In his official notice to Congress that he had unilaterally sent American soldiers into the Libyan war kinetic action, Barack Obama wrote, “I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.” Today, he decided the War Powers Resolution is also disposable. In a letter to Congress today Obama declared America’s role in the Libyan civil war is so “limited” that he does not need Congressional authorization, as that law requires. He then asked their support for a measure John Boehner had not even seen. The move is the most recent of a string of Obama actions that bypass Congress to implement his agenda.
The War Powers Resolution allows the president to introduce troops into war for 60 days before either seeking Congressional approval or beginning a 30-day withdrawal.
Those 60 days ended today. However, Congress adjourned this afternoon without providing authorization.
Obama has made clear our troops are staying in the middle of a losing civil war no matter what the members of Congress – or the people who elected them – think.
Only as Congress was ready to adjourn did Obama send a letter to the leaders of both houses supporting a resolution in favor of the war. The measure drafted by Sens. John Kerry, John McCain, Carl Levin, Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman.
Obama wrote passing the resolution would “underline the U.S. commitment” to this “remarkable” action. As an afterthought, he added it would be “important in the context of our constitutional framework” – not because it is a legal requisite imposed by constitution and statute – but because “it would demonstrate a unity of purpose among the political branches.” If there is a division, the implication is that Obama would continue without such “unity.”
At least one Congressional leader said he had not yet seen the resolution, much less had it been approved. A spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner, Michael Steel, told the L.A. Times, “We received the president’s letter but have yet to see the draft resolution it mentions.”
The president concluded the letter with his traditional audacious lie: “It has always been my view that it is better to take military action, even in limited actions such as this, with Congressional engagement, consultation, and support.”
Obama has similarly lied to Congress by proxy. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg recently told legislators Obama had always “been mindful of the provisions of the War Powers Resolution. He has acted in a manner consistent with it. He will continue to do so.” On Friday, Obama proved this statement is a lie. (If Congress cannot summon the courage to hold Obama accountable, can they at least force out Steinberg?)
The administration’s allies have been remarkably open about why they did not wish to bring a resolution to the floor: It will not pass. Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, admitted, “I’m not inclined to try to put forth a resolution because I think it just won’t accomplish what I want to, which is to provide, basically, support.” He added allowing Congress to vote on this war “kind of opens up issues that frankly I don’t think end up being helpful to what I think is the right position, which is to basically continue on the course that we’re on.” For once, Levin’s calculations are right on. Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who opposes the intervention, has stated, “it is uncertain whether majorities could be assembled for any particular resolution.”
Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has provided predictably mushy leadership, hoping the president would do his legal duty so he is not “stretching anything inappropriate.” And that’s as far as he went. The man who lied that the memory of spending Christmas Eve 1968 fighting in Cambodia had been “seared” into his mind, and who criticized Richard Nixon’s widening of a war Congress authorized via the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, now says stretching a war on behalf of al-Qaeda in Libya can go forward.
If given the chance Congress would (or should) vote to end our involvement in our third and least-justified war in the Muslim world.
“In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found,” James Madison wrote, “than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”
From the days of the Founders until recent decades, no significant U.S. military action took place apart from Congressional authorization. A look at the history of U.S. interventions abroad taken without Congressional approval shows most actions were taken in self-defense or as an immediate response to a foreign attack upon U.S. interests. The War Powers Resolution may be unconstitutional because it allows the president to initiate war for 60 days.
Even assuming the act is constitutional, it is dubious that Obama had the authority to commit troops to battle. Its provisions specifically limit when the president may send our soldiers into “hostilities”:
The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
(1) a declaration of war,
(2) specific statutory authorization, or
(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. (Emphasis added.)
Intervening in Libya’s civil war meets none of these criteria.
Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul raised the specter of impeachment over this unauthorized war, only to step their statements back. Former Reagan administration Justice Department official Bruce Fein has drafted articles of impeachment over the matter.
Starting a war-by-decree is bad enough. Continuing it without approval is virtually unprecedented. Bill Clinton conducted his 78-day bombing of Serbia – another war that benefited an al-Qaeda affiliate, the Kosovo Liberation Army – without statutory approval. However, Clinton argued that by voting to fund the war, Congress had voted for authorization.
Until today, Obama had not asked for any authorization of any kind. This is a war by executive order.
This defiance has some detractors. Sen. Rand Paul led five additional senators, including Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, in writing a letter to President Obama asking if he planned to comply with the law (read the full text here). Rand told CNN this week Obama “appears to be in violation of the War Powers Act.”
California Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman accused Obama of bringing “democracy to Libya while shredding the Constitution of the United States.” Sherman stood tough against the leader of his own party, saying Obama “cannot continue what he is doing in Libya without congressional authorization. When a president defiantly violates the law, that really undercuts our efforts to urge other countries to have the rule of law.”
Conversely, at least one significant Republican has given the president cover. John McCain said, “I’ve never recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, nor has any president, either Republican or Democrat.” That’s good; it is likely unconstitutional. Unfortunately, McCain’s objection is not how easy it makes for the president to launch a war. CNN reports, “McCain said he doesn’t believe the War Powers Act is constitutional and therefore he doesn’t believe the president needs congressional authorization to continue the mission.” (Emphasis added.)
When it comes to unconstitutional wars, McCain seems to be saying he is siding with “my friends” on the other side of the aisle.
Obama’s war-by-decree goes forward shamelessly, illegally, and unconstitutionally. The nation must rise up and end this war before ending the lawless administration that launched it.