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04 June 2011

Mission-Creep in Libya: Obama Flouts the Law

Imagine if George Bush had started bombing a country that had done absolutely nothing to put us in danger, ignoring the War Powers Act and refusing to go to Congress for authorization after the 60 day maximum was passed? The left would be up in arms, Code Pink would be mobilized with signs depicting Bush as Hitler, and the media would be calling for impeachment. Yet Obama does it and nary a sound. I tire of presidents who view themselves as imperial potentates above the restraints of the Constitution. Bush regularly ignored the Constitution and now Obama does. Why do we even bother giving the Constitution lip-service? Let's call it what it is now: wallpaper.

Enacted in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto, the WPR may or may not be wise. It is, however, unquestionably a law, and Barack Obama certainly is violating it. It stipulates that a president must terminate military action 60 days after initiating it (or 90, if the president “certifies” in writing an “unavoidable military necessity” respecting the safety of U.S. forces), unless Congress approves it. Congress has been supine and silent about this war, which began more than 70 days ago.

All presidents have resented the WPR but have taken care to act “consistent with” its 48-hour reporting requirement. So on March 21, two days after the administration took the nation to war in Libya, Obama notified Congress of this obvious fact, stressing that U.S. operations would be “limited in their nature, duration, and scope” in the service of a “limited and well-defined mission.” Months ago, before it metastasized into regime change, the “well-defined” mission was to protect civilians.

After 60 days, on May 20, Obama wrote to congressional leaders noting that since April 4, U.S. “participation” has involved “non-kinetic support” (intelligence, logistics, refueling) — but also decidedly kinetic attacks on Libyan air defenses and other targets of “the NATO-led” forces. He said U.S. support is “crucial” but “we are no longer in the lead.”

This is meretricious. We are not conspicuously leading this war by committee, a.k.a. NATO, but NATO would not act without us, and absent U.S. assets the Libyan campaign could not continue. (George Will, "Is Obama Above the Law?", May 28, 2011)

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