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I happen to think it might be. So in one way, I welcome this news:
The US is considering a new campaign of military action in Libya against ISIS, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid worries that the jihadist group could seize control of a larger slice of territory in the country.
Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, said the US was “looking at military options” for Libya “in the event” that ISIS “becomes more of a threat than it is even today”. Officials said the potential options would include concerted air strikes against ISIS and limited operations by special operations forces.
The new plans for potential military action in Libya come four years after the civil war and subsequent western campaign to topple Muammer Gaddafi. The chaos and instability in the country since then has created space for ISIS and other militant groups to prosper.
Alarm in western capitals about Libya has grown in recent weeks as ISIS, which already controls a long strip of coastline around the city of Sirte, has used heavy weapons to launch attacks against a series of oil facilities. US officials say there has been an influx of ISIS fighters into Libya, partly as a result of the stronger controls on the flow of fighters into Syria from Turkey.
Yes, this is causing alarm in Western capitals — I’m alarmed, and I’m in a Western capital, so I can vouch for that. But I very much hope that the military action they’re thinking about is prudent, because the wrong kind could make this situation worse, not better. The problem in Libya is not ISIS. ISIS is there because of the problem: The problem is that Libya no longer has a functional state.
I assume the Pentagon has asked itself why it doesn’t and drawn wise and appropriate conclusions. If it hasn’t, I hope Congress in its wisdom will decline to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water, raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years, and all the other decisions we naturally expect Congress to make.
But wait …
I know. It’s a joke. But you know, it does happen to be in the Constitution of the United States. Maybe they put it there for a reason? If we go to war in Libya, it will be the second time in four years that we’ve gone to war in Libya without legal authorization from Congress. And the first time was not widely reckoned a success.
Some form of intervention is — in my view — absolutely necessary and prudent, based on what I understand of the situation. (For those of you who’d like to know more about what’s happening in Libya, Jason Pack’s Libya Analysis might be a good place to start.) But that intervention needs to leave Libya with more of a state, not less of one. More importantly, Claire Berlinski’s opinion about whether this is necessary and prudent isn’t the point.
The point is: What happens if the next president, or the one after that, wishes to prosecute an unnecessary or an imprudent war? Is there any special reason, based on the evidence of this election campaign, to believe our presidents will always be wise and prudent enough to make this decision without any check on one man’s power? Or one woman’s?
What’s genuinely the greater danger to us and to the world: ISIS, or the constitutional precedent we’re setting — one that will be with us for generations to come?