Did Obama Violate The War Powers Act In Libya?
In addition to the underlying wisdom of American involvement in Libya, some critics are questioning whether President Obama exceeded his authority under the War Powers Act.
The War Powers Act of 1973 requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of taking military action and requiring congressional approval within 60 days if hostilities are continuing. On this score Obama is on solid ground. The president issued the formal notice on March 21 and the deadline for Congressional ratification is still many weeks away.
But the president is only permitted to launch an unsanctioned attack in case of a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. The Libyan no-fly zone meets none of these criteria and is a clear violation of the letter of the law.
But does it also violate the spirit? The War Powers Act was clearly intended to create a temporary “ticking time bomb” exception to the constitutional role of Congress in declaring war. And the UN sanctioned intervention was launched as the pro-Qadaffi forces were approaching the gates of Benghazi. No one on either side of the debate seriously disputes that a bloodbath was imminent.
It is true that a bloodbath in Benghazi is not a literal attack on the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. The prevention of such an unfortunate event was a humanitarian mission. Can this be seen as a reasonable extension of our national interest, something justified as being in the spirit of the conditions enumerated in the War Powers Act? Is there an implied “humanitarian exception”?
It’s an interesting question. I would say yes but your mileage may vary. I think it is very unlikely that a Senate impeachment trial would convict the president over this. As evidence, I cite the lack of traction of any calls for impeachment even in the fever swamp of this particular Congress. Thus, a precedent for future presidents may have already been established.
President Obama would be well served to seek congressional approval now for continued participation rather than waiting for the statutory 60 day limit. For one thing, the no-fly zone seems to be transforming itself into a mission to provide close air support for the rebels as they advance westward. The nature of the engagement is changing and the ticking time bomb has been defused. It is now a regular old political time bomb.