Well, we now know just went into President Obama’s decision to wage UnWar on Libya, and how he planned to deal with the implications of the War Powers Resolution.
And the short answer is: because he said so.
When he was considering the move, he went to the two top experts on the subject for their advice: the highest-ranking attorneys at the Department of Defense and the Justice Departmant. And they agreed: what Obama planned was covered by the War Powers Resolution.
So he did what a lot of people do when told that what they want to do is illegal: he went lawyer-shopping until he found some who would tell him what he wanted to hear.
It’s almost fascinating to listen to the spin being presented on why the law didn’t apply here. It boils down to “it’s not a war, because they’re not shooting back.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a version of the old story about the parent asking who started the fight — and one kid says “it started when he hit me back.”
Apparently, it’s only “war-war” when both sides do the fighting. When it’s just us dropping bombs and missiles on a foreign nation that is incapable of posing a credible threat in return, it’s just a form of foreign aid. “What’s the big deal? We give lots of countries bombs and missiles. This time, they’re just blowing up a bit sooner than they’d like.”
I’m sure it’s a great comfort to those people being blown up that they aren’t dying in a war-war.
As I’ve said, there’s a good debate to be had over the War Powers Resolution. I have genuinely mixed feelings on the matter, but I recognize that both sides have their points and it’s a complicated issue.
Ever since it was passed, the War Powers Resolution has been a pain in the backside for every president. And they’ve all (to various degrees) found a way to deal with it. They comply with it, but don’t acknowledge its authority — giving the necessary reports as “consistent with” the Resolution, and not “pursuant to.” They’ve also sought Congressional approval for their warlike actions, again saying that they want the support of Congress and the American people on such an important matter — and not saying they’re doing it because the War Powers Resolution made them.
Any of them could have challenged it directly, and that would have been interesting to resolve. All they had to say was that the War Powers Resolution was unconstitutional, they had no intention of abiding by it, and then tossing the ball back in Congress’ court.
But neither of those work for Obama. For one, as Obama has argued before, “he won.” That means he gets to rule unchallenged.
For another, he has a record of speaking out strongly in favor of the War Powers Resolution — when he was a US Senator and the president in question was Republican George W. Bush (who abided by it, without ever officially recognizing its authority).
So he decides that it doesn’t apply here simply because he says so. And when the experts on such matters tell him it does, he goes and finds other people willing to tell him what he wants to hear.
That’s one of the things about being president. One can usually find someone willing to tell you what you want to hear. What they need are people willing to tell them no, to say what they don’t want to hear.
But that type of honesty seems to be unwanted in the Obama administration.