Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The President is Violating the War Powers Act

As reported in the Washington Post last week,
"The Obama administration argued Wednesday that its nearly three-month-old military involvement in Libya does not require congressional approval because of the supporting role most U.S. forces are playing there, a position that puts it at odds with some Republican leaders and the antiwar wing of its own party.

The White House reasoning, included in a 32-page report to Congress, is the administration’s first detailed response to complaints from lawmakers of both parties, who say President Obama has exceeded his authority as commander in chief by waging war in Libya without congressional authorization.

The report came on the same day a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed suit in federal court against Obama seeking to end the U.S. participation in Libya, pushing what has been a slow-moving confrontation over the power of the president at a time of war toward the center of the political debate...

The United States has spent $715.9 million in Libya, the vast majority of it on military operations, according to the report. The administration estimates that the cost will rise to $1.1 billion through September, although it does not plan to request additional funds from Congress to pay for the mission...

The report says that “because U.S. military operations [in Libya] are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the resolution,” the deadlines for congressional approval or force withdrawal do not apply.

“We’re not engaged in sustained fighting. There’s been no exchange of fire with hostile forces. We don’t have troops on the ground. We don’t risk casualties to those troops,” said one senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity during a conference call arranged by the White House. “None of the factors, frankly, speaking more broadly, has risked the sort of escalation that Congress was concerned would impinge on its war-making power.”"
However, this week, the Washington Post reported that:
But at the Pentagon, officials have decided it’s unsafe enough there to give troops extra pay for serving in “imminent danger.”

The Defense Department decided in April to pay an extra $225 a month in “imminent danger pay” to service members who fly planes over Libya or serve on ships within 110 nautical miles of its shores.

That means the Pentagon has decided that troops in those places are “subject to the threat of physical harm or imminent danger because of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions.”

Many in Congress have said they were outraged by Obama’s argument last week.

“Hostilities by remote control are still hostilities,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), normally a close Obama ally, on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” “We are killing with drones what we would otherwise be killing with fighter planes. And we are engaged in hostilities in Libya.”

Legislators have proposed resolutions that would express disapproval of the operation or cut off its funding — or authorize it outright. Congressional leaders have not said when any of those options will be voted on.
For the record, I oppose the war in Libya for the reasons outlined in my article entitled I'm Not Buying What Obama is Trying to Sell. I support Rep. Kucinich's and Rep. Conyers' War Powers Act lawsuit.

Clearly, by any definition, the United States is engaged in hostilities in Libya. According to the New York Times, "since the United States handed control of the air war in Libya to NATO in early April, American warplanes have struck at Libyan air defenses about 60 times, and remotely operated drones have fired missiles at Libyan forces about 30 times, according to military officials."

Moreover, NATO action is US action. NATO is led and funded by the United States. As stated on the AP, "in transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically. In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show."

Al Jazeera reports that NATO has hit 1,000 targets, killed approximately 718 (according to Libya), and injured 4,000 people. This past Sunday, NATO bombed a two-story house and killed two children and seven adult civilians. The Washington Post reported that "Libyan officials on Monday accused NATO of killing 15 noncombatants, including three children, in a massive strike on a farm in western Libya." Again, the US is essentially waging war in Libya. Therefore, the President's failure to get authorization from Congress is a violation of the War Powers Act.

This nation is supposed to be a democracy, not a monarchy. Article One, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, not the President. The War Powers Act enshrines that general principle into law. If properly enforced, the War Powers Act can prevent an abuse of power. If we elect progressive members of Congress like Conyers and Kucinich, the War Power Act may be able to curb America's natural, imperialistic and militaristic impulse.

Some may suggest that members of Congress are taking action because the President is African American. That argument does not have much merit because similar action has been taken against other Presidents. According to the CRS Report for Congress - War Powers Resolution After Thirty, in May 1981, members of Congress took action against President Reagan for sending military advisers to El Salvador. The same report notes that members of Congress filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Reagan's invasion of Grenada. According to the report, in 1999, members of Congress sued President Clinton for violating the War Powers Act with regard to US military operations in Kosovo. In sum, the War Powers Act has been raised during many conflicts during several Administrations. Obama is not being singled out because of his race.

Sure, the Republicans who support the lawsuit and proposed resolutions are probably political opportunists. I am sure that many, if not most of them, are merely looking for an opportunity to undermine the Obama Administration. While that may be true, it does not negate the fact that the President is violating the War Powers Act.

This article is cross-posted on Jack and Jill Politics.

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