As media-induced frenzy over African warlord Joseph Kony reaches a fever pitch, Democratic Senator Christopher Coons has introduced a resolution that seems to provide legal cover for President Obama’s deployment of U.S. combat troops to Africa. Obama ordered the military intervention last October, without the approval of Congress, saying he wanted the “removal” of Kony from “the battlefield,” wherever that may be.
Coons serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.
Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) under a 2005 warrant for crimes against humanity in his native Uganda, could be anywhere in Africa or may in fact be dead. The ICC says he is “at large” while Coons says the “exact location” of Kony and his forces, who may number as few as 200-300 men or as many as several thousand, is “unknown.”
Kony is certainly a minor player compared to his reported patron, the Islamic government of Sudan, which is accused of killing more than two million civilians in the South but provides oil to the Chinese government.
“On October 14, 2011, the President notified Congress that he had authorized approximately 100 combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony and senior LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] commanders from the battlefield,” according to a resolution issued without comment. The resolution also highlights the ICC warrant against Kony as justification for this international action and cites efforts by the United Nations and the African Union to bring Kony to justice and address the threat posed by the LRA.
Obama, who has criticized Republicans for their alleged war-making rhetoric over Iran, believes his African adventure did not need explicit approval from Congress because the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, passed by Congress in 2010, authorized U.S. efforts “to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.” However, it did not authorize the use of combat troops in Africa.
The resolution does not take issue with the deployment and appears to be designed, at least in part, to give it the appearance of legality and constitutionality. The Senate action comes as a “Kony 2012” video that focuses attention on the Ugandan warlord has now surpassed 84 million YouTube views.
The media have failed to question Obama’s military intervention in Africa, with Politico being one of the latest news organizations claiming that Obama had sent the 100 U.S. military troops “with Congress’ blessing.” In fact, Congress did not authorize this deployment.
“We’re in another war,” commented Andrew McCarthy on National Review online, at the time Obama announced the action. Noting that Obama had justified the deployment in the name of “our national security interests,” McCarthy rhetorically asked: “…didn’t Kony just try to rub out the Saudi ambassador or something? This’ll teach him to mess with us. Oh, he didn’t mess with us? Well, whatever—‘duty to protect,’ right?” The “duty to protect” is a U.N. doctrine justifying foreign intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign countries, supposedly to prevent atrocities.
It looks like Obama is primarily using U.S. troops to carry out the orders of the International Criminal Court, which wants Kony apprehended and put on trial. However, the ICC treaty, known as the Rome Statute, has not been approved by the U.S. Senate.
The Kony mission also seems to be part of an administration campaign through Presidential Study Directive 10 to expand U.S. military involvement in U.N.-approved missions while cutting back on those defending U.S. national interests. PSD-10 seems designed to transform the U.S. military into a vehicle for preventing atrocities, rather than fighting wars.
Senator Coons’ resolution is also sponsored by Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a conservative who usually opposes the U.N.’s global initiatives. In this case, however, he has put a release on his website that explicitly supports “ongoing international efforts to remove Kony from the battlefield…” U.N. peacekeepers operating through the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and other countries have been brought into the campaign against Kony and the LRA, primarily by protecting civilians from the group.
Inhofe aide Jared Young told AIM that the senator believes the mission is justified by existing legislation and didn’t need any additional authority from Congress. He added, “Senator Inhofe does not support U.N. interference in Africa. The U.N. does not have a mandate related to Kony or the LRA, and Senator Inhofe believes that we should be helping African countries deal with African problems (that is what the current mission does). He also does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.”
In addition to pointing to an “international obligation” to get Kony, Obama sent a letter to Congress claiming the deployment of U.S. troops was “consistent with the War Powers Resolution.” However, the War Powers Resolution says the president can go to war on his own without advance congressional approval only if there is an imminent threat to the U.S. The act also requires withdrawal of U.S. forces in 60 days.
Although Kony has been designated a “global terrorist” by the U.S. Government, he has never been blamed for any attacks on U.S. troops or civilians.
The Coons/Inhofe resolution is cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Jeff Merkley, (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
A similar resolution (H. Res. 583) was introduced in the House on March 13 by Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern and Republican Rep. Edward Royce. It justifies Obama’s deployment of troops to Africa by saying it is “consistent” with a “Strategy to Support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army” that was developed by the Obama Administration, in response to the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.
This 33-page strategy, however, does not authorize U.S. military force and in fact states that “United States Government assistance will be provided in a manner that is consistent with U.S. and international law…”
Obama called it an “international obligation” in an interview with ABC News but it is not backed by a U.N. Security Council Resolution.
Writing on the Lawfare blog, Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith noted that Obama claimed his deployment was “in furtherance of the Congress’s stated policy” but relied as authority for the intervention solely on his “constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.” Goldsmith added, “It will be interesting to see whether the White House consulted with congressional leadership before the intervention, and how Congress reacts.”
The results are in: many members of Congress in the House and Senate from both political parties are lining up with Obama and supporting another U.S. military intervention, which appears to be lacking justification under U.S. and international law. The latest legislative effort seems based almost completely on the power of a video whose director, Jason Russell, was himself captured on film running around the streets of San Diego shouting about the devil and pounding the pavement.
Russell is said to have experienced a mental breakdown or psychosis. However, there is no excuse for Congress failing to protect U.S. law and the Constitution from Obama’s pro-U.N. schemes.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.