The other day, in response to complaints that President Obama did not bother to obtain congressional approval for the U.S. intervention in Libya's civil war, the White House said (as paraphrased by The Wall Street Journal) "the president met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers regarding Libya before any action took place." Yet in a letter (PDF) that he sent Obama on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says, "It is regrettable that no opportunity was afforded to consult with Congressional leaders, as was the custom of your predecessors, before your decision as Commander-in-Chief to deploy into combat the men and women of our Armed Forces." Notice that Boehner does not claim such consultation was constitutionally required, let alone that Obama needed permission from Congress to launch this war, which is the clear implication of the position that the president himself took before he became president. Boehner merely says it would have been nice if Obama had talked to him and other congressional leaders before ordering U.S. forces into action, especially since he did talk to the Arab League and the U.N.
In contrast with the patently partisan reversals by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Joe Biden, Boehner's stance on the president's war powers seems consistent with his views during the Bush administration. He has two strong incentives to refrain from defending the legislative branch's prerogatives in this area:
1. He knows a Republican will be elected to the White House again, maybe as soon as next year.
2. Insisting on congressional authority would make it harder to blame Obama for whatever bad consequences flow from his war of choice.
By whining about being left out of the pre-war discussions without calling the military assault on Libya illegal, Boehner shirks responsibility while reserving the right to criticize the war's execution, which he implicitly does in his letter with a series of questions that highlight Obama's ill-defined goals and poorly conceived strategy. At the same time, Boehner puts himself on record as supporting Obama's forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East—assuming everything works out well:
The United States has long stood with those who seek freedom from oppression and an underlying structure of basic human rights. The news yesterday that a U.S. fighter jet involved in this operation crashed is a reminder of the high stakes of any military action abroad and the high price our Nation has paid in blood and treasure to advance the cause of freedom through our history.
I respect your authority as Commander-in-Chief and support our troops as they carry out their mission.
How about supporting our troops by insisting that they be used to defend the United States—the mission for which they signed up—instead of pursuing whatever foreign adventure strikes the president's fancy?