In case you didn’t notice (and a lot of people haven’t been paying attention), it’s been almost two months since President Obama declared UnWar on Libya. And that means that the War Powers Resolution is about to kick in.
A quick recap: in the wake of Viet Nam, Congress passed a law that limited a president’s ability to start wars. Under the law, the president has to get Congressional approval for any major military actions, or at least notify them within 48 hours after it’s started. From then, he has 60 days to wrap things up or get Congressional approval to continue — otherwise, he has 30 days to knock it off.
President Nixon promptly vetoed the bill, saying it infringed on the president’s Constitutional powers as Commander In Chief.
And Congress just as promptly overrode that veto, making it law.
But it’s never been put to a Constitutional test. Every single president who has run up against it has walked a fine line — they have followed its tenets, but consistently insisted that it was unconstitutional and not binding. It was the legislative version of “I’m doing what you tell me to do, but not because you’re making me, but because I wanna!”
The closest any president came to challenging the law was Bill Clinton, in Kosovo. There he extended the mission after Congress voted funding for it, saying that counted as approval — but the actual wording of the law specifically says “funding don’t count, it has to be explicit approval.” But no one called him on it.
President Obama has already implied his opinion of the War Powers Resolution; it says Congress must be consulted unless it’s a clear and present danger to the US. Obama didn’t bother to consult Congress (or even broach the subject with the American people) ahead of time, but did have time to work closely with our NATO allies and the UN.
Others might comment on where his loyalties lie, when he places getting the approval of other nations before his own Congress or people. I will merely let the matter speak for itself.
But now he’s up against another deadline. And he will have to decide soon if he’s going to abide by the Resolution, openly challenge it, or just ignore it.
Me, I’m of mixed feelings on the matter. I can see arguments on both sides of the Resolution, and think that it’s a Constitutional fight in the brewing. I can also see the appeal of simply leaving the matter unsettled.
But dammit, it’s on the books. It’s the law of the land. It needs to be either followed, challenged, or repealed. It’s an open sore on the Constitution, and we need to settle this matter.
The world is a vastly different — and smaller — place than it was when the Constitution was written. Messages that took weeks to travel now arrive instantaneously. And declarations of war — along with the deliberations that lead up to them — only serve to give the would-be enemy plenty of time to prepare — and, perhaps, attempt a “Pearl Harbor” pre-emptive strike of their own. And the law needs to recognize that and take that into account.
Is the War Powers Resolution a reasonable accomodation between Constitutional principles and modern realities? I dunno. But I think it’s a conversation we need to have — and a matter we need to settle.
The last thing we need is President Obama continuing to blow it off and blunder into a Constitutional crisis. Which is why I pretty much expect him to do just that.