Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

The War Powers Act….again

The unresolved debate surrounding the War Powers Act – which surfaces on each occasion the United States Military is involved in a conflict – reared its persistent head again this week with respect to the U. S. involvement in NATO’s mission in Libya.  The law was passed in 1973 after the U. S. fought the Korean and Vietnam wars without actual war declarations.  From the outset, the law has been controversial with every president from both parties arguing that it is unconstitutional and an unnecessary infringement upon the president’s authority as Commander-in-Chief. 

I understand that it is not prudent for a president of the United States to be constrained by Congress during a potential national crisis.  I further recognize that a military conflict shouldn’t be micromanaged by 535 Members of Congress.  Having said that, the president is only required to seek the approval of Congress after 60 to 90 days following commencement of the conflict.  It is not as if the president has to approach the legislative branch during the immediate stages of a crisis.  If our democracy is based on the notion that Members of Congress represent the people, shouldn’t the people be consulted on a matter of national urgency such as war?  In my view, the answer is a resounding yes.

The debate this week has centered around Speaker of the House John Boehner’s letter to President Obama chastising him for not approaching Congress to authorize the use of force in Libya.  Unfortunately, it is hard for me to take the Speaker seriously considering Politico has reported that Speaker Boehner voted in 1995 to repeal the War Powers Act.  Further, in 1999 during the debate regarding Kosovo, Speaker Boehner labeled the act “constitutionally suspect” and worried that it could tie “the hands of future presidents.” 

In response to Speaker Boehner’s letter, President Obama has argued that the hostilities in Libya have not risen to the level of hostilities covered by the War Powers Act.  That muddled, non-sensical response is like saying that a fist fight between two people which doesn’t result in broken bones does not rise to the level of actual fighting.  President Obama could have preempted the issue and acted like the transparent, law-abiding president I expected him to be by simply going to Congress and, almost certainly, getting the resolution.

What is more interesting to me, however, is the fact that this debate has further illuminated the cameleon-like ability of our political leaders to change stripes depending upon who has power.  While I recognize that the Republicans have made it their purpose in life to disagree with every proposal that President Obama offers, how can the Republican Party act as if it is appalled by the humanitarian intervention in Libya after they brought us the great Iraq debacle in virtually complete unanimity?  In the Republican debate Monday night, Mitt Romney submitted that President Obama should withdraw troops from Afghanistan “as soon as we possibly can.”  When did Mitt Romney and many of his Republican friends become doves after years of hawkishness?  How did Republican foreign policy go from being stridently interventionist to almost uniformly isolationist virtually overnight?  The answer: when a Democratic president was elected and became responsible for the execution of these wars.

The Democrats, unfortunately, are just as complicit.  Why were most Democrats completely on board with President Obama when he chose to expand and strengthen our presence in Afghanistan and get involved in Libya?  Would these same Democrats have been as supportive of President Bush under the same circumstances? 

That’s why I was heartened this week by Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, and Walter Jones, a Republican from my home state of North Carolina, as they teamed up to sue the Obama Administration for not seeking authorization from Congress to intervene in Libya under the War Powers Act.  To their credit, Kucinich and Jones have remained absolutely consistent in arguing vehemently and adamantly against American intervention in both Iraq and Libya irrespective of party politics.  Apparently, there are still a few national leaders who do not change their positions and principles as the winds of political change blow.  And that is certainly a breath of fresh air.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Libya, Obama, Politics, War Powers Act | , , , | Leave a comment