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Is America about to sleepwalk into a war in Libya? We need a debate now

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Reprinted from The Guardian

Oil field in Lybia on fire
Oil field in Lybia on fire
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You wouldn't know it from the presidential campaign, but the US is preparing to start military action in Libya ... again. And given that Hillary Clinton was the leading proponent inside the Obama administration for bombing Libya and regime change the first time around, this should have a direct bearing on the presidential debate. Should, but hasn't.

Libya has devolved into chaos since the US decided to launch airstrikes and overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and has increasingly become a base for Isis operations in recent months thanks to infighting among the new government and its inability to control its own territory -- a result that the advocates of the first Libyan intervention who hailed the move four years ago are conspicuously silent on now.

And instead of discussing the havoc military campaigns can wreak and the blowback they often engender, Republicans and Hillary Clinton have all been arguing about who is going to increase military action in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Candidates have been acting like the major failures the last 14 years of war has wrought on our country and the region are virtually non-existent. Clinton made this statement about Isis at the CNN Democratic Forum earlier this week:

"Every situation is different. So I want to make sure I stay as close as possible to the non-intervention. That's why I say no American ground troops in Syria or Iraq. Special Forces, trainers, yes. Planes to bomb, yes. No ground forces."

That is a curious concept of "non-intervention" -- as long as the entire US battalions aren't sweeping across the country, you're "not intervening." Special forces fighting on the ground, bombs being dropped from the sky and weapons pouring into the region are fine though. And as the New York Times reported earlier this week, the US and allies are preparing for possible airstrikes and special forces raids in Libya. More "non-intervention" is on the way!

Instead of discussing expanding the still-undeclared Isis war to a third country in Congress, where the debate belongs, it's being leaked to newspapers by anonymous officials and treated as an inevitability. And no one is giving second thought to the fact that constitutional scholars across the political spectrum consider such a move illegal.

It continues to be amazing that this legal aspect receives almost zero attention: the US government apparently thinks it can expand the Isis war to a third country without the congressional authorization required by the constitution (they didn't get congressional authorization for the first Libya war either -- they actually went ahead with their bombing campaign after the House explicitly rejected the idea). "The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force," the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the other day, pretending it's a cut-and-dried issue.

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Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and lawyer who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He has contributed to  The (more...)

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