Monday, June 20, 2011

The Unitary President: Version 2.0

George W. Bush didn't really have much use for Congress. Under his White House's theory of governance, the executive branch held all the meaningful cards. Congress was just there to rubber stamp his decisions, which, of course, it mostly did.

Barack Obama, who campaigned against such arrogance, has changed his thinking on the issue after getting a taste of the power he now holds under the theory of the Unitary President. Like his predecessor, he's discovered that all he needs is a convenient legal opinion from one of his many staff lawyers and he can do as he pleases.

That became quite clear over the past few weeks with respect to our share of the action to roust the current leader of Libya. He did not seek authorization from Congress to join in the fight, nor, after the 90 days mandated by the War Powers Act of 1973, does he intend to. He made that clear on Saturday.

Needless to say, Congress is not amused.

From the Washington Post:

Unhappiness in Congress was magnified Saturday by a report that Obama ignored some of his legal counselors when he decided last week that the Libya campaign should not be counted as “hostilities.”

That decision allowed him to bypass the 1973 War Powers Resolution, a law that requires presidents to report to Congress on any ongoing military conflict within a limited period of time. After receiving the report, Congress then has to decide whether to authorize the action taken.

Now, there are no US troops officially on the ground there (if you don't count CIA operatives), but there sure are a lot of bombs being dropped by NATO forces. That doesn't seem to matter. Here's the specious argument offered by the White House:

“U.S. military operations [in Libya] are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by” the War Powers Resolution, a White House report said.

The logic was that U.S. forces are mainly limited to supply, logistics and intelligence missions — although American drones continue to attack Libyan targets.
[Emphasis added]

I guess what the president is saying is that if there are no pilots in the cockpit, those bombs aren't being dropped with any hostile intent.

That makes about as much sense as using the AUMF to invade Afghanistan as a shield for invading Iraq. And the attitude of both presidents appears to me to be identical.

So what can Congress do about it besides kvetch? About the only meaningful thing would be to cut off all funding for those non-hostile US forces engaged in the Libyan battle and hope to do that with a veto-proof majority in both houses. I don't think that's in the cards. There are too many people who enjoy making things explode in other countries currently seated in those august bodies.

All that remains is a sternly worded letter, and we know how that will be greeted.

Some change, eh?

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Anonymous Jamie said...

hmm, I'm still thinking with President McCain would be fighting in Russia by now. Not the change I hoped for but still better than the only alternative presented at the time.

1:41 PM  

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