Congress Ignores Obama’s War-by-Fiat

by Ben Johnson

When Barack Obama updated Congress on the war in Libya last Friday, he claimed our role is so limited it does not require Congressional authorization. However, on Monday Hillary Clinton told the European press, “Even today, the United States continues to fly 25 percent of all sorties,” and Obama has promised there will be “no let-up.”

Apparently Congress will have no vote on the matter, either. This week, leaders in the House and Senate have refused to vote for or against the authorization of the war, as the Constitution requires.

Although the Founding Fathers vested Congress alone with the power to make war, Obama launched Operation Odyssey Dawn on the approval of the United Nations and the Arab League. Some interpret the 1973 War Powers Resolution to say the president may send soldiers into harm’s way for 60 days before getting Congressional approval, but Congress has passed no authorization 66 days into the war.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday that the Senate will not vote on the measure before the end of this month.

A spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner told CNN, “No decisions have been made about how to proceed.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was equally passive on Fox News Sunday, saying, “The administration is going to have to decide whether it thinks [the War Powers Resolution] was triggered and we’ll have to respond to that.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday the House may provide authorization for the mission through an amendment to a defense authorization bill.

Obama supports a senate resolution supporting the mission, but Obama implied he does not believe passage is necessary for him to carry on the war. Even the Council on Foreign Relations’ blog observed, “That’s not quite what the Framers had in mind.”

Not only the Framers; it is not even what the authors of the War Powers Resolution had in mind. CNN reported the draft resolution co-authored by John McCain and John Kerry (“The Presidential Losers for Unconstitutional Wars Act of 2011”?) is “not a formal authorization of military action in Libya” and “makes no mention of the War Powers Act.”  John Kerry said he drafted the resolution “with a strong bipartisan coalition” – of six other people. The resolution calls on the president to consult regularly with Congress. Obama’s track record suggests this was intended as an inside joke.

In the unlikely event the resolution passes, Obama would still be violating the law.

Although former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the Obama administration regularly seeks his counsel, Obama has yet to ask for the legislative branch’s advice and consent.

This situation has led a prominent southern politician to say, “It kind of reminds you of the monarchy that we attempted to rid ourselves of when we became an independent nation years ago.” No, it’s not Ron Paul, Rand Paul, or Walter Jones. It’s retiring Virginia Senator Jim Webb – the man the Democrats chose to give the response to the 2007 State of the Union Address.

Webb told Politico this week, “We have to have a very serious debate about presidential authority in terms of using the military around the world and have sort of a tighter string on these unilateral decisions that end up getting us into these situations.” He added Congress had become “very blasé about the use of military force around the world,” and he could not “come up with a good historical justification for what the president did in Libya in order to initiate these military activities.”

Unfortunately, the Democrats have been nearly as outspoken as the Republicans on this matter. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, once threatened to impeach Obama over the matter. On Sunday, he held firm Congress must do its duty to authorize – or reject – the war in Libya. “You know, we don’t need an impeachment,” he said, “but we need and must require our president to follow the Constitution and established U.S. law. We have to demand it.”

Far-Left talk show host Amy Goodman reported, “Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, says the Libya operation marks the first time any president has violated the War Powers Resolution’s provisions on either the 60-day window or on obtaining congressional backing.” The left-wing Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has insisted, “the question of the war’s legality should be a front and center concern.”

Even Code Pink, which usually misses no opportunity to advance fundamentalist Islamic interests, has rallied against bombing Libya.

On the other hand, Republicans such as John McCain, John Thune, and Mark Kirk are defending Barack Obama’s decision bypass Congress.

Meanwhile, the operation has cost $750 million so far, and will drain an estimated $40 million a month from the treasury each month it continues. Obama has invited the Libyan “rebels” to D.C. and is still pressing Congress to release frozen Libyan assets to the opposition, a group that includes some who waged jihad against U.S. troops in Iraq.

Worse than this relatively minor, needless expenditure is the possibility an American soldier will be wounded, held hostage, or killed for a needless war that in no way serves our strategic interests.

And worse yet is the precedent Congress would set by allowing any president to unilaterally commit U.S. forces to war without Congressional approval before or after the fact. Their abdication would mean a radical alteration of our Constitutional form of government.

If the GOP cannot handle a matter as weighty as the constitutional prerogatives of war any better than it handled the debt ceiling, it will have a deservedly tough sell in 2012.