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!"