What’s in a Name?

It has been just over one week since the start of the military conflict in Libya.  The US took a lead role providing strategic and tactical support that our country’s top military leaders consider America uniquely capable of providing.  Now, we have handed the lead role off to NATO and will play an equal support role with our allies.  With this post, I want to focus on one silly topic and one serious one.  I’ll begin with “silly season.”

The conflict that’s going on in Libya is called Operation Odyssey Dawn.  When I first heard this, I thought it was kind of a lame name.  I mean in recent history we’ve had names such as Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Infinite Reach and Operation Desert Storm.  But apparently there are restraints to what can be chosen for nicknames of military actions.  I found that guidelines for nicknaming are laid out in Army Regulation 380-5, a 300-plus page document which covers other topics as well.  The regulation says, in part, that a nickname should be chosen so that it does not “express a degree of hostility inconsistent with traditional American ideals or current foreign policy; convey connotations offensive to good taste or derogatory to a particular group, sect, or creed; or, convey connotations offensive to our allies or other Free World nations.”  The document also calls for the names to be two words (not including operation) and bars the use of “exotic words, trite expressions, or well-known commercial trademarks.”  Additionally, each U.S. command is assigned ranges of letters from which they choose the first word of operation names.  U.S. African Command (AFRICOM, cousin to US Central Command, CENTCOM) was in charge of the operation in Libya and had to choose a first word from the range OA-OS.  They picked Odyssey and then searched for a word to match.  Had I been in charge, I would have called the thing Operation Ominous Cloud.  I think this fits considering we were setting up a no fly zone using an array of missiles and aircraft.

Now, I’ll move to more serious things.  Over the last week, we entered yet another military action.  I call it that because the Obama administration is hesitant to call it a war (it would be our third in a decade), citing the UN resolution that green-lighted the conflict and its call for humanitarian actions.  There has been valid debate as to whether this is a war; some military experts only consider “total war” to truly be war.  Whatever you call it though, it is a hostile conflict involving armed forces.  There has been criticism from members of Congress (liberal and conservative) that the president has not adequately defined America’s priorities and objectives in the operation and that Congress was not properly consulted and did not vote on a declaration of war before President Obama led us into this conflict, and that we cannot afford it.  Some cite Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution which gives Congress the power to declare war.  A couple of Representatives (liberal Dennis Kucinich and conservative Ron Paul) have called the president’s actions unconstitutional and have even called for his impeachment over this.

I think that the Congressional complaints do not hold water.  First, the president had an Oval Office meeting to discuss the situation with Congressional leaders and key lawmakers with foreign policy expertise on the Friday before the military action began.  Also, before the president took action, the Senate passed a resolution condemning Khaddafi’s atrocities and calling on the UN Security Council to “take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory.”  The resolution passed unanimously; so the same senators who voted for this are going to come back and criticize the president for doing what they wanted him to do?! Unfortunately, this type of behavior is common for senators who are in the party opposite this president.  As far as the constitutional arguments, Article I does give Congress the authority “to raise and support Armies,” “to provide and maintain a Navy,” and “to declare War,” but Article II ensures that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”  Even some critics of this president admit that as commander-in-chief, President Obama has acted well within his constitutional power to take this military action.  This conflict between the legislative and executive branch is not new; it comes up almost every time there is a U.S. military action.  As far as providing congressional notification, the president has seemed to do everything by the books.  Besides, Congress has only formally declared war five times in the history of the republic:  the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.  That leaves the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War as undeclared military conflicts.  There have also been well over 100 military operations ordered without any advanced notification to Congress.

All of that said, the president needs to make clear what our objectives are in Libya, what the timeline is for our involvement in this international operation, what the cost will be for us and how that will be paid and a report on our progress thus far.  Maybe he will touch on these topics tonight in his address to the nation.  If the American people (a majority of whom support our involvement so far in the conflict) deem our cause just and our actions necessary, then Congress and the president should work together with our armed forces to ensure that we complete a smooth military operation and accomplish what we need to in Libya.  Join the Discourse.

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