The Birth Of Richard M. Obama
One of the major events of US military policy in the last part of the 20th century was the passage of the War Powers Act of 1973. In brief the act requires that if a President is going to commit US forces that he must obtain the consent of Congress.
This would seem to have been an unnecessary action since the Constitution clearly grants the power to wage war to the President, but that same document grants the power to *make* war to the Congress. Over the years that line had blurred in places like Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Middle East so the Congress decided to reassert their authority.
In brief, the law requires that the President notify Congress of actions within 48 hours and that forces can only remain in combat for 60 days plus a 30 day withdrawal period unless the President goes to Congress for specific authority and/or a declaration of War.
Over the years there has been debate as to the Constitutional validity of the act, though so far no court challenge has succeeded in having the act declared invalid and it seems to me as long as the law is in effect that it should be obeyed and enforced.
One of the underlying assumptions of the Act is that those actions reported to Congress within 48 hours are ones that require immediate action, and thus it would not be possible for the President to go to Congress ahead of time. Certainly given the rapid pace of the modern world this is a reasonable premise.
We certainly would not expect a President to learn that someone has attacked us to then go to Congress to debate the issue while US forces were at risk.
On the other hand it is also possible for the situation to evolve gradually, or at least for the policy related to that situation to evolve over time. One example of this would have been the war in Bosnia during the Clinton administration, where the policy of intervention evolved and developed over time. In that case the President did not go to Congress to seek formal authority to act.
But that has not always been the case. During the George HW Bush adminstration the policy of intervention in Iraq and Kuwait developed over time, and the President went to Congress to seek specific authority to carry out the mission (somewhat ironically the actual military portion of the program was within the 60-90 day limit).
A decade later President George W. Bush went to Congress twice, once with regard to the war in Afghanistan and a second time with regard to the war in Iraq. In each case the debate was spirited and the final votes were close, but in both cases he got a majority vote in his favor.
As I now look at President Obama and his policy in Libya I cannot help but note he did not make any real effort to go to Congress to obtain authority to act. The events here have moved somewhat more quickly than they did in Iraq or Afghanistan but at the same time there has been time for him to get some vote in the Congress (or at least to make an effort to obtain the same).
In addition his reporting to Congress has seemed almost an afterthought, a letter sent while the President is in South America. Certainly I understand that these trips are planned ahead of time but you would think he could at least show a little more desire to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law and the Constitution.
We shall see how things develop in Libya and how the President and the Congress respond, but at the moment he seems to be failing in his duty.