Like night follows day, liberals oppose wars started by Republicans and shrug their shoulders at those started by Democrats. Indeed, even when those wars–both Iraq and Afghanistan–were supported by congressional resolutions and UN mandates, there was much talk over the last decade of “illegal wars” and the evils of unilateralism. All that talk evaporated when President Hope and Change assumed the helm.
The Libyan campaign manifests a certain amount of multilateralism (indeed, France is there, which is apparently the sine qua non of all multilateralism) but there is no authorization at all from a congressional resolution. Under the War Powers Act, which was instituted post-Vietnam and post-Nixon, American military action of more than 60 days requires consultation with Congress and formal congressional support. Indeed, this statute itself quite a bow to executive power, as the Constitution does not seem to contemplate any unilateral, executive military action other than in the case of repelling national invasions. Congress must declare wars. And, a fortiori must authorize warlike military action in general. Here it has partially delegated that power, but retained its essential role in the process.
Obama is thwarting that role and usurping the powers of war and peace solely to himself. This is, quite frankly, the traditional mark of a tyrant. It should have all Americans from every background and political persuasion concerned.
Here we have an action far overseas, that has been subject to minimal explanation to the American people and is based on a very dubious rationale of stopping so-far-nonexistent-masacres, and not a single American legislator has voted in favor it. The deadline for such authorization has come and gone, and Obama has announced quite lawlessly in my view that he does not have to and does not intend to seek any congressional support for the Libyan campaign.
Ideological and cowardly as our political leaders are, we’ve seen little institutional concern over Congress’s rights here. Their one trump card now would be to defund the campaign. But there seems little support for that. If this war is indeed popular, shouldn’t the Congress at least vote to authorize it, if only to preserve its own institutional power? One would think the Congress would ant to shore up its ability to prevent a future unilateral war. And this war, unlike Iraq, is truly unilateral insofar as it emanates from and is sustained by the will of one man alone, the President, without any checks and balances to speak of! That he has teamed up with other regimes, some democratic and others less so, is immaterial.
We are witnessing one of the chief evils of a Republican-Party dominated national legislature: they rarely see a war or military action they’re willing to oppose, which passivity they imagine to be the height of patriotism. In spite of this imagined seriousness, some completely idiotic wars have come and gone this way (such as Kosovo), and, from a purely self-interested standpoint, it should be noted that Democrats do not return the favor even after they’ve voted in favor of military action, e.g., the ridiculousness that is John Kerry. While the President deserves some deference on foreign policy, particularly in the age of al Qaeda, that deference can be taken too far. When the President has no congressional authorization whatsoever and violates a statute to commit a war, that is the time for nonideological action based on the institutional concerns of the legislative branch itself.
The President, like all presidents, quite naturally and predictably changed his tune and supported Bush-era institutions such as the GITMO detainment and related executive rights over foreign policy. This is what powerful men do; they are jealous over their power and their prerogatives. But Congress, contrary perhaps to the expectations of the Founders, has proven to be a bit of a pushover, particularly on matters of war and peace. Why is this? Well, the less they do, the less responsibility they have, and thus the less blame they must endure for failure. This seems to be part of the problem. In addition, the rise of ideological politics, where ideologically motivated political parties seek certain ends without regard to which branch may implement them seems to have been an unexpected development of the last 100 years or so. The Founders imagine a politician to be a proud man, naturally avaricious of power, and therefore unlikely for ideological or other goals to give up that power. The founders, nearly all lawyers, imagined the genius of the advocacy system writ large, whereby faction would balance faction and each branch of government would be on guard against the others. What they did not contemplate is that ideology and the politics of party would castrate men, rendering them obedient and humble before the President elected by a national plebiscite. The disaster of Vietnam shook Congress from its stupor. Let us hope nothing quite so bad is required to get the Congress to check the ambitions of Obama.