By unilaterally going to war against Libya, Obama is bringing America closer to the imperial presidency than Bush ever did.
BY BRUCE ACKERMANwww.foreignpolicy.com
In taking the country into a war with Libya, Barack Obama's administration is breaking new ground in its construction of an imperial presidency -- an executive who increasingly acts independently of Congress at home and abroad. Obtaining a U.N. Security Council resolution has legitimated U.S. bombing raids under international law. But the U.N. Charter is not a substitute for the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress, not the president, the power "to declare war."
After the Vietnam War, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which granted the president the power to act unilaterally for 60 days in response to a "national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." The law gave the chief executive an additional 30 days to disengage if he failed to gain congressional assent during the interim.
But, again, these provisions have little to do with the constitutionality of the Libyan intervention, since Libya did not attack our "armed forces." The president failed to mention this fundamental point in giving Congress notice of his decision on Monday, in compliance with another provision of the resolution. Without an armed "attack," there is no compelling reason for the president to cut Congress out of a crucial decision on war and peace.
This is particularly striking since, in the Libyan case, the president had plenty of time to get congressional support. A broad coalition -- from Senator John McCain to Senator John Kerry -- could have been mobilized on behalf of a bipartisan resolution as the administration engaged in the necessary international diplomacy. But apparently Obama thought it more important to lobby the Arab League than the U.S. Congress.
In cutting out Congress, Obama has overstepped even the dubious precedent set when President Bill Clinton bombed Kosovo in 1999. Then, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel asserted that Congress had given its consent by appropriating funds for the Kosovo campaign. It was a big stretch, given the actual facts -- but Obama can't even take advantage of this same desperate expedient, since Congress has appropriated no funds for the Libyan war. The president is simply using money appropriated to the Pentagon for general purposes to conduct the current air campaign.
The War Powers Resolution doesn't authorize a single day of Libyan bombing. But it does provide an escape hatch, stating that it is not "intended to alter the constitutional authority of the Congress or of the President." So it's open for Obama to assert that his power as commander in chief allows him to wage war without Congress, despite the Constitution's insistence to the contrary.
Many modern presidents have made such claims, and Harry Truman acted upon this assertion in Korea. But it's surprising to find Obama on the verge of ratifying such precedents. He was elected in reaction to the unilateralist assertions of John Yoo and other apologists for George W. Bush-era illegalities. Yet he is now moving onto ground that even Bush did not occupy. After a lot of talk about his inherent powers, Bush did get Congress to authorize his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, Obama is putting Bush-era talk into action in Libya -- without congressional authorization.
The president's insistence that his Libyan campaign is limited in its purposes and duration is no excuse. These are precisely the issues that he should have defined in collaboration with Congress. Now that he claims inherent power, why can't he redefine U.S. objectives on his own? No less important, what is to stop some future president from using Obama's precedent to justify even more aggressively unilateral actions?
The buck stops on Capitol Hill. As always, presidential unilateralism puts Congress in a tough position. It cannot afford to cut off funds immediately and put the lives of Americans, and U.S. allies, in danger. But it can pass a bill denying future funding after three months. This would prevent the president from expanding the mission unless he can gain express congressional consent.
The U.S. Congress should also take more fundamental steps to bring the imperial presidency under control. In the aftermath of Watergate, Congress went beyond the War Powers Resolution to enact a series of framework statutes that tried to impose the rule of law on a runaway presidency. Many of these statutes have failed to work as planned, but they were the product of a serious investigation led by Senator Frank Church and Representative Otis Pike during the 1970s. A similar inquest is imperative today. In many respects, Bush's war on terrorism was a more sweeping breach of constitutional norms than anything Richard Nixon attempted in Watergate. Yet Congress has been silent, trusting Obama to clean house on his own.
The president has shown, by his actions, that this trust is not justified. If Congress fails to respond, we have moved one large step further down the path to a truly imperial presidency.
Obama Didn’t Make 'the Case'(WASHINGTON) -- Congressman Joe Heck, R-Nev., says he still has “many questions” after President Obama’s address Monday night on Libya.
Currently serving as colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Rep. Heck tells ABC News he is concerned about the United States’ military role in Libya and how long it could last.
“The president used the analogy to Bosnia [Monday] night in his speech, but we're still in Bosnia some 15 years after we first went in and the same type of situation by trying to enforce a no-fly zone to alleviate the humanitarian crisis,” the congressman said. “So what is it that we're hoping to accomplish? Why are we there? And what are we hoping to gain and when are we going to get out?”
Worrying about the financial implications of U.S. forces in Libya, Rep. Heck told ABC News the recent congressional budget battles have put agencies such as the Department of Defense in a “rough spot.”
Heck voted in favor of a Republican bill to cut government spending this year that included cuts to the Department of Energy's nuclear energy safety programs. He says that even after the nuclear crisis in Japan he wouldn't change his position on those cuts.
“I would not reconsider the nuclear cuts,” Rep. Heck said. “The appropriations committee did due process in looking at where there was the ability to cut some spending and that's what we did and now it's time to look forward to fiscal year '12.”
Pivoting to 2012 politics, the congressman told ABC News he is already throwing his support behind anticipated 2012 candidate Mitt Romney. Having backed the former Massachusetts governor since 2008, the congressman says Romney’s controversial Massachusetts health care bill is “not a concern.”
“There’s a lot more insured people in the state of Massachusetts but the important thing was it was a program designed by the state for the state not a federal program that's being rammed down the state's throat.”
The congressman was also asked if he would continue to support former Senate candidate Sharron Angle in a race for a Nevada congressional seat. He replied, “I have no idea.”
Fact Check: How Obama's Libya claims fit facts - They Don't follow link belowhttp://news.yahoo.com/video/us-15749625/fact-check-how-obama-s-libya-claims-fit-facts-24698537There may be less than meets the eye to President Barack Obama's statements Monday night that NATO is taking over from the U.S. in Libya and that U.S. action is limited to defending people under…
...War of Words Over Libya WarDaniel Stone – Fri Mar 25, 2011
NEW YORK – The GOP's War of Words Over Libya WarHouse Speaker John Boehner says Obama didn’t consult Congress about the war in Libya. The White House claims “we have.” Daniel Stone on the partisan argument over the word “consult.”
Is the current debate between the White House and Capitol Hill over U.S. airstrikes in Libya—and who authorized them—simply semantic?
Republican leaders (and even some Democrats) have ripped the administration all week for its unilateral—and constitutionally questionable—rush to military action in Libya. House Speaker John Boehner sent President Obama a pointed letter Wednesday evening, calling it “regrettable that no opportunity was afforded to consult with congressional leaders, as was the custom of your predecessors.”
Press Secretary Jay Carney countered Boehner’s argument Thursday, saying that Hill leaders had been consulted repeatedly. He read a lengthy list of dates, times and attendees at White House meetings in the days before the missiles and warplanes launched. “The president believes that consultations with Congress are important,” Carney said, referencing a marquee gathering last Friday, when a bipartisan group of lawmakers crowded into the Situation Room for a briefing on the administration’s plan. “He has done that, and he’s instructed senior staff here to do that. And we have.”
And there lies the apparent problem: the word consult.
Congressional critics admit they were informed of initial plans, but saying they were consulted suggests they were asked for input. Instead, many complain they were simply given a heads-up. The administration “said we were consulted, but we weren’t,” says a senior House Republican staffer who asked for anonymity to speak candidly. “We were briefed. There’s a big difference. At the end of the day, no one asked for any of our opinions until the plan was set.”
The White House has insisted there are several reasons why the administration gave military orders without waiting for supporting resolutions from both chambers. For one, getting a majority of Congress to agree on any major issue has been, over the past two years, a nearly Herculean task. And then there is the issue of time: most lawmakers had already left Washington for a weeklong “constituent work week” when military operations started last weekend. Waiting until they came back could have risked a bloodbath inflicted on civilians and rebel fighters by Muammar Gaddafi’s military. “Leadership requires [the president] to take action when action will save lives and delaying action will cost lives,” Carney said.
“Maybe they think they can get by with a technicality,” says Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus, “but there’s a sense there was not proper consultation with Congress.”
Yet critics aren’t buying the argument that time was running out. “It’s a hollow case that they didn’t have enough time,” GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett tells The Daily Beast. “They had time to consult entities and countries all over the world: the United Nations and the Arab League. They needed to ask our elected leaders. And because this is going to increase the debt we’re leaving to our children, we should have consulted our young people.”
Bartlett and several of his colleagues insist the complaints aren’t partisan. “We’re not trying to attack the president,” says Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner. “What we’re looking for is clarity.” Indeed, few lawmakers have been able to delineate precisely what they would have done differently, aside from general disagreements about the size and scope of the operation. Their main complaint is that they weren’t asked for approval.
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