It’s truly amazing how flexible lawmakers’ principles are—how much they depend on who is in the White House. Few if any Republicans would have thought to challenge the Libya intervention if ordered by President Bush. It’s a different story with a Democrat in the White House. Today 87 House Republicans voted for a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the most left-wing (and downright flaky) members of Congress, calling for the removal of U.S. forces from Libya within 15 days. That’s more than the number of Democratic votes Kucinich picked up—61.
Granted most Republicans voted against the Kucinich resolution, but that was only because they had the option of voting for a milder resolution of censure sponsored by the Speaker, John Boehner, who was worried that even more of his caucus otherwise would support Kucinich. Boehner’s resolution, which passed by 268 to 145, declares that “(1) the president has not asked for congressional authorization, and that the Congress has not granted it; (2) reasserts Congress’ constitutional role on funding; (3) requires the president to provide within 14 days information on the mission that should have been provided from the start; and (4) reaffirms the vote we took last week that says there should be no troops on the ground. “
I can understand why House Republicans are mad. I have my own questions about the Libya intervention. Its admirable goal (Qaddafi’s toppling) has not been matched by suitable military means. And Obama has not helped his own cause by not asking for congressional authorization, as Bush did before intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan. The time-limit of the War Powers Act, which mandates that the president get authorization from Congress within 60 days for a use of force, has already expired, and Obama hasn’t even bothered to argue that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, as all of his predecessors have done. He’s simply ignored it, by trying to pretend that the U.S. isn’t really at war (it’s a NATO action, you see) without actually repudiating it.
At the end of the day, though, Obama is the commander-in-chief and he is acting well within his rights to commit U.S. forces to stop Qaddafi’s slaughter and even to depose him. No declaration of war on the part of Congress is necessary—presidents have used force hundreds of times since 1789 without it. Moreover, the U.S. does have backing from NATO and the UN from this mission, even if not from Congress. Lawmakers should put aside their personal pique and think of the greater good of the country, which will be served by bringing this war to a speedy and successful conclusion. Their actions today only make the job of American military personnel harder, dishearten the country’s closest allies, and embolden Qaddafi to resist more.