway foreign policy people may advocate. (For those looking to make a quick buck, Slaughter has Tweeted "I'll take anyone's bet: there will be NO U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya. Not going to happen.")

Recent history has not been kind to premature celebrants of U.S. military victories. But what bothers me more here is that Slaughter and other Obama defenders are refusing to engage the arguments that their opponents have actually been using. Namely, that it is the Congress, not the president, that has the power to declare war; that the War Powers Act additionally requires the president to cease "hostilities" within 60 days of undeclared war absent congressional authorization; and that the president disregarded the advice of his own Office of Legal Counsel (and flagrantly reversed his campaign promise of "no more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient") by zooming through the 60-day deadline without a second look back.

You may recall similar concern over such constitutional contortionism from back in the dark days of George W. Bush, when it was frequently evinced by the likes of...Anne-Marie Slaughter. Here she is in November 2005, co-authoring a Washington Post op-ed entitled–wait for it!–"No More Blank-Check Wars." Excerpt:

Time and again in recent decades the United States has made military commitments after little real debate, with hazy goals and no appetite for the inevitable setbacks. [...]

Too often our leaders have entered wars with unclear and unfixed aims, tossing away American lives, power and credibility before figuring out what they were doing and what could be done. Congress saw the problem after the Vietnam War and tried to fix it with the War Powers Act. It states that troops sent into combat by the president must be withdrawn within 60 days unless Congress approves an extension. But presidents from Richard Nixon on never recognized the validity of this legislation against their powers as commander in chief. [...]

As often happens, an answer can be found with the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. They could not have foreseen the present age of nuclear missiles and cataclysmic terrorism. But they understood political accountability, and they knew that sending Americans to war required careful reflection and vigorous debate. Their answer survives in Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, which gives Congress -- and only Congress -- the power to declare war.

Ah, but she was so much older then, etc.

The Slaughter of 2011 fails to engage another basic argument against the war: that it lowers the bar for future military interventions, both via the aforementioned latitude that the Executive Branch has taken with warmaking, and with the justification cited by the president. Which was this:

We knew that...if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world....It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen....Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

Slaughter endorses this expansive new definition of the national interest with a foot-stomping flourish:

The strategic interest in helping the Libyan opposition came from supporting democracy and human rights, but also being seen to live up to those values by the 60 per cent majority of Middle Eastern populations who are under 30 and increasingly determined to hold their governments to account. This value-based argument was inextricable from the interest-based argument. So enough with the accusations of bleeding heart liberals seeking to intervene for strictly moral reasons.

Pre-empting possible slaughter and "being seen to live up to those values" are awfully low thresholds for raining bombs on dictators, a precedent that President Palin is sure to exploit before turning the screws on Iran. Among the myriad of likely unintended consequences is that every local autocrat with means will surely be lunging for the bomb, setting up future rounds of confrontation and conflict. And there's no reason to automatically assume that injecting the U.S. military into Arab Spring will strengthen the long-term cause of regional liberalization.

To which Slaughter says whatevs:

[T]he question for those who opposed the intervention is whether any of those things is worse than Col Gaddafi staying on by increasingly brutal means for many more years. Instability and worse would follow when he died, even had he orchestrated a transition.

The sceptics must now admit that the real choice in Libya was between temporary stability and the illusion of control, or fluidity and the ability to influence events driven by much larger forces.

I'll admit no such thing, cuz it ain't true. Declining to intervene into a civil war is not a vote for "stability," and it's something closer to the opposite of "control." By insisting on its "ability to influence events," the United States is assuming more control of the world's affairs, a conceit that is helping drive the country toward bankruptcy while arguably retarding the development of geopolitical responsibility.

Reason on Libya here.

* UPDATE: Slaughter Tweets back to me: "I agree with you on the constitutional point. I would have sided w/ Pentagon and Justice Dept on this one. And no dancing yet!"

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  • Old Mexican||

    With a name like Slaughter...

  • The Joker||

    [S]laughter is the best medicine.

  • Tman||

    I'm tired of these idiots lying about "no US troops on the ground".

    Yes, we don't have any infantry in Benghazi. But we did have US Pilots crash landing in Libya, and their boots were indeed on the ground. Not to mention we messed up the retrieval of said pilots when we gunned down some locals on the way to the rendezvous point.

    Of course they won't acknowledge the special forces and MI5 contingents that were undoubtedly on the ground advising the rebels, because they aren't "technically anywhere".

  • O2||

    so u advocate disclosing the presence of our special forces? why?

  • Tman||

    I didn't say that, and why do you insist on posting from your blackberry?

  • Metazoan||

    Blackberry would make it better, besides, at least BB auto-capitalizes.

  • ||

    Do pilots wear boots?

  • tarran||

    They wear faggy brown shoes.

  • rts||

    I'm no military expert, but don't at least some of the precision bombs require spotters on the ground as well?

  • Tman||

    Yes and no, depending on the type of ordinance being used. Some need spotters and others can use drones for targeting. I have some friends who are spotters for the Army, and they said that there were probably spotters in Libya, but they would never be "officially recognized" and are somewhat "spec-ops" status during deployment.

  • Contrarian P||

    But clearly they were wearing patent leather pumps.

  • rts||

    So what would happen if someone "not officially recognized" were to be killed or captured?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    They would not be officially dead.

  • Snowden||

    ^^THIS!!

  • Yossarian||

    Spoken like a true dead man.

  • Tman||

    They get listed as KIA, "location unknown".

  • Contrarian P||

    As always, should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

  • ||

    I always wondered about which secretary that was. Defense? State? HUD?

  • Mensan||

    Commerce, obviously. The commerce clause covers clandestine services since it has a substantial economic effect on "Commerce with foreign Nations".

  • ||

    The Secretary would deny all knowledge of their existence. (Or whatever the phrase was.)

  • Yep....||

    No ground troops and it's all freeeee! Pays for itself, you see!
    Provides jobs and healthcare and promotes good moral character -- boosts the economy, too. Interventionism is good for the world. Comply or else.

  • O2||

    and if the house had endorsed libya, the gop would still wail n gnash

  • GSL||

    It looks like she's wearing the Firefox logo around her neck.

  • JeopardyJackson||

    This time a Democrat did it. QED.

  • ||

    Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.

    Upon what, exactly, do you base this claim?

    America- World Busybody!

  • ||

    The Slaughter Doctrine--if there's bloodshed in the world, the US must participate.

  • DJF||

    And Slaughter will bravely fight the war from Washington with an occasional foray into the wilds of London and Paris.

  • ||

    All Hail the Hindmost!

  • Jersey Patriot||

    Indeed, the United States often takes notes on atrocities in other countries, usually to crib the "good" ideas.

  • ||

    except when that nation is Syria. Or North Korea. Or, or, or. The left is amusingly selective about what constitutes a situation worthy of involvement. The apparent strategy is to endorse action against the dictator easiest to caricature and, seriously, if you ever wondered what Boy George did with costumes, look to Libya.

  • ||

    How can she write that line about Syria with a straight face? Assad has increased the brutality of putting down the Syrian rebellion since the US kinetically led from behind in Libya. It's like that prediction that if we didn't have the stimulus, unemployment would rise above 8%.

  • Tman||

    Yeah, I don't understand that either. She says if we hadn't attacked Libya then Syria would have "put down their own uprisings with greater vigour".

    Hey stupid, Assad is already using his goons to "put down [his] own uprisings with greater vigour". Our involvement in Libya is largely irrelevant to Assad.

  • ||

    sure, but don't you think adding the "u" to vigour makes a little more high-brow than the garden variety vigor that some dictators use?

  • tarran||

    That kind of leapt out at me. There's a certain self-absorption to thinking that the Syrian government is going to allow U.S. government opinion to be the primary driver of its strategy for staying in power.

  • Barrack ||

    Mission: O-complished, bitches!

  • Bloody Barry||

    Yeah, I got two heads now, one more than Bushie-boy. I will soon have control over the entire region -- we gotta keep China outta there.

  • Afghan rare earth metals||

    the chinese luv us!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Peace through bombing.

    Someone nominate this man for another Nobel Prize.

  • ||

    The strategic interest in helping the Libyan opposition came from supporting democracy and human rights

    That is a mighty bold assertion, right there.

  • ||

    Don't you know, rebels are always in favor of democracy and human rights! That's what makes them rebels!

  • CatoTheElder||

    "rebels are always in favor of democracy and human rights"

    This is only half true. When the rebels oppose a regime that enjoys the support of the left, they are portrayed as fascists or fanatics. (e.g., 1980s Nicaragua, 2002 Venezuela, 2009 Guatemala, Kashmir since the Partition, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers.)

    It is way too early to have any confidence that Libya will be better off with the victory of insurgents. I would say that Slaughter is foolish to write this nonsense, but I think she understands that the attention span and critical thinking skills of Americans are so deficient that there is hardly any risk for her. So why not enjoy the moment?

  • space biologist||

    You forgot the Rebel Alliance.

  • ||

    For those looking to make a quick buck, Slaughter has Tweeted "I'll take anyone's bet: there will be NO U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya. Not going to happen."

    Never make a bet with someone who changes the definitions of words to suit themselves. Any troops entering Libya will be said to be "advisory", not "military"; or if they're driving around in Humvees, they won't be "on the ground" or something like that.

  • ||

    The regimes in Yemen and Syria took note, and put down their own uprisings with greater vigour.

    Oh, she lives in a fantasy world, then. Here in the real world, these regimes' campaigns of internal oppression was completely uninhibited by the goings-on in Libya.

    The west let brutality and oppression triumph again in the Middle East.

    They are certainly triumphing in Syria, Iran (still), and I guess Yemen. And if the Islamists manage to take over in Egypt and Libya (and Yemen), then I suspect the West will have helped brutality and oppression triumph again in the Middle East.

    the ability to influence events driven by much larger forces.

    Fuck me, which is it? Are we going to meddling in the post-overthrow politics, or not? Because supporters of this flip-flop between the two, depending on whether they are arguing (1) how cheap and easy and right side of history and everyone in the ME is just dying for a chance to be a Western liberal or (2) how vital and precarious the situation in the ME is, and how we have to be there for it to turn out right.

    So enough with the accusations of bleeding heart liberals seeking to intervene for strictly moral reasons.

    Oh, so when we were told (by you, I believe) this is all about the "responsibility to protect", we were being lied to?

  • hmm||

    Their wars are sucky. Our wars are spectaculaaaaaaaaarrrrrrr!!!!

  • Joe M||

    Shorter Slaughter: red =/= blue

  • ||

    Slaughter Tweets back to me: "I agree with you on the constitutional point."

    She just doesn't give a shit.

  • ||

    The "C" word springs to mind.

  • war-mongering "C"unt?||

  • WMC||

    Yeah, let's call her what she is.

  • Liberal Rationalization||

    Namely, that it is the Congress, not the president, that has the power to declare war; that the War Powers Act additionally requires the president to cease "hostilities" within 60 days of undeclared war absent congressional authorization; and that the president disregarded the advice of his own Office of Legal Counsel (and flagrantly reversed his campaign promise of "no more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient") by zooming through the 60-day deadline without a second look back.

    Yeah, well Bush did it first!! Where were you "libertarian" Koch-suckers then, huh??! See, hypocrites! Plus when Democrats weild power, it is for the *forces of Good!*. Quit bitching.

  • Post-Coital Rat||

    You may recall similar concern over such constitutional contortionism from back in the dark days of George W. Bush, when it was frequently evinced by the likes of...Anne-Marie Slaughter.


    The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose, too.

  • WarPig Obama||

    And I, I, I was the Peace Candidate!

  • binLaden & qadaffi||

    we're with you bro!

  • ||

    Pre-intervention:

    "This is not about regime change, it is about protecting innocents."

    Post-intervention:

    "The justification for what we did consists almost entirely of the benefits of regime change, and assumes that this time, it will be different - for the first time, a rebellion in the Mideast will put a liberal democratic regime in power. And entirely without us lifting a finger!"

    That's about it, right, Louise?

  • ||

    Doesn't everything she says go double for bombing Syria?

    So why isn't she pushing for that?

  • ||

    Because that might be hard and complicated. And also it is in the US's interest to get rid of Assad. And people like this person can never support an act that is strictly in the US's interests. They will gladly bilk the tax payers and send Americans to die for Europe's or the U.N.'s interests. But they will never do that for the US alone.

  • ||

    Heh.

    Welch apologizes for Col. Gaddafi like he apologizes for child rapist David Koresh.

    And Slaughter burned Welch's ass like David Koresh burned his 12 year old rape victims!

  • Janet Reno||

    You go, girl!

  • Tanstaafl||

    "Welch apologizes for Col. Gaddafi"

    IF: Welch not wanting to intervene in Libya = Support/apologizing for Quaddafi
    THEN: Obama not wanting to intervene in Iraq equals support/apologizing for Saddam

    'bout right?

  • Jaunty New-World-Girl Obama||

    "...a conceit that is helping drive the country toward bankruptcy..."

    I promised a better world and for My Michelle it certainly is...does anything else really matter? Be honest.

  • ||

    iow, she's making a results based, not a process based argument

    shocking...

    whether or not it's a "good" as to the result of the libyan intervention, that's entirely tangential to the fact that the PROCESS used - was unconstitutional

    iow, the ends justifies the means? really? that's all she's got?

  • Popo||

    Funny, coming from a police.

  • ||

    troll-o-meter: .000001

  • O2||

    so is the US at war w yemen for bombing aQ during yemen's arab spring uprisings? also [SOMALIA] since we've used drone attacks? are we at war w pakistan?

  • ||

    Don't see why not, unless those bombings are being done with the permission of whoever is in charge there.

  • ||

    Which at least in Yemen they were. Somalia doesn't really have a government.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Does Yemen have a government, really, in the areas where the drones are operating? Same question for Pakistan's NWTA. In both cases, if they had a government that gave a shit/was able to crack heads of Islamic militants, we wouldn't need to send drones over there in the first place.

  • ||

    And, making a results based argument bwfore the results are in.

  • ||

    good point

  • ||

    Often tomorrow's wars are the result of yesterday's "successful" intervention.

    In a few years, when whoever is president is trying to convince us that the leader of the Libyan government is the New Hitler, will Slaughter be remembering with pride that our government helped New Hitler to power and that she cheerily mocked those critical of that act?

  • ||

    I like how it's instability when her opponents like it, but fluidity when she likes it.

  • Poker Wisdom||

    Just because you suck out a win from the turn and river cards doesn't mean it was smart to stay in when you had poor hole cards and fuck all after the flop.

  • steve||

    Gaddafi: the first person in history who's wax sculpture will look more lifelike than him.
    That dude looks pretty pasty IN SPITE of all the make-up

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