The White House has finally forged a bipartisan consensus in Congress. Unfortunately for President Obama, lawmakers are uniting in opposition to his approach to the ongoing U.S. involvement in the Libyan civil war. Some see the operation as an ill-advised and useless military venture; others argue that Mr. Obama is breaking the law.
On Friday the House took up two nonbinding resolutions regarding the Libyan adventure. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, called for the withdrawal of all U.S. military support within 15 days. His resolution attracted 148 votes, 87 of which were from Republicans. A second resolution, submitted by House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, passed 268-145, with support from 45 Democrats. The resolution states that authorization for involvement in Libya has been neither requested nor granted, asks the president to provide detailed information on the mission within 14 days and reaffirms that American ground troops should not be sent to Libya.
The White House has taken an odd stand on the Libyan war’s legality, particularly with respect to the War Powers Resolution. The administration ignored the statutory 60-day reporting requirement, arguing that it does not apply to Libya. The White House describes American involvement as “a narrow effort that is intermittent and principally an effort to support the ongoing NATO-led and U.N.-authorized civilian support mission and no-fly zone.” The president said that this included “nonkinetic support to the NATO-led operation,” “suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone” and targeted drone strikes. The White House may not call that “war,” but it certainly sounds like one. Perhaps they should get Moammar Gadhafi’s opinion.
The War Powers Resolution comes into effect “in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.” The plain words of the statute apply to Libya. 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.” There’s nothing “intermittent” or “nonkinetic” about that.
It is difficult to understand why Mr. Obama is making such a tortured and unconvincing argument against the application of the War Powers Resolution. There is no principle involved - he is not taking a stand against the resolution per se. It would be much easier and politically palatable simply to send the required reports to Congress and avoid the controversy by filing a bit of paperwork. Instead, the White House has drawn the ire of both its anti-war base and those who believe in the importance of upholding the nation’s laws. Whether the explanation is obtuseness, laziness or arrogance, it is a poor reflection on Mr. Obama’s leadership and an issue that will grow as long as the United States remains involved on the shores of Tripoli.