Obama's Libya Speech--The Missing Word was "Congress"
Did you notice the glaring absence of one word in the President's address to the nation on U.S. intervention in Libya? That word is "Congress." President Obama said nothing about formally consulting with Congress, either before or after the commitment of U.S. military force to enforce a no-fly zone. (Briefings with Congressional leaders are nice, but have nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution or the War Powers Act.) Nothing, not a word, in the President's speech suggested that there was any limit on Presidential power to take the military actions he has taken regarding Libya. In sort, the President considers his actions to be inherent in his Constitutional power as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. armed forces, period.
As John Yoo correctly pointed out in a column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal online on March 25, delightfully entitled "Antiwar Senator, War-Powers President, the President's unilateral action, coupled with silence from nearly all Demoratic Senators other than Dennis Kucinich, amounts to an endorsement of the scope of Presidential war powers advocated by the George W. Bush administration:
Imagine the uproar if President Bush had unilaterally launched air attacks against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. But since it's Mr. Obama's finger on the trigger, Democratic leaders in Congress have kept quiet—demonstrating that their opposition to presidential power during the Bush years was political, not principled.
Mr. Obama's exercise of war powers in Libya is firmly in the tradition of American foreign policy. Throughout our history, neither presidents nor Congress have acted under the belief that the Constitution requires a declaration of war before the U.S. can conduct military hostilities abroad. We have used force abroad more than 100 times but declared war in only five cases: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, and World Wars I and II.
Without any approval from Congress, presidents have sent forces to battle Indians, Barbary Pirates and Russian revolutionaries, to fight North Korean and Chinese Communists in Korea, to engineer regime changes in South and Central America, and to prevent human rights disasters in the Balkans. Other conflicts, such as the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War, received legislative "authorization" but not declarations of war.
Since Vietnam, however, antiwar Democrats have sought to replace the Constitution's reliance on swift presidential action in war with a radically different system appropriate for peacetime: Congress makes policy, the president implements it. In 1973, they passed the War Powers Resolution to require congressional permission for any military intervention abroad, but no president has accepted the law's constitutionality.
I support the President's actions in Libya. I do not think that he has violated law or exceeded his powers in so acting. I just wish he would show a little humility by acknowledging that he was mistaken in 2007, when then-Senator Obama said, "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."