First, President Obama seems perfectly content to break the law by failing to seek Congressional approval for any combat mission lasting longer than 60 days, as required by the War Powers Resolution of 1973:
That deadline fell Friday, but in absence of pressure from Congress, White House officials say they think they’re on solid ground continuing U.S. involvement in the mission, now led by NATO, without formal congressional sign-off — as long as consultations with Congress continue.
To be clear, that’s not what the U.S. Code, of which the War Powers Resolution is a part, says is required for military action to continue. At all. The law reads:
Within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted pursuant to section 1543 (a)(1) of this title, whichever is earlier, the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress
- has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces,
- has extended by law such sixty-day period, or
- is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. Such sixty-day period shall be extended for not more than an additional thirty days if the President determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.
There’s simply no room in the law for being “on solid ground” as long as you are engaged in “consultations with Congress.” The War Powers Resolution, despite some controversy over its constitutionality, has never been challenged in court, and thus remains the law of the land. President Obama is not now challenging the law in court. He’s simply ignoring it, on the (apparently correct) assumption that no one in Congress will call him on it.
I was always annoyed by my fellow anti-war liberals who, during the Bush Administration, would start screaming about “war crimes!” and “illegal war!” I felt it made the peaceful left look kind of childish, and I don’t want to get into that. Every president breaks the law or beats up on the Constitution at some point. It happens. I’m just pointing out that… it’s happening.
(This is true, by the way, no matter how strong his approval rating among self-identified liberals.)
Second, both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Matt Yglesias are utterly unsurprised that the Libyan rebels we’ve been supporting have been making their political enemies disappear. Coates gets to the heart of things:
The point is that having a boot on your neck, while deeply tragic, is not an ennobling experience.
Indeed. And given how fast we jumped into bed with the Libyan rebels, without knowing who they were or even critically examining their overblown warnings of an impending massacre, what, really, can we expect?
Finally, Robert Gates, a Secretary of Defense I admire for his willingness to at least question received dogma about defense spending, has been giving speeches challenging Americans to carefully consider what kind of missions they’re willing to spend money on:
His message to the assembled neocons was this: Like it or not, the defense budget is going to be cut over the next 10 years; he’s already weeded out the particularly wasteful or redundant weapons systems and bureaucratic structures; so we’re going to have to slice into “force structure”—Army divisions, Marine expeditionary units, Air Force wings, Navy ships—the meat and muscle of U.S. fighting power.
Rather than take the easy way out and “salami slice” a certain percentage of all costs off the top, a technique sure to leave a “hollowed-out” force (plenty of troops and weapons but too little money for operations, maintenance, or training), Gates said the Congress, the president, and the American people must make conscious choices of what military missions to forgo and what level of risk to accept.
These are useful things for the SecDef to be saying ten years after post-9/11 paranoia opened the floodgates to any and all defense and security spending. I suppose some part of me still wishes we could have this discussion on a higher plane, asking when it’s appropriate to send soldiers to go and kill on our behalf, and then vigorously safeguarding the parameters of the use of military force through both statute and political pressure. But I suppose that was too much to expect, and in any event I’m glad to see that budget considerations, if nothing else, may get us to seriously reconsider our penchant for radical foreign interventions.
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