The Libyan war is illegal. President Barack Obama failed to get a congressional declaration of war, as required by the Constitution. And “declaration” means more than just saying it is so. In the case of war, declaration means authorizing the president to engage in hostilities.
There are exceptions, but none apply here. One is that the military action is defensive. That’s obviously not the case in Libya. No one in that nation has attacked or even threatened the U.S.
Another exception might be a limited action for limited purposes not calculated to create a state of war. A rescue mission of Americans amid chaotic strife in another nation, perhaps. That doesn’t apply here either. The U.S. has been at war for more than nine weeks, killing Libyan soldiers and destroying Libyan military materiel in an attempt to oust the existing government.
Even setting aside the Constitution, the war is indisputably illegal. Although the former law professor who now sits in the Oval office chose to ignore the Constitution, he cited as authority the War Powers Resolution, which covers combat missions in “the territory, airspace, or waters of a foreign nation.” President Obama gave Congress notice of his decision to intervene in Libya. But any authority under the WPR expired more than two weeks ago.
To justify breaking the law he explained that the U.S. military was doing so little that it really didn’t count as a war. This apparently is the “itty‐bitty” exception to the Constitution and WPR. [Inconveniently for him, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Europe about the same time and explained that America was doing a lot militarily. If you’re going to organize a conspiracy to violate the law, you should get your story straight.
In the Senate Rand Paul and several others pushed to hold the president accountable, but the leadership has indicated no interest in acting. Moreover, a war‐happy triumvirate — John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman — has been beating the war drums while advocating a resolution to support President Obama’s unconstitutional war. Although the three journeyed to Tripoli a couple years ago to toast Moammar Qaddafi and discuss the provision of military aid, they recently discovered that he was an evil dictator who must be removed, the Constitution be damned.
In the House a majority appears to have coalesced against the president. The House leadership promised a vote last week on a resolution by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D‐Ohio). Kucinich’s measure would have demanded that the president withdraw within 15 days. Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R‐Fla.) introduced a similar measure, insisting that President Obama win congressional authority or begin withdrawing by June 19.
A number of Republicans joined Democrats behind Kucinich’s bill. Rep. Jeff Flake (R‐Ariz.) observed that “there’s been disquiet for a long time.” He added: “Republicans have been too eager to support some military ventures abroad. And this, I think, is perhaps a little more consistent with traditional conservatism.”
Rep. John Campbell (R‐Cal.) was even more forthright: “We are in control in the House, and we want something on the floor.” He demanded a resolution so the members could express “to the president that ‘you no longer have the authority of this Congress to conduct military operations in that country’.”
The administration responded in characteristic fashion. Instead of attempting to make sense of a war that has lost any sense of purpose or legality, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the Kucinich resolution was “dangerous,” even though the president said America was so minimally involved that the war didn’t even count as a war. Presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney said “We believe that the policy is working,” which merely proves yet again that, as Abraham Lincoln once noted, you can fool some of the people all the time.
Nevertheless, the House GOP leadership promised a vote — until it realized that Kucinich’s pending measure would pass. Then House Speaker John Boehner turned tail, pulling the Kucinich bill from the floor and tossing the Constitution aside. His spokesman, Kevin Smith declared that Boehner’s “intention is not to undermine the commander in chief when we have troops in harm’s way.”
But the president said no troops are in harm’s way. If troops really are in harm’s way, then Congress should speak. It is what the Constitution demands. It is what the War Powers Resolution expects.
The speaker’s dumbest argument was that pulling out would “undercut our allies who have stood by us in Afghanistan and other areas abroad.” The U.S. has stood by Europe, underwriting its defense for 66 years. It is time our prosperous, populous allies did their fair share by defending themselves and surrounding regions.
Most have made only minimal contributions to Afghanistan and Iraq, and even then have done their utmost to make sure that their forces have engaged in only a minimal amount of combat. The U.S. is expected to do everything everywhere. Libya, of far more interest to Europe than to America, is an opportunity to say no more.
Why would John Boehner not uphold the law and Constitution? It appears that Speaker Boehner prefers to preserve the precedent of a president going to war unilaterally for the next Republican chief executive.
However, even for the speaker doing nothing was not an option. Insiders anonymously admitted to “lots of unrest on both sides of the aisle.” So instead of doing what is right, Boehner drafted a thoroughly dishonest resolution to assuage congressional anger while protecting President Obama’s lawlessness.
The measure reaffirmed an earlier vote that ground forces were not to be deployed to Libya. Big deal. If Congress won’t enforce its fundamental power to decide whether the war should be fought, why should the president treat seriously a legislative pronouncement against a ground war? He is likely to continue treating Congress with the contempt it deserves.
The resolution declared that “the United States Armed Forces shall be used exclusively to defend and advance the national security interests of the United States.” But the Libyan war manifestly does not do so. Moammar Qaddafi is a nasty guy, but he has not and does not threaten America. Even the claim that he was about to massacre his own citizens was fraudulent.
Then the resolution went on to demand a “report” explaining why the president dissed Congress by not seeking its authorization; listing the administration’s objectives, which the president and his officials had repeated many times over many weeks; and providing a long list of specific data, including costs, impacts, roles, and other bureaucratic minutiae of no practical use to anyone.
Finally, the resolution declared that “the President has not sought, and Congress has not provided, authorization for the introduction or continued involvement of the United States Armed Forces in Libya.” Gee, no one would have known that had Congress not passed a resolution declaring it to be. Just like Speaker Boehner’s view of Congress’s power to declare war: announce that a war is going on and then go home.
This is leadership? Congressmen genuinely concerned about an unnecessary and illegal war should have voted down the Boehner resolution, which was pro‐war and anti‐Constitution. But last Friday the House defeated the Kucinich bill and approved the Boehner fake. The latter measure provided just enough cover for uncomfortable Republicans to allow them to avoid standing for the Constitution.
Apparently the only problem in Libya seen by Speaker Boehner is one of communication: “I think the president has a role to play here, and the president really does need to step up and help the American people understand these missions are vital to the national security interests of the country.”
No. What the president needs to do is stop committing the U.S. to war illegally and unconstitutionally. The president also needs to stop committing the U.S. to war for frivolous purposes, at a time when the military is overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the budget is broken beyond measure.
President Obama once said “no more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.” If he won’t stop committing the U.S. to unnecessary and illegal wars, then Congress has a duty to stop him. It should assert its constitutional powers. And it should cut off the money.
The behavior of the House Republican leadership demonstrates why the Congress is held in such ill repute by the public. Taking power after a wave of anger at the polls last November, the GOP leaders remain prisoners of the politics of the past. They really don’t care about the Constitution, the law, or the public.
“This is not the king’s army,” noted Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R‐Md.). “This is an unconstitutional and illegal war.” Voters should remember Speaker Boehner’s failure to defend the Constitution in November 2012.