Friday, June 24, 2011

Brookings Institute Review of Libya War Issues

Is this War?
There's been much Sturm und Drang (rightly so) around Obama and the use (or, in this case, the non-use) of the War Powers Act in his support of the Libyan rebels.  Robert M. Chesney over at The Brookings Institute writes,
The first and seemingly more important question is whether the unilateral commitment of forces in Libya violates the Constitution. ... The intervention in Libya, the administration was suggesting, did not implicate the prerogatives of Congress because the U.S. role was limited (and becoming more so all the time); unlikely to expose any U.S. persons to attack.... These claims excited some commentary, to be sure, but Congress ... appeared uninterested in making hay of the issue.

The second issue had a longer fuse. The War Powers Resolution (WPR) is a Vietnam-era statute that requires the U.S. president to:
  1. Consult with Congress when deploying U.S. armed forces in certain circumstances;
  2. Give Congress a formal report within 48 hours of certain deployments; and
  3. Withdraw those forces within 60 days of that report if Congress has not authorized the deployment in the interim or at least extended that deadline (though the President can have an additional 30 days to effectuate the withdrawal if necessary).
[T]he 60-day clock ran out a full month ago (and President Obama did not invoke the 30-day extension period for withdrawal of forces, nor could he since we are not in fact withdrawing them).

Taken as a whole, the Obama administration’s WPR compliance arguments strike me as ultimately unpersuasive, but certainly not wholly unfounded as some critics have suggested.
War is supposed to be difficult. It should not be possible for one man, even if he is President, to commit troops to an effort that exceeds the authority granted to him by Congress. This was true for Reagan, true for Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and is true for Obama as well. This dancing around the edges of Constitutionality is unseemly and brings the stench of the Bush II administration back into the White House.

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