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EDITORIAL: Obama’s weak war memo
If there’s no war, why do troops get combat pay?
Question of the Day
The White House sent a 38-page report to Congress on Wednesday attempting to explain why the president had the authority to continue military operations against Libya without congressional approval as mandated under the War Powers Resolution. The Obama administration's argument is both legally suspect and politically unfathomable.
The law itself is straightforward. It applies when "introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances." The White House has offered a flurry of reasons why continued military operations against Libya "are distinct from the kind of 'hostilities' contemplated" by the law. The administration argues that America is mainly in a supporting role, that the military action was authorized by the United Nations, that ground troops are not involved, that the conflict has no chance of escalation, that there is a low risk of casualties and that Moammar Gadhafi's forces can't effectively fight back.
None of these factors are germane to the War Powers Resolution. It's a matter of common sense that when the United States bombs another country, it is a hostile act, regardless of how it was authorized, which American forces were involved, whether or not there are casualties and whether the enemy fights back or not. Perhaps the president should solicit Col. Gadhafi's opinion on the definition of "hostilities."
On April 26, the Defense Department designated troops operating in Libya, Tunisia and a portion of the Mediterranean Sea as eligible for imminent danger pay of $225 a month, retroactive to March 19, which was the onset of Operation Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector. According to the Pentagon, such a designation applies to "foreign areas where U.S. military personnel are subject to the threat of physical harm or imminent danger on the basis of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions." Maybe the White House can help Congress understand why U.S. troops are entitled to combat pay absent "hostilities."
The political aspects of the current crisis also reflect poorly on a reputedly savvy White House. This is a needless conflict with no upside for Mr. Obama. The war is costly and unpopular and has alienated the more thoughtful members of his anti-war base. If the international coalition wins - victory here defined as Col. Gadhafi being killed or leaving power, even if the administration dares not utter the words "regime change" - it will not earn Mr. Obama points with any of his constituencies. If the stalemate in Libya drags on, it heightens international tensions within NATO and without, especially with Russia and China, and gives Mr. Obama's domestic critics on the right and left an enduring talking point. The administration's continuing failure to take out Col. Gadhafi makes the takedown of Osama bin Laden look like more like luck than design.
It would still be a simple matter for Mr. Obama to approach Congress for an up or down vote on the war and let the process play out as dictated by law. If Congress approves, the conflict continues; if not, it allows Mr. Obama a way to make a graceful exit. Instead the White House has dug in on untenable ground and faces an ongoing and futile war of attrition.
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