by Sheldon Richman
President Obama demonstrates his utter contempt for the American people — and the law — when he says the War Powers Resolution does not apply to his intervention in Libya because, as the White House put it, “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops.”
Apparently bombing military forces and government facilities while taking sides in a foreign country’s civil war no longer constitutes participation in hostilities. Obama apparently read Orwell’s 1984 … and learned the wrong lesson.
Thus the president thumbs his nose at a lawsuit filed by several members of Congress aimed at forcing him to comply with the law.
The War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973 after presidents for decades had ignored the congressional requirement that Congress declare war before the U.S. military engages in combat. The resolution states that its purpose is to “fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States and insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations.”
By any commonsense reading, Obama has the U.S. military now participating in hostilities. Rebels are trying to forcibly overthrow the government of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and the U.S. government, along with NATO allies, is assisting that effort. Despite Obama’s promise that that the intervention was intended only to protect civilians from Qaddafi’s air attacks, the alliance has assaulted Libyan ground troops, government buildings, and even Qadddafi’s residence. The U.S. government plays an essential role. A few weeks ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Even today, the United States continues to fly 25 percent of all sorties. We continue to provide the majority of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets.”
Under the terms of the War Power Resolution, a president can commit forces on his own say-so only in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” Once committed, the president must stop military operations after 60 days or get authorization from Congress.
The president’s violations of the law should be obvious. First, when he intervened with other NATO countries in the Libyan civil war there was no national emergency and no attack on the United States or its armed forces. Second, although the 60 days expired on May 20, Congress has not authorized continued intervention and Obama has not ceased the military operation.
In this matter, Obama has again revealed himself as George W. Bush on steroids. His virtually absolutist notion of presidential power might have even Alexander Hamilton spinning in his grave. The founding generation feared unrestrained executive power to make war perhaps more than anything. As James Madison said, war is to be avoided because it is the germ of so many other evils. That’s why the Framers gave the power to declare war and to control the purse to Congress. Obama knows that — he once taught constitutional law — but he is not about to let little details get in his way of flexing the American empire’s muscles. “What we say goes,” George H.W. Bush once said. Obama agrees.
It is heartening that a bipartisan coalition is rising up to protest Obama’s autocratic behavior. His curious insistence that the United States is not actually engaged in hostilities is a virtual admission of guilt, and his Capitol Hill critics aren’t buying it.
Perhaps the long-awaited resistance to Obama’s imperial policies will grow apace. Democrats have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, even when he is doing things they condemned just three years ago. Republicans, as usual, have been afraid of appearing “weak on defense.” But Obama has now gone too far for some in his party, and a growing number of Republicans find cover in the stalling economy, deficit-ridden budget, and Democratic White House. That confluence of factors seems to have pushed them in the direction of noninterventionism. That is all to the good. It may not last, but we can hope.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) and and editor of The Freeman magazine.
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