Why Did Obama Bypass Congress on Libya?

March 21st, 2011 at 11:17 pm David Frum | 33 Comments |

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It’s very strange and odd that President Obama did not seek congressional authorization before launching strikes on Libya.

In his mind, he may have been signaling: this is a humanitarian police action (like Somalia or Bosnia), not a real war (like the Gulf war, the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq).

But he opened the door to his critics alleging: Obama is a liberal one-worlder who thinks that a Security Council vote can substitute for American democratic processes.

Did he possibly fear that Congress would say No?

Is he hoping that he’ll wrap this thing up faster than the debate would have required?

Is he signaling inner discomfort with his own decision, a preference for talking about almost anything else?

Or is he just recklessly forgetting the old rule: if you don’t invite them to join you at the takeoff, they won’t be there for the landing?

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33 Comments so far ↓

  • ChallengingFrum

    because he had already wasted four weeks, the rebels were down to one town and the french were going in

  • hisgirlfriday

    Obama bypassing Congress on this was wrong, unconstitutional and sets a horrible precedent for U.S. military intervention in the world. I hope that more than just the marginalized Ron Pauls and Dennis Kuciniches of the world hold his feet to the fire on this.

    That said, I get why he did it. No one held Bush/Cheney accountable for any of the unconstitutional/illegal things that administration did and no one in Congress went after Clinton with ferocity for his messed up campaign fundraising activities or other questionable/illegal dealings the way he did for his relationship with an intern. Because both parties do it and don’t want to bring more attention on to their own shortcomings and both parties want to be able to do it when they have the power.

    What Obama has realized, maybe even without knowing it, is that the hyperpartisanship of the last howevermanyyears has reduced Congress to a rubber stamp joke when it comes to foreign policy. He didn’t ask them for approval not because he thought they’d say no, but because Congress is generally so lazy and/or stupid that Obama knew that Congress would really rather not be asked or bothered with this right now and if he asked for Congressional resolutions on this the same people bashing him now for not consulting Congress would be bashing him for “dithering” (the Frank Luntz word of the month) even more.

    It will be interesting if the GOP seizes on this going forward to really try to damage to the president through real impeachment proceedings that carry some political risk but actually have a valid argument to them or they just continue on scoring cheap political points about “dithering” Obama being led by the French.

    And I also hope that some of the Libya war’s biggest cheerleaders (hi David) look in the mirror a little bit in terms of their previous calls for immediate action putting political pressure on Obama to act without applying that same pressure to Congress to pass a resolution on this manner.

    Maybe if the House GOP postponed their emergency defund NPR hearing they could have squeezed time in to hold a hearing on a resolution for Libya intervention? Just a thought.

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      I don’t think it’s fair to pin the blame on hyperpartisanship alone, HGF. First off, the president’s gotta be responsible for what he does. Second off, it’s been that way for quite a while– the Imperial Presidency is a pretty old term.

    • Bunker555

      You mean the warmongering cheerleaders beholden to to the Defense contractors.

    • _will_

      sna-ha-ha-hap! you go HISGIRL!

    • politicalfan

      “That said, I get why he did it.”

      I agree with this statement.

      Are they mad because he didn’t lead or jump in soon enough. Now they are mad because he is in. What is it? I don’t think the President would have made people happy regardless of what he did. How would Congress have approved things if he jumped in quickly? Would we still be back to square one waiting for approval?

      Then, would they say, he acted to fast and now we have to hold up approval. Sigh.

    • valkayec

      Actually, Reagan set the example with his invasion of Granada and Panama. Well, that’s not quite right. Johnson’s Vietnam came first. None of those so-called police actions had Congressional approval as I recall. The Iraqi invasion approval is a bit stickier but it can be argued as many have that Congress did not approve the invasion.

      Should Congress have been consulted? Yes, that’s the law. However, if you’re going to hang one President for acting without Congressional approval, you have an obligation to hang all the others as well. Are you ready to hang Reagan?

  • Bunker555

    Congressional authorization would have been turned down due to an unholy alliance between disparate factions within both parties, for different reasons. The Tea Bagger supported repubs would also veto, to prevent new spending.

  • Nanotek

    “It’s very strange and odd that President Obama did not seek congressional authorization before launching strikes on Libya.”

    seriously? I apologize if I missed it but where, in its advocacy pieces for Obama to take action in Libya, did FF make the point that waiting for Congressional approval was wise or needed?

  • msmilack

    wasn’t it a NATO action? Does NATO need the approval of Congress?

  • midcon

    I do wish the constitutional scholars would be a bit more analytical when they declare things to be unconstitutional. Section 8 gives Congress the power “To declare War”. There is nothing in Section 2 (the President) that prohibits the President from taking action (hostile or otherwise) using our military forces. Not every military action is a war. If you think the founders intended that every incident where a soldier discharges their weapon when ordered to do so is a war and requires an act of Congress you are wrong. The President has broad latitude both as Chief Executive and Command In Chief.

    The action in Libya could conceivably turn into a war but it certainly is not a war at this point. Additionally, Congress passed the treaty that forms the basis for NATO. Under this treaty the U.S. is authorized AND obligated to perform certain actions up to and including the use of hostilities. There are also other treaties passed by Congress, which authorizes immediate aid to other nations should they be threatened or attacked.

    I do wish folks would think, read, research, and analyze a bit before they pop up with statements that something is unconstitutional. Our action in Libya is not unconstitutional in any way shape or form. Now whether is was wise to take such an action without consulting with Congress is another question. Personally, I doubt that he had time for Congressional games and second, most of Congress was pushing him to take some action.

  • JeninCT

    Obama didn’t need congressional approval, but could’ve asked for it, however, he didn’t ask for it so that democrats seeking re-election were not put in a position of having to vote for a war.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “Not every military action is a war.”

    Give me a break. If launching 100 cruise missiles at a sovereign country — without any provocation or threats directed at us first — isn’t starting a war, what is?

    Are you saying that if Libya had launched 100 cruise missiles at us, and was flying planes around our airspace, and bombing our radar installations, that we would NOT say we were at war?

    Enough with the parsings and rationalizations.

    Candidate Obama said flatly that what President Obama just did was unconstitutional. Whether he’s right or wrong about that, he is undeniably a hypocrite.

    Of course it doesn’t matter, because America is now a nation of fools. He could simply go to Congress and ask for permission to do any damned thing he pleased, and it would be rubberstamped by both the testosterone-addled warmongers on the right and the clueless do-gooders on the left.

    • Traveler

      103 was no provocation?

      • talkradiosucks.com

        Twenty years later? After we’d already normalized relations with Qaddafi? Give me a break.

        • zephae

          TRS: This is a comment of mine from yesterday on the issue of Obama’s previous statements:

          Let’s start with your quote:

          BO: “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.”

          The question then becomes “are there any distinctions to be drawn with regards to this case in Libya.” I would argue that the UN authorization that calls on member states to enforce a NFZ saddles us, especially as a nation that voted for the resolution and the world’s foremost military power, with some of the responsibility of enforcement. Ultimately, long-term action or operations that require ground troops necessitate congressional approval. Thus, under the War Powers Resolution Obama has 60 days to wrap this up or he has to come back to Congress for authorization.

  • Tamon

    Was Reagan’s 1986 bombing of Libya an act of war? Did he get congressional approval? I don’t believe he did but correct me if I’m wrong.

  • ottovbvs

    Frum discovers his constitutional inner man? A bit late in the day perhaps since he’s spent much of the past three weeks urging US intervention. To be honest I’m not sure what the exact legal position is but isn’t there a long history of US presidents taking action of this sort without obtaining congressional approval? Reagan’s bombing of Libya back in the 80′s, his invasion of Haiti, the invasion of Lebanon, Bush senior’s invasion of Panama, are all incidents that spring to mind. I can’t remember whether congressional approval was obtained for these. Perhaps someone could remind me.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    I don’t let my kids get away with “he did it too” excuses when they do something wrong. Why should I let the president?

  • Watusie

    We went to the “shores of Tripoli” for the first time in 1790 – the First Barbary War – without Congress saying the magic words “we declare war”. And that was when Jefferson was president and Washington and virtually the entire generation who framed the constitution were still alive.

    I’m with midcon on this – people who are screaming “unconstitutional” have no leg to stand on. Not liking something does not make it unconstitutional.

  • franco 2

    Hahahahahaha! What utter fools and hypocrites defending Obama. You folks are hilarious!

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “We went to the “shores of Tripoli” for the first time in 1790 – the First Barbary War – without Congress saying the magic words “we declare war”.”

    They declared war on us, and Congress specifically passed an act to authorize the use of force taken.

    Neither event happened this week.

  • ram6968

    congress has not declared war since WWII…..even korea wasn’t a “war”, it was a NATO action like libya..

  • Rob_654

    So you criticized Obama for not acting fast enough and now you are asking why Obama bypassed Congress?

    Given that anything in front of Congress would have taken even more time – no doubt if he had gone to Congress the article today would be asking why did Obama go to Congress as it is just taking more time…

    Can you clarify your position if you wanted the US to go in quickly?

    Or if you wanted Obama to spend time dithering with Congress and then get a “Mother May I” resolution passed?

  • Paleocon

    Bypassing the argument of whether this action is constitutional or not, as a practical matter the President should have gone to Congress. As it is, this is Obama’s war and Obama’s only. In bypassing Congress he gives every other elected official the freedom to criticize everything we do in Libya. He also should have sold the American people on this action…the polls I see are that only 50% of Americans support the President on this. A democracy cannot successfully prosecute a foreign war without the overwhelming support of it’s people. If this thing drags on for any amount of time then the advantage goes the Qaddafi side as they can dig in knowing the voters aren’t supporting our actions. Going to Congress would have made the supporters ‘own’ our policy and be forced to support it. With Obama going alone even the ‘birthers’ of this war (John McCain and Joe Lieberman) are already criticizing our actions in Libya. Oh yeah, the Arab League is already dis-owning this as well. President Obama you chose to go this one alone and now Libya is your albatross. Enjoy!

  • armstp

    Actually, Congress was not bypassed at all. On Friday congressional leaders were brought in for a full presentation and review of the potential Libyan operations.

    Now whether you think Congress should have had to vote on this then that is a different matter. For this limited U.N. approved military operation, I do not think Congress needed to vote on this. Did Congress vote on Kosovo? Did Congress vote on the Iraq no-fly zone?

  • Frumplestiltskin

    as Watusie said: I’m with midcon on this – people who are screaming “unconstitutional” have no leg to stand on. Not liking something does not make it unconstitutional.

    We never declared war on North Korea, and yet technically a state of war still exists since we have only a ceasefire. If Kim Jung Il were to invade the south we would respond and be in a far greater war than this one.

    And the problems today is sometimes we have no one to declare war on. In Afghanistan we did not declare war on the Taliban because we did not view them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, we viewed the Northern Alliance as the official government. We can not declare war on Libya because we do not view Gadhafi as the legitimate leader of the country. Even Gadhafi himself claims he is not the official leader in his propaganda that he is only a guiding light. And if we were, like France, to officially recognize the Benghazi government then truly who would we be declaring war on?

    And the notion of declaring war on a single person seems crazy.

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  • chlai88

    Previous presidents have also not sought Congressional approval either. Even worse, those adventures usually don’t have the political cover that’s provided by the UN or any other regional body. But that’s the problem. So what if Congress legalize the action just like in Iraq. It still won’t stop an impending disaster from happening in Iraq bcos the wheels r set in motion by the neocons who wants to dictate the outcome & duping our essentially clueless Congress abt false WMD evidence. Then when there’s no WMD, the invasion spin quickly turns into a humanitarian mission to take out Saddam, spread democracy & stop terrorism. Ask any Iraqi today abt the legacy we’ve left in their country & our dead & injured. The real lessons of Iraq? It would be another disaster again if we let our unilateral frog-in-the-well colored views of the world dictate our foreign actions. The UN can work for us if we are serious abt it instead of dismissing it as another useless, quarrelsome organization blocking our imperialism.

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