- - Monday, November 10, 2014

The odds are overwhelming that Leon Panetta, President Obama’s former Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense (and former congressman, budget director, and chief of staff under President Clinton), would have sided with the Pope against Galileo to defend the geocentric theory of the universe.

He would have sided with King Charles I in favor of the divine right of kings. 

He would have joined the ministry of King George III to decry the revolutionary principle that “we the people” are sovereign.

He condemns himself as an utterly unreflective man wedded to every thoughtless orthodoxy that wafts through the corridors of power in “Worthy Fights,” Mr. Panetta’s recently published memoir. As Gertrude Stein might have said about Mr. Panetta’s cerebral capacities, “[T]here is no there there.”  

Pedestrian minds like his in high office are unworrisome when the ship of state is steaming full speed ahead in untroubled waters. As the idiom goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But when squalls or typhoons are approaching, maritime genius is required to avoided disaster.

Perpetual global wars squandering trillions of dollars were figurative squalls or typhoons that Mr. Panetta confronted as CIA director and Secretary of Defense.

It is axiomatic that the most important aptitude for either coveted office is knowing when to fight a war, not how to fight it. That means intense reflection about articulating a threshold of danger that justifies crossing the Rubicon between a state of peace and war. Writing in “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville explained that liberty will be crushed if the threshold is easily surmounted: “No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country … All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and the shortest means to accomplish it.”

Despite the gravity of the issue, Mr. Panetta ignores it completely. And his casual and amateurish discussion of Mr. Obama’s war against Libya is truly frightening.

Mr. Panetta writes: “[T]he case for action in Libya was compelling: Qaddafi was demonstrably vicious, and the international community was solidly aligned against him, with NATO, the UN Security Council, and Arab leaders all united calling for his ouster.  If force could not be used under those circumstances, it raised the question of whether force could ever be used.”

Mr. Panetta forgets that under Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, only Congress could authorize the initiation of war against Libya.  NATO, the U.N. Security Council, and Arab leaders were all constitutionally irrelevant. And Mr. Panetta is clueless that the Constitution’s architects entrusted Congress with decisions to commence war because they knew that the president and his minions would race to war at the drop of a hat to aggrandize power. It is stunning that Mr. Panetta, who served in the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1993, never learned that lesson — even though his sole oath was to support and defend the Constitution.

Even more alarming is Panetta’s assertion that the Libya war was justified because “Qaddafi was demonstrably vicious,” not because he threatened the United States.  The ordinary meaning of “vicious” is “deliberately cruel or violent.” Literally scores of countries are lead by rulers who satisfy Mr. Panetta’s “demonstrably vicious” standard for beginning war, including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. Mr. Panetta is silent on how to pick and choose which to fight, or whether we should fight all simultaneously and rocket the already bloated defense budget past the stratosphere. He unwittingly is pioneering like a modern Emer de Vattel or Samuel von Pufendorf a novel casus belli in international law: being a demonstrably vicious ruler (covert viciousness would not qualify).

Mr. Panetta maintains that the Libya war was militarily “resoundingly successful.” His suggested distinction between military and political will not wash. As Clausewitz taught in “On War,” “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” And Libya has proven a political disaster. In overthrowing Qaddafi after he abandoned weapons of mass destruction, we encouraged other nations to keep or develop nuclear arsenals for self-preservation. Qaddafi’s conventional weapons fell into the hands of international terrorists. The complete breakdown of civil society and lack of a functioning government in Libya occasioned the murder of our ambassador.

For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.com.

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