Is Obama's Libyan Attack Legal or Not?
Obama's being hassled because he's dropping bombs and bullets on Libyan targets without Congressional permission, a clear violation of the War Powers Resolution per some Republicans and Democrats. Some estimates say that a year of it will cost $160 B. Obama says it's within his powers because, though he can't declare war, this isn't war; it's a "kinetic military action," whatever that means.
He goes on to say that ground troops aren't exchanging fire, which adds to the non-warishness. But Libyans bombed or rocketed to death from the sky are still dead. It's not clear that the dead Libyans would appreciate the neat distinction. The Libyans themselves are pretty clearly having a civil war; Obama is killing more of the folks on one side than he is those on the other, though he hasn't discriminated entirely. Apparently, it can be hard to tell which side he's shooting at from the air. That they are having a war seems to be clear to the Libyans even if it isn't clear to Obama.
Many would say that blowing up and killing via your military is making war and that's the end of it. However, sending the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines against North Koreans plus 2 million Chinese troops wasn't a war; it was a "police action." And all those folks killed, wounded, and tortured by the North Vietnamese weren't war heroes since they weren't in a war, either. Obviously, this whole thing can be confusing.
Shakespeare said: "A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet." He doesn't seem to be much help, but then he wasn't talking politics at the time. Not exactly. So, let's go to the sources: The Constitution says the President commands the armed forces and Congress declares war. Simple, and pretty clear. The Prez does the job but he doesn't issue the contract. Congress said in the 1973 War Powers Resolution that the Prez could act in emergencies when the U.S. was attacked; he didn't have to wait for Congressional permission to defend the country. Some say Congress lacked authority to pass the Resolution; it amounts to a backdoor Constitutional amendment, so it's moot. For us now, that's irrelevant; the Resolution provides a president 60 days from his use of hostilities to get Congress on board but more than that has passed for Libya and Libya hadn't attacked the U.S. anyway. The Resolution also provides an added 30 days to get things stopped when Congress won't sign on. That seems irrelevant too; Obama's made it pretty clear he intends to continue. And anyway, that doesn't include his time to get permission.
Lately, some House members have spoken of cutting off Obama's funding for Libya. That's interesting; the Prez has been using generic Pentagon funds, diverting the money to his Libyan activities since there has been no official Libyan program to fund things done there. (A bit like Congress has done for years with Social Security receipts.) If Congress cuts off money spent on Libya, it will in fact be cutting the amount it has approved for the military.
Libya hasn't attacked the U.S. that I've heard, so that's no help there. What Truman got away with in Korea and Johnson in Vietnam are history, not law; they don't help either. The bottom line appears to be that Obama has used his authority as Commander in Chief to intervene in another country's civil war by using the U.S. military to attack that country's property and people. Where I come from, that's making war. He can call it "kinetic military action" or he can call it making love if he wants to, but that doesn't resurrect any dead Libyans.
Sadly, it could all easily be a waste of lives and treasure since the intervention is so half-hearted; so far it is not only likely illegal but worse, incompetent. It has made dead Libyans without changing the results on the ground.
The most important part of this is what is says about our leading politicians. Congressfolk no less than presidents are sworn to uphold the Constitution. Republicans and Democrats in charge are so far, posturing; giving the Constitution lip service just as much as their President is doing. The inescapable conclusion: the Constitution doesn't matter to them. If they are returned to Congress in the next election, it will be equally inescapable that the Constitution doesn't matter to the voters anymore, either. What then?