It’s ‘Kinetic,’ So Don’t Get Frenetic

Explaining the Obama administration’s rationale for violating the War Powers Act by not asking Congress for authorization to attack Libya, the White House claims that what’s going on in Libya isn’t war, it’s a “kinetic military action.” This set off such a round of guffaws – even from Libya war supporters in the Democratic congressional caucus – that the administration felt compelled to send a government lawyer to Congress to elaborate on this exercise in Doublespeak. Harold Koh, the State Department’s lawyer-in-chief, explained to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that since there was no back-and-forth firing between American and Libyan forces, the Libyan intervention isn’t a real war – and therefore the President is not in violation of the War Powers Act. (No word yet on whether he’s in violation of the Constitution, which gives Congress, and not the President, the power to make war.)

This, by the way, is the same Harold Hongju Koh who once authored a legal brief [.pdf] challenging George Herbert Walker Bush’s authority to fight the first Iraq war, on the grounds that “the Constitution requires the president to consult with Congress and receive its affirmative authorization – not merely present it with faits accomplis – before engaging in war.”

Oh, but this isn’t a war – didn’t you hear me the first time? As Koh explained to the befuddled solons in his opening statement: the word “hostilities,” which “triggers” the 60-day time line imposed by the War Powers Act, is “an ambiguous term of art.” Translation: it can mean anything anyone wants it to mean – especially if that anyone is a sitting Democratic president. After all, Koh argued, the word wasn’t defined in the legislation, and there is no legislative precedent that would define it for us. Oh, and put down that dictionary – we don’t use them in ObamaWorld, which is in the same galaxy as Bizarro World. Instead, we must stick to “historical practice.”

It is precisely “historical practice” that argues against Koh’s Orwellian linguistics, because never in the history of the world has anyone ever argued that bombing and killing citizens of a foreign country isn’t war plain and simple — not even the Soviets, who were masters of Doublespeak. That didn’t deter our State Department’s legal eagle from defending the indefensible: after all, this administration is all about “change” – and yet they didn’t tell us they were changing the language and the clear meaning of words.

According to Koh, there are four factors that qualify the Libyan adventure as a “kinetic action” rather than a war, the first being that the action has “international support,” and – due to its multilateral character – transcends the need for congressional approval. That is the view taken by his boss, Hillary Clinton, who stated that the only authorization needed came from the United Nations. Koh echoed Hillary again when he said that even if the Senators disagreed with the administration’s position on the issue of authorization, they should support the Libyan war “kinetic action,” because congressional opposition only “serves Gadhafi’s’s interests.” A less dramatic way of saying, as Hillary did, “Whose side are you on?”, but just as offensive.

Furthermore, argued Koh, this “kinetic action” was launched in pursuit of “limited goals,” i.e. protecting Libyan civilians by preventing an alleged impending “massacre” (as administration spokesmen put it). Yet this is another brazen falsehood, because the goals of the NATO alliance have changed – and with record rapidity.

You’ll recall it was only a few months ago that the pro-war pundits and their friends in the White House were telling us that “regime change” was not on the agenda, that it would be “a matter of days, not weeks,” and that the whole idea was to prevent the Mad Dog Dictator from slaughtering as many as 100,000 of his political enemies. In a matter of weeks, all three of the NATO principals – Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy – published a jointly-authored op ed piece openly acknowledging that the goal had changed, and the allies were now going for regime change.

There is nothing limited about America’s war on Libya: Washington’s war aims are as unlimited as their ambition. Libya is just the beginning. Wait until they go into Sudan, again on “humanitarian” grounds.

In any case, whatever “limited” objectives this administration is currently pursuing in North Africa – or anywhere else, for that matter – you can be sure it’s in the service of a much larger objective: ensuring US domination of the region. Given the current circumstances, in which American-supported dictators in the Middle East and North Africa are being kicked out of power left and right, the only way Washington can accomplish this is through war. But please – don’t call it that.

Another argument made by Koh is that, since there is little or even no danger of incurring casualties – US planes are bombing from heights unreachable by the ramshackle Libyan air defenses – this action doesn’t meet the definition of a war. There have been no deaths on the US side, nor are any likely to occur, said Koh – but what about the Libyans? In particular, what about those civilians we keep “mistakenly” killing? Apparently, only the number of American deaths enters into Koh’s calculations.

Oh, and did I tell you Senor Koh is noted as a great defender of “human rights”? Indeed, he served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the Clinton administration.

In today’s world, it is entirely possible – indeed, probable – that a “human rights” champion of renown would argue in favor of a military action on the grounds that the enemy is completely at our mercy, and unable to mount an effective defense. That’s what we mean by “human rights” in ObamaWorld.

Koh’s third point was that US military action in Libya is unlikely to escalate, because a ground presence has been ruled out in advance. Yet that is not what we’ve heard from our European allies, particularly the French, who have consistently pushed for an all-out invasion. Furthermore, how do we know there are no US troops are the ground – because the US government says so?

Well, I guess it all depends on how one defines “troops” – we’re back to playing word games, you’ll note – because the CIA is almost certainly “on the ground” in Libya, along with their British and French equivalents. What if one or more of these spooks are captured, and subjected to torture and/or public display? What if one of those US pilots crashes, and is captured? This is almost certain to result in an attempted rescue operation, and that will in itself represent a significant escalation of the conflict. Such a scenario would fatally undermine Koh’s fourth point, made in testimony to the Senate committee, that the US is utilizing limited means to achieve its limited objectives.

Koh, an advocate of “transnational” law, is not only an enemy of Libyan sovereignty, he’s also an enemy of US sovereignty: we don’t need congressional authorization to commence “kinetic” actions, according to Koh and his fellow transnationalists, because “international law” precedes – and overrides – the US Constitution.

To Obama and his minions, the Constitution is an obstacle to be ignored, where possible, and “reinterpreted” when necessary. During his presidency, the US military is the instrument of a militant internationalism, one that murders civilians in the cause of “human rights” and seeks to spread “democracy” abroad even while ignoring basic democratic precepts on the home front.

This administration, armed with an ideology so far removed from American traditions and sheer common sense, is far more dangerous than its war-maddened predecessor. At least Bush spared us the verbal gymnastics and never denied he intended to take us to war. The current occupant of the Oval Office wants us to consider him a modern Gandhi while besting Bush at his own game. The pretentious doubletalk engaged in by this White House is an insult to the American people, and yet another measure of Obama’s monumental arrogance.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].