War Powers Debate is Much Ado about Congress

  • Share
  • Read Later

The debate about whether President Obama’s war in Libya threatens to violate the 1973 War Powers Resolution is interesting because it exposes a bit of potential hypocrisy on the part of the president. Here is rule-of-law Obama, a former senator, at risk of violating the law and trampling on the authority of the legislative branch of government.

Now that House Speaker John Boehner is (lightly) pushing the White House on the issue, it is interesting that Obama is taking heat from the left and the right on the Libya war, as Jay Newton-Small points out in her post on this today. She notes that Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich is leading a group of 10 legislators in a suit against Obama for violating the resolution.

I also like to point out when the president risks looking like a hypocrite, as I’ve tried to do on this issue.

But this is strictly an academic and political debate. The War Powers Resolution requires that U.S. forces be withdrawn from a fight within 90 days if Congress has not approved the combat operation. It was drafted in the post-Vietnam era, to try to prevent the United States from drifting into another military quagmire.

Attorneys have long argued that the resolution might violate the President’s authority under the constitution as commander-in-chief. And the resolution itself doesn’t have any teeth. It basically says that without Congress’ approval, troops must be out of combat in 90 days or else.

And even if an overwhelming majority of legislators vehemently opposed the Libya operation, there is not much they can do. Congress controls the government’s purse strings, of course, but is unlikely to ever cut off funds for military operations for fear of endangering troops engaged in combat.

Mostly Boehner will write a letter. Kucinich will hold a press conference. The White House will probably try to meet some of Congress’ anemic demands for a better explanation of the operation in Libya. And then a member of Congress will get caught sexting and we’ll all move on.