Congress calls Obama on Libya war

We had been blogging about how President Obama has been ignoring the War Powers Act in waging war in Libya without Congressional consent.  Now Congress has overwhelmingly struck back, with a bipartisan 3/4 of the House calling him on it:

Crossing party lines to deliver a stunning rebuke to the commander in chief, the vast majority of the House voted Friday for resolutions telling President Obama he has broken the constitutional chain of authority by committing U.S. troops to the international military mission in Libya.

In two votes — on competing resolutions that amounted to legislative lectures of Mr. Obama — Congress escalated the brewing constitutional clash over whether he ignored the founding document’s grant of war powers by sending U.S. troops to aid in enforcing a no-fly zone and naval blockade of Libya.

The resolutions were non-binding, and only one of them passed, but taken together, roughly three-quarters of the House voted to put Mr. Obama on notice that he must explain himself or else face future consequences, possibly including having funds for the war cut off.

“He has a chance to get this right. If he doesn’t, Congress will exercise its constitutional authority and make it right,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who wrote the resolution that passed, 268-145, and sets a two-week deadline for the president to deliver the information the House is seeking.

Minutes after approving Mr. Boehner’s measure, the House defeated an even more strongly-worded resolution offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, that would have insisted the president begin a withdrawal of troops.

Most lawmakers said that was too rash at this point, and said they wanted to give Mr. Obama time to comply. Some also said immediate withdrawal would leave U.S. allies in the lurch.

The Kucinich resolution failed 148-265. In a telling signal, 87 Republicans voted for Mr. Kucinich’s resolution — more than the 61 Democrats that did.

Still, taken together, 324 members of Congress voted for one resolution or both resolutions, including 91 Democrats, or nearly half the caucus. The size of the votes signals overwhelming discontent with Mr. Obama’s handling of the constitutional issues surrounding the Libya fight.

via Bipartisan Congress rebuffs Obama on Libya mission – Washington Times.

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers

Those who believe ritual and ceremony are meaningless have never watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington Cemetery.  This article by Sarah Kaufman on the soldiers who perform this duty–the precision of their marching, the seams of their uniforms tailored to 1/64th of an inch, their shoes and gear obsessively polished–makes for a good Memorial Day meditation.  Read it all, but here are some excerpts:

Like so many great romantic moments in the arts, it begins with the tolling of a bell. The sound dies. Hushed anticipation. Finally, the soldier makes his entrance — no ordinary recruit, but the relief commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, taking part in the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

You could land an airplane on the flatness of his hat, balance teacups on his shoulders. He has been polished and honed to perfection, a man as monument, symbol and embodiment of order, respect and dignity.

Washington life swirls around him — crowds gather and disperse, jets climb into the clouds, the cemetery’s infernal lawn mowers roar. The weather may bake or freeze him — the high, marble mesa on which the tomb rests, at the top of a hill affording one of the loveliest views of the city, can feel like the hottest spot on Earth, even in May. It can also approach the coldest, as when blizzards covered the city two winters ago, and snow buried the plaza as fast as soldiers could shovel it. They replaced their shiny black shoes with combat boots. But the vigil and guard changes went on around the clock, as they do now and have since 1937.

The world doesn’t matter here, in this outdoor theater where the show always goes on. This guard posting is a marathon of purity, a spectacle of the finest abstraction and strictest minimalism, where precise, unthinking repetition blots out just about everything else.

The commander strides across the plaza, past the sarcophagus containing the remains of service members from World Wars I and II and Korea. (An unknown from the Vietnam War had joined them, but his remains were removed and returned to his family when DNA testing revealed his name.) He takes slow, measured steps, rolling his shoes on their outer edges so there’s no hint of a bounce in his body.

It’s the most luxurious legato. The man is a play of contrasts: loose in the knees, square in the chest, all business in the eyes. You know this even though you can’t actually see his eyes because of his sunglasses, so tightly fused to his skull they must be giving him a migraine. But there’s enough expression in his granite jaw to suggest that those hidden eyes are cold. Still, that delicious walk goes on, 18 steps, 20, 21 . . . clack! It’s brought up short, punctuated by a sharp clap of the heels. The metal plates on the inner edges of the shoes are one of many modifications to the basic dress-blues uniform.

The changing of the guard ceremony is like that, a precise, stop-start ballet performed by three men — commander, relief sentinel and the retiring sentinel— alternating between smooth and sharp, silence and staccato pops. With that same liquid gait, the relief sentinel makes his entrance, brandishing the most beautiful, sparkling M-14 you’ve ever seen. . . .

[Sgt. Benton Thames] recalls a time when several World War II veterans in wheelchairs were watching the ceremony. As Thames walked past them with that stately gait, buttons blazing, uniform pressed to a razor sharpness, behind his sunglasses he could see the old soldiers pushing down on their armrests, trying with all their trembling might to stand.

“Those that could saluted me as I passed,” Thames says, swinging his right hand up to his brow with a shy smile, a gesture both casual and elegant.

“That kind of got to me.”

A veteran once told Thames that he’d lost a buddy in World War II and that the body was never recovered. When he comes to the Tomb of the Unknowns, the veteran imagines that those remains belong to that guy — and this becomes the place where he can be mourned as if his name were cut in stone.

This is why the sentinel buffs his shoes, hollers for a good tucking-in, submits to having his creases measured to within a fraction of an inch. This is why he has seemingly shaved away every shred of his own individuality, his identity, for a task whose purpose is, at the heart of it, exquisitely tender. It is the physical expression of an intangible wish, the fulfillment of a promise.

Long past Memorial Day.

“All soldiers recognize that it represents them,” says Barrett, The Citadel professor. “Underlying the tomb is that if something happens to you and we can’t identify you or find you, that ceremony still honors you.

“We ask them, if necessary, to lay down their lives,” he continues, his voice faltering with emotion, for he was once a soldier. “This is the corollary: They will not be forgotten.”

via At Tomb of the Unknowns, a ritual of remembrance – The Washington Post.

Obama wants Israel to go back to 1967 borders

President Obama’s peace plan for the Middle East calls for Israel to go back to its borders before the 1967 war.  In that war, the Arab states attacked Israel from all sides but were route.  Israel seized the rest of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and other regions–originally all the way to the border with Egypt, though much of that land has been given back.  But Israel has retained a buffer for its own security.

So are the Arab states less hostile to Israel now than they were in 1967?

 

Netanyahu, Obama and 1967 borders: Reactions to the speech – BlogPost – The Washington Post.

The president is in violation of the War Powers Act

When American presidents send troops into combat, they have 60 days before Congress–to whom the Constitution gives the power to declare war–needs to act to authorize the action.  Friday was 60 days after we got involved in the war in Libya.  Congress doesn’t seem to care.

President Obama missed a legal deadline Friday — set in a 1973 law — that required him to obtain congressional approval for U.S. military operations in Libya.

Friday was the 60th day since Obama formally notified Congress that U.S. planes would strike targets in Libya, a bid to protect civilians from the government of strongman Moammar Gaddafi. Under the Nixon-era War Powers Resolution, the president must obtain congressional authorization of military action within 60 days or else begin withdrawing forces.

Neither happened. Instead, in a letter sent Friday night to congressional leaders, Obama expressed support for a proposed resolution that “would confirm that Congress supports the U.S. mission in Libya.”

The president also described U.S. military efforts as “supporting” and “more limited” than in the campaign’s early days. He said they include providing logistical and intelligence help to the NATO-led operation, as well as supplying aircraft and unmanned drones to attack Libyan targets.

Obama did not, however, explicitly say whether he thinks the War Powers Resolution applies to the Libyan operation. That act makes no specific exception for limited or supporting action: It applies to any instance in which military forces are “introduced into hostilities,” or sent into foreign territory or airspace while equipped for combat.

Congressional leaders have showed little desire to challenge Obama on the deadline.

via Obama misses deadline for congressional approval of Libya operations – The Washington Post.

Analyzing the Situation Room photo

We don’t get to see a photograph of Osama bin Laden’s body, but we did get to see a  photograph of the President and his team watching the mission go down.  It’s quite dramatic to see the expressions on everyone’s faces during this intense moment–the President’s intense stare, the Secretary of State’s hand covering her face (apparently in emotion, though she says now she might have just been coughing due to her allergies).

The Situation Room during the bin Laden operation

The Washington Post features various experts commenting on the picture.  I was especially taken by this one by art critic Philip Kennicott:

At least two basic metaphors of power are at play: being in the room and at the table. Both metaphors expressly exclude us, the viewers of the photo, who are not there, not in the loop. The photograph fascinates because it represents the most basic aspects of political power: knowledge, access, influence and proximity.

The photograph thus puts the viewer in a subordinate position. But the chain of meanings continues at least one more step. The anxiety on the faces shows the degree to which some of the most powerful people in the world can’t control events. They (and their administration) are subordinate to chance and fate, to unknown unknowns and known unknowns.

So the sequence is this: We have less power than they do, and they have less power than reality. The photographer creates a kind of “V” of sightlines to emphasize this drama: We look in from one angle as they look out at another, almost a perfect mirror image.

We enjoy narratives of great power because we have so little power in our own lives over things such as errant buses, disease, death and the vicissitudes of love. The photo reveals that sometimes even people who seem to have invested in them the talent and power to be masters of their fate are frightened, worried, tense and uncertain. And so by excluding us from the world of one kind of power, the photo reminds of a more fundamental powerlessness. It keeps us out of one room but puts us all in another, from which there is no exit.

via Breaking down the Situation Room – The Washington Post.

The vocation of the warrior

Paul McCain quotes Martin Luther’s treatise Can Soldiers Too Be Saved?:

…In the same way, when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish…

…The office of the sword is in itself right and is a divine and useful ordinance, which God does not want us to despise, but to fear, honor, and obey, under penalty of punishment, as St. Paul says in Romans 13 [:1-5]…

…Self-defense is a proper ground for fighting and therefore all laws agree that self-defense shall go unpunished; and he who kills another in self-defense is innocent in the eyes of all men…

…When the battle begins…they [soldiers] should simply commend themselves to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude…everyone should also say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe you first and then to my lord for your sake. I thank your grace and mercy that you have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to your will. But because I know and have learned from your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which he shed for me in obedience to your holy will. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by your Spirit. Amen.” (American Edition, Vol. 46)

via The Death of Osama Bin Laden: A Teaching Moment on the Doctrine of Vocation and the Two Kingdoms | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

 


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