Confusion on All Sides as Stealth Bill to Approve Libyan War Defeated

Ordinarily on Friday our good congressional representatives cast their last vote and scurry quickly out of the House chamber. But last Friday they tarried, watching in amazement as the roll call proceeded on the second of two bills addressing Obama’s war on Libya. And lo and behold, for the second time in a day the House of Representatives repudiated Obama’s brazenly unconstitutional war.

There has been a great deal of confusion about this second (H.R. 2278; Roll Call 494) of two bills on Libya. All agree that repudiation of bill number one (H.J.R. 68; Roll Call 493) was an antiwar vote. But far and wide, high and low, from NPR to Democracy Now!, this second bill has been labeled antiwar and its failure a victory for Obama and the War Party. It was nothing of the sort.

Let’s cut to the chase here and quote the clearest statement of what the second bill represented. It comes from Ron Paul:

Mr. Speaker, I rise to oppose this legislation, which masquerades as a limitation of funds for the president’s war on Libya but is in fact an authorization for that very war. According to H.R. 2278, the U.S. military cannot be involved in NATO’s actions in Libya, with four important exceptions. If this passes, for the first time the president would be authorized to use U.S. Armed Forces to engage in search and rescue; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; aerial refueling; and operational planning against Libya. Currently, absent an authorization or declaration of war, these activities are illegal. So instead of ending the war against Libya, this bill would legalize nearly everything the president is currently doing there.

That the war in Libya can be ended by expanding it and providing the president a legal excuse to continue makes no sense. If this bill fails, the entirety of what the president is doing in Libya would remain illegal.

Additionally, it should not really be necessary to prohibit the use of funds for U.S. military attacks on Libya because those funds are already prohibited by the Constitution. Absent congressional action to allow U.S. force against Libya any such force is illegal, meaning the expenditure of funds for such activities is prohibited. I will, however, support any straight and clean prohibition of funds such as the anticipated amendments to the upcoming defense appropriations bill.

I urge my colleagues to reject this stealth attempt to authorize the Libya war and sincerely hope that the House will soon get serious about our constitutional obligations and authority.* [Emphasis mine.]

The vote was 238 against (149 Democrats and 89 Republicans) versus 180 in favor. Some antiwar Democrats voted against the bill, such as Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Jim McDermott of Washington, but all too many voted in favor, including Dennis Kucinich and Lynn Woolsey. Why such confusion? Kucinich volunteered that he hoped to get some additional restrictions on the war, and for this he was apparently willing to provide implicit approval of the war! Perhaps the Left has become so accustomed to groveling for whatever crumbs are thrown its way that it has forgotten the very idea of acting on principle. Certainly those who voted “aye” had little regard for the rights of Congress and its constitutional responsibility to rein in an imperious, imperial president.

Let’s turn to the first bill, H.J.R. 68 which was also defeated. It was almost the same as the second bill, perhaps as the result of knavery or simply of confusion. Here are the full titles of the two bills, according to the clerk of the House:

H.J.R. 68: Authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya.

H.R. 2278: To limit the use of funds appropriated to the Department of Defense for United States Armed Forces in support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Operation Unified Protector with respect to Libya, unless otherwise specifically authorized by law.

The operative word in both titles is “use.” Each bill seeks “limits,” but in so doing each permits the “use” of forces or funds to wage the war on Libya. In so doing, each would have provided legal cover for an unconstitutional and undeclared war. These bills would have also lifted the sword of impeachment that now hangs over Obama’s head and may yet do its work if it can be shaken loose.

The greater lesson of these votes is that considerable confusion reigns inside and outside the Congress among both advocates and opponents of war. Confusion is often a sign that sharper conflict and possibly change are waiting in the wings. The side with clarity has a big advantage at such a moment.

On top of that the forces against war and empire scored two victories last Friday, and each victory deserves to be savored and used to spur us on. Let’s not overlook or misinterpret even one.

*Much to the credit of Eric Garris, the Paul speech was immediately posted on, whereas it was for the most part neglected by other outlets, left and right.

Author: John V. Walsh

John V. Walsh writes about issues of war, peace, empire, and health care for, Consortium News,, The Unz Review, and other outlets. Now living in the East Bay, he was until recently Professor of Physiology and Cellular Neuroscience at a Massachusetts Medical School. John V. Walsh can be reached at