war powers, ct'd


I'd argue that the years since Kosovo have shown a desperate need for the Congress to regain control over the vital issue of war and peace. The Founders put it there for a reason. And yet we have turned the president into an emperor who can launch wars at a moment's notice and face little Congressional bowback.

And this is not an abstract question any more. Obama is now engaged in two illegal wars - in Libya and in Yemen.

There was no Congressional debate or vote on these wars - and one is being waged by the CIA with unmanned drones. I think we have learned a little about what happens when you give the CIA carte blanche to run a war with no accountability except to a president who has a vested interest in covering up errors.

And Boehner is correct that Obama owes us an explanation of his views on the power of the presidency. Can he declare war at will? Are these wars not-wars under his definition? What then qualifies as a war for Obama?

I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that many supported Obama to end wars - not to extend one, try not to quit another too quickly, and add two more for good measure. And Obama is a sophisticated and learned Constitutionalist. He must have thought about this question. What is his answer?

The administration has answered this, after a fashion, at least in the case of Libya. Short version: congressional approval is unnecessary because the US role is "limited" and the operation is under NATO command. This seems like pretty weak tea to me. I'm no expert on the War Powers Resolution, but I don't think that there is anything in it that makes the requirement to consult congress contingent on the particular command structure or scope of the operation.

The use of drones in Yemen is also troubling, if only because there may very well be no precedent or applicable statute governing the deployment of an entirely unmanned force. If so, this needs rectification sooner rather than later. The placement of American troops into harm's way is certainly the main reason war should approached judiciously and with checks on executive power, but it is not the only reason.


Gino said...

"And Obama is a sophisticated and learned Constitutionalist. He must have thought about this question."

i have only seen evidnce that he is not; and has not thought much about anything.

i bet sarah palin has a better understanding of basic constitutional principles than obama, and she's probably thought about them, too.

Brian said...

I think "Constitutionalist" was a poor word choice on Sully's part. I would read that as "one whose philosophy of governing relies heavily on adherence to the Constitution" in which case I would agree there is little evidence that this would accurately apply to Obama (or really, many presidents since...I don't know, Adams?)

I think he meant "constitutional scholar" which would be (objectively) correct in Obama's case. (If you get paid to teach constitutional law, you are a constitutional scholar.) And of course, one could be quite the expert on the constitution without being a "constitutionalist", much like one can be both a biblical scholar and an atheist.

I think Sully's larger point stands, though: Obama is certainly aware of what the Constitution has to say about the power to wage war, and its limitations on the president to do so without consulting the legislature. He therefore should be able to articulate a reason why he doesn't think those limitations apply to him, or to the particular case of Libya.

Gino said...

i took sully to mean as you have: he's supposed to know the constitution.

as i said: i havent seen it.

this obama dude really is a talented talker, and seems to know the right things to say to those that want to hear them. but that is not knowledge or understanding.

as for the war thing: i dont think he's really thought about it much because i dont think he is able, so now he needs to get something cobbled together that sounds like it might fly with just enough people to avoid having to mea culpa.