For the past three months, the United States has been engaged in a war in Libya, and during that time Congress has remained largely in the dark and on the sidelines about central questions in the conflict, all while U.S. forces remain committed without congressional authorization. Yesterday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) sent a letter to President Barack Obama warning that the commander in chief may be in violation of the law if he refuses to ask Congress for that authorization.
In his letter, Boehner noted that the President is just days away from violating the War Powers Resolution, which maintains that, without congressional authorization, the President can deploy U.S. military forces for 90 days. In his letter, Boehner demanded that Obama provide legal justification for the operation in Libya by Friday. Though the War Powers Resolution is problematic, Congress is right to be angry and has an obligation to speak up on Libya.
In response to Boehner's letter, a National Security Council spokesman said, "We are in the final stages of preparing extensive information for the House and Senate that will address a whole host of issues about our ongoing efforts in Libya." But it's a message Congress has heard before, and it's not the first time in this near 90-day-old conflict that the Obama Administration has left questions about the U.S. mission in Libya unanswered.
Nine days after Operation Odyssey Dawn began, President Obama addressed the American people from the National Defense University to lay out his justification for the United States' involvement in Libya's civil war. And though, as Heritage's James Carafano explained, "the President described the brutality of the [Muammar] Qadhafi regime, the United States’ interests in the conflict, the limited nature of U.S. military involvement, and the role the 'international community' would undertake in finishing the job in Libya and rebuilding the country," the question "What comes next?" still remained. And while the bombs drop in Tripoli, Qadhafi hunkers down, and questions about NATO's capabilities grow, the U.S. mission has continued without congressional authorization.
It is that refusal to consult Congress that has driven the House of Representatives to take action. Ten days ago, the House voted 268-145 to demand that President Obama give more detail on U.S. policy goals in Libya. And today, those details still have not arrived. Representative Buck McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee explains Congress' frustration:
If our fighting forces are sent into combat, Congress’ voice must be heard. Despite the fact that the White House failed to seek congressional authorization for Operation Odyssey Dawn, U.S. armed forces are continuing their participation in the NATO-led operation. It is my hope that the Obama Administration understands that this minimizes Congress’ constitutional role in matters of war and takes appropriate corrective actions.
Congress' complaints—and its calls for answers from the White House—are justifiable. Carafano writes:
President Obama failed to consult Congress in an appropriately deliberate manner. The President has ill-served Congress, and there is no reason Congress should stand for it. As it responds, Congress should be mindful of its obligations: to uphold the Constitution, act in America’s interests, and not unduly put the lives of American allies at risk.
USA Today reports that the White House is expected to meet Boehner's deadline, but longstanding questions that have clouded the conflict from the start will still need answers. Tomorrow, The Heritage Foundation will host an event, "U.S. Engagement in Libya: The Way Forward," which will discuss how the Administration should proceed in Libya and what Congress' role should be in developing a sensible strategy for peace and transition.
After President Obama launched operations in Libya, he promised that the engagement would last "days, not weeks." Months later, the war rages on and an easy toppling of Qadhafi's regime has not been achieved. Though gains against Qadhafi's forces have been made, Libyan rebels are unlikely to achieve victory any time soon, risking more civilian deaths amid a stalemated war. What is needed now is a clear path forward and appropriate congressional involvement that respects the Constitution and America's commitment to its allies to achieve U.S. objectives in Libya.