Illegal War? Congress Doesn't Care

Capitol Hill still hasn't authorized Obama's war in Libya.


Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.

Remember when President Obama assured us his Libyan adventure would be over in "days, not weeks"? To employ a Clinton-era euphemism, "That statement is no longer operative." (Translation: I lied.)

On Friday the 60-day clock ran out, leaving Obama in clear violation of the War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 to "fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution … [and] insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities."

Instead of withdrawing U.S. forces, the president sent a letter to congressional leaders insisting—bizarrely—that drone attacks and "suppression and destruction of air defenses" don't qualify as "hostilities" under the resolution.

"The U.S. role is one of support," an Obama adviser told ABC News, "and the kinetic pieces of that are intermittent."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates couldn't even keep a straight face while trying to sell the "kinetic military action" line to Katie Couric on 60 Minutes recently, when she asked him, "Are we at war with Libya?"

Six Republican senators, led by Kentucky's Rand Paul, sent the president a letter Friday, challenging him to comply with the War Powers Resolution. But they won't get much help from their colleagues. There's no Senate action scheduled on the WPR, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), says it's because "we're deferring to NATO." Who elected them?

With Congress AWOL, it's not clear what recourse is left to those who oppose unconstitutional wars. Perhaps what remains of the "peace" movement can update the old John Lennon anthem: "All we are saying is give static military activity a chance …"

Meanwhile, as the Senate dithered, the House moved toward granting the president sweeping new war powers.

The defense spending bill that recently cleared the House Armed Services Committee contains a new, post-bin Laden Authorization for Use of Military Force. This authorization is even broader than its post-Sept. 11 predecessor, whose language was stretched by the Bush administration to justify warrantless surveillance and holding U.S. citizens without charges. Even so, the proposed replacement got only a few minutes of post-midnight debate.

The first authorization at least contained a link to the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. The new authorization empowers the president to go to war with any nation he determines is aiding al Qaeda, the Taliban, or "associated forces." How far can that language be stretched? Maybe far enough for Congress to finally get this war powers hassle off its plate permanently.

One thing is clear, you can't blame our burgeoning "imperial presidency" solely on aggressive, power-hungry presidents. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. explained in his book of that name, the presidency's transformation from limited, constitutional office to Supreme Warlord of the Earth has been "as much a matter of congressional abdication as of presidential usurpation."

In fact, the last time I can remember Congress roused to righteous indignation about threats to the separation of powers was in May 2006, when the FBI searched then-Rep. William Jefferson's congressional office in a bribery investigation. (They'd previously found $90,000 in cash in Jefferson's freezer at home.)

The raid on Jefferson's office was the rare event that got then-Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.) and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) singing from the same hymnbook about "constitutional principles … designed to protect the Congress and the American people from abuses of power."

It would be nice to see similar bipartisan outrage from Congress today about "abuses of power" like, say … illegal wars.

But it seems that sort of thing doesn't hit as close to home.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site.

NEXT: Rand Paul's Latest Speech About the PATRIOT Act: "Do we really want that kind of all-encompassing government?"

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  1. Illegal war? Capitol Hill could apparently care less

    Odd, I haven’t really seen any stories on this in the mainstream media, either. I wonder why?

    1. What’s a “Libya”? Sounds made-up.

      1. Shhhh! I think might be the name of naughty woman-parts.

      2. I think Libya is Dubya’s long lost sister.

    2. I think that’s supposed to say “couldn’t care less.”

      1. I think that’s supposed to say “couldn’t care less.”

        The idiom is actually a shortened form of a common sentiment:

        “I suppose I could care less, but I am not sure how” or “In your wildest dreams don’t imagine that I could care less.”

        1. No, it’s not. Actually.
          That’s a false (or “folk” if you prefer) etymology.

          However…language evolves. That’s just a fact. When usage changes, you can stubbornly resist, but you can’t stop the tide from coming in.
          It’s hard for people to let go.

  2. (c) Presidential executive power as Commander-in-Chief; limitation
    The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
    (1) a declaration of war,
    (2) specific statutory authorization, or
    (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

    Now which category does Libya fall into?

    1. 4) The ONE said so!

  3. Caption Contest!

    “I’m taking a number two on your constitution! Suck it!”

  4. Congress loves moving its responsibilities to the President or the courts. It frees them, in their minds (and apparently the minds of their voting constituencies), from their culpability of actions that would have otherwise had to be taken in their name.

    1. Not true.

      What they might enjoy is delegating away the actions that they can’t directly benefit or profit from. Which isn’t to say that the defense industry doesn’t throw around a ton of money, but for the vast majority of legislators, that’s not where their bread is buttered. That’s always been more of an executive-branch revolving door.

  5. Nobel Peace Prize! YEAH!

    (WTF am I seeing an ad for Amazon Holiday Deals with falling snow and holly sprigs?)

  6. Set back the calendar to 2008 bitches

  7. Hey, it’s just a few bombing runs–not something one could call a full-out war.

    Boots on the ground would probably raise some objections.

    1. Would someone *kindly* explain why “boots on the ground” is considered magic when it comes to warlike activities? That is, as opposed to bombing runs, cruise missiles, drone strikes, or other “kinetic” actions? Seriously, is there something in “international law” about this?

      1. Because of the relative likelihood of our guys getting killed. By and large, the American people don’t care about killing foreigners nearly so much.


      2. It has to do with Americans in body bags. When you shoot cruise missiles or drop bombs from 20,000 feet there is not much chance of a third rate enemy killing Americans. Boots on the ground on the other hand let even the worse prepared fighter have a chance of killing an American and dead Americans show up in the news.

        1. Thanks, John & DJF.

          Americans believe “our guys” won’t end up “in body bags” as a result of airstrikes against “third rate” enemies. (No snark intended.)

      3. I changed the debate at work by asking if Mexico sent jets, missiles and/or drones over the border into the USA to attack US targets, would that be an act of war?
        Of course it would.

        1. Well, they’re consistent. If there’s a high likelihood of US people dying, it’s an act of war. Otherwise, it’s not.

          Perfectly consistent.

    2. Let me run this idea by you. Based on these actions I should be able to sit on my property and throw rocks at my neighbors without fear of repracusions because Obama Says it’s not a hostile the way isn’t the air force a part of our military or are they now something completely different

      1. Yes, as long as you are surrounded by Secret Service, have a homeland security department to keep order, have a massive military and your finger on the nuclear weapons button, then its OK.

      2. My neighbor terrorizes his children by letting them know their gender, taking them to school, and giving them haircuts. Rock throwing is just freeing the children of this dictator and giving the children sweet, sweet democracy.

    3. Let me run this idea by you. Based on these actions I should be able to sit on my property and throw rocks at my neighbors without fear of repracusions because Obama Says it’s not a hostile the way isn’t the air force a part of our military or are they now something completely different

    4. Hey, it’s just a few bombing runs–not something one could call a full-out war. Boots on the ground would probably raise some objections.

      Japan didn’t put any “boots on the ground” at Pearl Harbor, but somehow Americans still saw it as an act of war….

  8. Don’t worry, nothing to be seen here. A few government agents were chasing a bad guy and they stopped outside of Libya and smelled marijuana smoke and so they kicked in the door. Once inside they found clear evidence of illegal activity and so they have called in the SWAT team and are now kinetically securing the area.

    1. +1

      Thank you for making me laugh at multiple tragedies.

  9. Alea iacta est, and all of that…

    1. “Alea jacta est” is not the appropriate Ceasarism here.

      “Omnia Lybia est in tres partes divisit” might be more appropriate. Especially since Ceasar invaded Gaul without the permission of the Senate.

      However, unlike Barack Hussein Obama, Gauis Julius Ceasar actually showed courage in combat, winning the corona civica for his actions.

      1. Okay, Latin scholars: Is my recollection of four years of high school Latin correct? Shouldn’t the proper construction be, “Omnia Libya in tres partes divisa est”? The verb (divisa est, dividere, third person singular, perfect passive) comes last, right?

  10. Wow, the whole thing sounds kinda crazy to me dude.

  11. “days not weeks” referred to the US hand-off to NATO despite wingnut confusion. big words – how do it work?

    1. “US hand-off to NATO” is like handing over to a sock puppet since most of NATO’s fire power is American and the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO is an American.

      1. Canadian general to take NATO command of Libya Fri Mar 25, 1:11 pm ET
        TORONTO ? A Canadian general will take over command of the NATO mission in Libya.
        >Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said Friday that Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard has been designated to lead the alliance’s military campaign in Libya.
        >Bouchard is stationed in Naples, Italy, at the Allied Joint Force Command.…..libya_nato

        1. And the Supreme Allied Commander US Admiral James G. Stavridis is the guy who is above Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard.

        2. And none of this changes the fact that the War Powers Act applies to the USE of military forces, not WHO is in charge of them.

        3. So US forces now take their orders from a Canadian general?

          Huh. Are you sure we’ll get them back when he’s done with them?

        4. So, even ignoring the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO is American, and ignoring that NATO rules say that he is official commander of any NATO mission, are you really suggesting that President Obama is not actually still Commander-in-Chief of those forces? Really?

          1. sure, obama’s in charge of our refueling, recon, & re-supply ops. the canadian is in charge of NATO combat ops which are primarily british & french.

            1. OO|5.25.11 @ 1:00PM|#
              “sure, obama’s in charge of our refueling, recon, & re-supply ops. the canadian is in charge of NATO combat ops which are primarily british & french.”

              Getting pretty hard to find those straws to grab, OO?

  12. “drone attacks and “suppression and destruction of air defenses” don’t qualify as “hostilities” under the resolution.” Based on that statement then we had no right to go after alquida(sp?) and for now on anybody else can now shot at us and use Obama’s words to say it was not a hostile act. No wonder the world hates us.

  13. It’s gotten to the point where, WWE-style, I’m expecting Obama to strut up to Congress, hit Rand Paul with a chair, and then take off a mask to show that he’s really George W Bush. “IT WAS ME AMERICA! IT WAS ME ALL ALONG!”

    1. My bet is that Obama is the love child of Barbara Bush and Revered Wright so he’s W’s half brother. He was actually born in Kennebunkport at the Bush compound and then given over to the Stanley Ann Dunham to raise.

  14. You fookers need to support our brave robots fighting in Libya… freedom and stuff.

  15. That “we’re deferring to an unelected international organization that compromises our sovereignty and rarely, if ever, acts in our best interests” line is utterly appalling.

  16. If the Constitution was worth the paper it was written on, the man would be in jail already. For the sake of the rule of law, someone please arrest the man.

  17. Every day we should be reminding ourselves that there were a number of Reason staffers who voted for the bolzhevik racist in the WH.

    If the term nutter is to be applied accurately around here, should it not be first directed at those Reason staffers who voted for Obama?

    1. Hey, McCain was no picnic, and everyone’s entitled to one mistake. At least they’re pushing Ron Paul this time around, instead of laughing at him.


    Dear George:

    Your words are still as valid today as they were almost 20 years ago. We still can’t make a car worth a fuck, but we have some awesome fucking drones that can bomb the shit out of brown people, 24/7.

  19. Actually under the War Powers Act he has another 30 days to wind down hostilities before he is in violation.

    1. No, he has 30 days to wind down hostilities, but he is precluded from ramping up hostilities.

  20. It’d be nice to see a more combative relationship between the legislative and executive branches. Seriously.

  21. “Illegal war? Capitol Hill could apparently care less…”

    As does Cindy Sheehan. She only pimps her dead son if it helps team blue.

    1. Actually Cindy Sheehan is still protesting even with team blue in charge, its just that most of the media ignore her now that team blue is in charge.

    2. Sad to say, but not surprising, that all the talk about war not being the answer was nothing more than cynical politicking designed to deliver election victories for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

  22. I’d like to comment, but seriously, words fail in this situation.

    Full disclosure: back in 2008, I was still just a moderate independent, hadn’t ever really even heard of libertarianism (except what Rs & Ds had said about it), and I voted for BO. Even knowing my single vote didn’t matter, it’s easily in the Top 10 list of all-time regrets in my life.

  23. His 60 days are up. The war is clearly illegal. Start the impeachment proceedings.

  24. It may be that Republicans like wars more than they like to destroy their political enemies. Don’t look for the House to do anything about Libya.

  25. War Powers Act? The whole thing is BS, the congress under the US constitution (long dead thing, but better than what we have now ) has no authority to re-delegate power and being the CINC means nothing more than directing the troops when actually attacked, or attacking force on way, or the Congress as a result of such declares war, meaning that offensive acts on another country are legitimate.

    The constitution took powers that previously been executive and placed them in the hands of the congress just so to ensure that actions like Libya or Iraq among many others would not happen. Even Hamilton the monarchist agreed with this…Federalist 69,

    Secondly. The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.1 The governor of New York, on the other hand, is by the constitution of the State vested only with the command of its militia and navy. But the constitutions of several of the States expressly declare their governors to be commanders-in-chief, as well of the army as navy; and it may well be a question, whether those of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in particular, do not, in this instance, confer larger powers upon their respective governors, than could be claimed by a President of the United States.

  26. “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” – Sen. Barack Obama December 20, 2007.

    “If he gives authorization to war… without Congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him!” -Joe Biden

  27. “If he gives authorization to war… without Congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him!” -Joe Biden

    … crickets…

  28. The U.S. and NATO are bombing Libya to stop Gaddafi’s development of Africa without IMF or World Bank money and control.

    Gaddafi has built a 25-year and $20 billion project to take water out of the Libyan aquifer that has 150,000 km3 of water. This is enough to irrigate Libya for 500 years and turn desert into farmland and allow Libya to be the breadbasket of Africa. But, because it was done independent of any IMF and World Bank loans, the financial elite have decided to crush Gaddafi and Libya.

    When the U.S. demanded $500 million initial fee and a yearly lease of $500 million to put a telecommunications satellite in space, Gaddafi began his plan to put a satellite into space for a one-time fee of $400 million with no annual fee. His plan was to provide Africa with internet, cell phones and television broadcasts to “wire’ the continent.

    When the IMF and World Bank brought Africa to its knees with loans of only $150 billion across the continent, Gaddafi bailed out governments to prevent economic colonialism and theft of oil, gold and diamonds and other minerals, products and infrastructure. As the previous loans placed countries in the position of being forced to sell infrastructure and implement draconian austerity measures, Gaddafi began organizing the African Monetary Fund and an African central bank. All this was done without one penny from the West.

    Currently, the U.S. and NATO fund an illegal military in Libya with no leadership, no uniforms, insignia, or rank. The force could be outfitted for one half the cost of a single cruise missile. Yet, the force hides behind civilians in cities, has no ability to govern and no popular support. As the force is made up of significant numbers of al Qaeda, the U.S. refuses to arm it with heavy weapons while the U.S. and NATO promise to continue to obliterate Libya to support this illegal force. The rationale for war has laughingly become the excuse that we need to smash Libya to save it in order to save civilians Gaddafi MIGHT kill. Meanwhile, there is no mention made of the slaughter of civilians by NATO as it reduces inhabited cities to rubble.

    This war needs to be ended now, and if not, then American official should be impeached and made to stand trial at the Hague.

    Please read this link and discover the truth about our fascist imperialism being disguised as the export of democracy.…..pment.html

    1. Unless they are destroying the man-made river or satellites, those projects will still be there when this dynamic kinetic bullshit is over. Even in the other successful revolutions, the west has left the regime change up to the locals (in Egypt they replaced a dictatorship with a stratocracy–Hooray for democracy!). Is there a single reason to believe that the next Libyan leader won’t want free satellite TV and to transform his country into the bread basket of Africa?

      So, how would removing Ghaddafi accomplish the US/IMF’s purported goals?

      Is there even any evidence they have been destroying those things? (Not that you can send a drone into space, but you could target the telecom facilities on the ground.)

      I hate the military-industrial war machine, and I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but this is the sort of claim that could be supported with actual, physical almost-literal “smoking gun” proof. Especially if they were claiming to help “the people” but then they were blowing up water facilities…the world couldn’t ignore that.
      [Targeting communications would be very easy to justify, of course.]

      When the US went to war with Iraq, people claimed it was because they stopped pegging their oil to the US dollar. That may or may not be true, but unlike this, it’s almost impossible to prove.
      You could claim that Monsanto got them to invade Iraq so that they could sell them GM crops, and that theory would have 1000x more evidence than anything they’ve given here.

      There’s other crap in there about DSK and how he was “targeted” (they framed him for raping/assaulting a maid, I guess? They don’t say.) but then the link they provide doesn’t even have any bearing on that wild claim whatsoever.

      And the some of those links (at beforeitsnews) don’t even work, for that matter.

  29. We are being sold out by a pack of gormless quislings who style themselves as “Representative” or “Senator”.
    YOUR children and grandchildren will wear the collar of slaves unless you are willing to step up and pay the price to ensure their freedom.

  30. Well, if it’s the official position of the US government that drone and missile strikes are not acts of war or hostility, then quite a few things that have been done to US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were really just misunderstood acts of friendship..

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