Now that the mission in Libya is creeping away from humanitarian protection and toward arming an insurgency, this might be a good time for Congress to get involved. I know it’s quaint, but they do have war powers, last time I checked my Constitution. Bob Gates succeeded in getting a delay in any war powers resolution on Libya by Senate Democrats until after a briefing today with him and Hillary Clinton. But after that, Harry Reid said, “if in fact you want to do more legislatively, you’re entitled to do it…. The War Powers Act we believe is valid, is very clear, setting forth timelines.” It’s also clear that the President can only invoke force prior to a war powers resolution in the presence of an imminent threat, which Gates admitted was not the case in Libya.
In the House, where the White House doesn’t have the same kind of sway, Republicans are already introducing a bill to defund the Libyan operation, going further than a war powers resolution. Rep. Tim Johnson is the lead sponsor of the RECLAIM Act.
A week ago President Obama, without Congressional approval, committed our armed forces to an international conflict in the nation of Libya. Today Congressman Amash (R-Mich) and Rep. Johnson are introducing the RECLAIM Act to reclaim the authority to declare war that is so clearly proscribed in Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution; we urge all members to join our effort. Under the guise of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, President Obama claimed the United States must intervene to “prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya.” While those aims are laudable, we cannot intervene everywhere we find injustice. Constitutionally, it is indisputable that Congress must be consulted prior to an act of war unless there is an imminent threat against this country. The President has not done so. Approval from the Arab League, the EU, and United Nations does not mean the American people approve.
The RECLAIM Act does two simple things: ceases the use of force in, or directed at, the country of Libya by our Armed forces and halts all use of funds used in the force against the country of Libya. This bill DOES NOT allow an open-ended conflict. It DOES NOT leave us vulnerable to a “Tonkin Gulf”, “Nueces Strip” or a “Black Hawk Down” situation, meaning, it does not leave the United States armed forces in a vulnerable situation to be attacked, thus forcing our hand to retaliate. We’ve already come too close, with one plane having crash-landed—what if those pilots ended up in enemy hands?
Setting aside some of this, what I don’t think anyone on either side of this dispute can disagree with is that Congress needs to be more than “consulted” about Libya, under the Constitution. War powers have been improperly located in the executive branch for too long now, and the precedent of joining UN military operations without Congressional assent is very dangerous. To the humanitarian interventionists, I would ask them how they would be comfortable with this power in the hands of a President Bachmann.
Congress in the past has been loath to assert its role in military operations, and maybe that will continue. But it’s worth forcing the issue. If Congress, which is more accountable to the public, wants to go to war, that’s their prerogative. But the laws of the nation demand that they have a voice.