Today White House Faces Deadline on Legality of Libya War

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The Washington Post argues in an editorial this morning that the White House should follow the law. Specifically, today marks the 60th day of war with Libya. Under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, Obama must begin withdrawing from combat operations today or obtain congressional approval for further military operations.

As I noted earlier this week, President Obama signaled in a letter to Congress on March 21 that the War Powers Resolution did apply to the combat in Libya. Some attorneys expect the White House to shift legal tactics today and argue that the law no longer applies since NATO is leading the operation in Libya.

The Post doesn’t buy that argument:

An assertion that congressional approval is unnecessary because NATO — and not the United States — is waging the Libyan conflict is not persuasive and ignores the fact that NATO weapons and personnel are supplied and directed by member countries, including the United States. Arguments that the United States is no longer involved in hostilities also fall short. As recently as late April, the United States conducted military strikes using drones. “The president has said where we have unique capabilities, he is willing to use those,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at the time — and rightly so. Even if the administration is now only supplying intelligence and other support, that is part of war fighting — and the uncertainties of conflict may again require more kinetic (to use a recently favored euphemism) military involvement.

The administration seems not even to have tried to secure Congress’s buy-in before the Friday deadline. Rather than dodge compliance, the president should seek congressional authorization next week, once both chambers are back in session.

We’ll see what the White House comes up with, presumably around 5 p.m. tonight, when a significant portion of the Washington press corps is seated on bar stools.