Former US Congressman and author Paul Findley finds fault with Barack Obama’s decision to attack Libya
The acts of war ordered by President Barack Obama against the government of Libya violated provisions of the US Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973. He also exceeded his authority by pledging US combat support to the United Nations Security Council and to NATO for military measures against Libya.
Congress is complicit in these violations, because it failed to demand presidential compliance with the constitution and public law, and it neglected its own explicit constitutional duty in the exercise of war powers.
The War Powers Resolution was enacted in the wake of the Vietnam ordeal by Members of Congress, myself included, who considered that war, unauthorised by Congress, was a gross abuse of constitutional war powers. Our goal was to prevent future unauthorised presidential wars. I myself joined other Members of Congress in overriding President Richard Nixon’s veto; and during my remaining years on Capitol Hill maintained close vigilance on presidential compliance. Presidents Ford and Carter were both compliant; as were President Bush and Clinton. However in recent years I find no sign of vigilance or compliance. It is a sad, dangerous state of affairs. Mandated presidential reports are a major feature of the resolution. In the absence of a war declaration, a written presidential report must be delivered to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate within 24 hours of each order that moves substantial US military forces into hostile areas. It must list reasons for the decision, military forces to be committed and the expected duration of the war measures.
It cites a constitutional way for Congress to overturn any such presidential decision. Any Member of Congress can challenge the president’s decision by introducing a bill called a concurrent resolution of disapproval. If approved by both House and Senate, it requires the president to rescind his war decision. The War Powers Resolution even authorises expedited parliamentary procedures when a disapproval resolution is introduced in either chamber of Congress.
These provisions were intended to bring Congress closer to the president a he ponders war-making decisions, a role clearly intended by the authors of the US Constitution.
The resolution limits the time for delivery of presidential reports to 24 hours, in the hope that the quick deadline will cause the president to pay closer attention to the reaction of Congress. We believed it could be an important, timely restraint on a president whose decision at any time should be reflective and wise. It would also be a strong reminder that Congress has the power to overturn the president’s decision quickly by enacting a concurrent resolution of disapproval.
In attacking Libya, President Obama acted as if the War Powers Resolution did not exist. Instead of sending a written report to congressional leaders within 24 hours, as required by law, he did not write until five days after the assault began. The five-day lapse was a violation of law and it was also delivered in blinding speed. In recent years, reports mandated by the War Powers Resolution for delivery within 24 hours of presidential decisions, are usually bundled and delivered semi-annually. Yes, semi-annually.
Obama had ample time to consult with congressional leaders during the weeks preceding the assault on Libya, which meant consultations would have been legally mandated by the War Powers Resolution. None occurred however.
From the start, Obama proceeded in a cavalier, almost casual manner. In announcing war measures in Libya, he mentioned neither Congress nor the US constitution.
He did not even return to the Oval Office from a visit to South America to make the announcement. He acted as if war-making is a routine privilege that a president may undertake if he so wishes, like shaving, adjusting his necktie, or putting on his swimming trunks, without even a wink or nod towards the people’s branch of government. Obama violated important requirements set forth in the War Powers Resolution, but Congress did nothing to prompt presidential compliance or protest his violations. To this day, Congress has not authorised acts of war in Libya.
We must face a sombre fact: the War Powers Resolution will work only if Congress is vigilant and demands full compliance by the president. Today’s Members of Congress, like those in the recent past, unwisely see decisions on war as prickly nettles they are content to leave to the president. They need to be reminded that war is the worst burden government can place on citizens.
It becomes a heavier burden with the emergence of massive new high-tech war instruments, each of which magnifies, rather than reduces, the necessity of congressional restraint on presidential warmaking. No citizen, not even the president, should have the authority to initiate war measures.
Obama’s abuse of war powers stands the Constitution on its head. He should be ashamed, and so should our complacent US Congress for letting it happen.