Congress has a positive role to play when a U.S. president is using the nation’s military might abroad in actions that are critical but don’t rise to the constitutional level of a war declaration.
In the past two weeks, the House showed the good and the bad of the situation during its debates and votes focused on President Obama’s March 19 decision to use U.S. forces in support of the United Nations’ military actions against Moammar Gaddafi’s regime.
Meanwhile, senators have done little but talk after taking the lead on March 1 by passing a unanimous resolution supporting the idea of U.N. involvement “to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory.”
Seven weeks later, Gaddafi remains and the air war continues. The U.S. military’s role has been reduced from leading the attacks against ground targets to providing support through intelligence, air refueling, surveillance and search-and-rescue capabilities.
Primarily because success has been slower than expected, individual lawmakers, at both ends of the activist/pacifist spectrum, have criticized the president. Those who supported early intervention have complained about the United States’ withdrawal of its ground attack aircraft and helicopters from the battle. In response, the U.S. government agreed to deploy Predator unmanned air vehicles to the Libyan theater, temporarily quieting those critics.
At the other end, those in the House who initially opposed joining in the no-fly zone now want withdrawal of U.S. forces within 15 days. With continued participation, Obama has violated the War Powers Resolution, they argue. A House-Senate concurrent resolution encompassing that approach, introduced by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) with bipartisan support, was defeated Friday in a vote of 148 to 265.
A resolution, with no enforcement attached, did pass the House last week. It showed the good and the bad of Congress. Introduced by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), it was a mix of partisan politics and support for congressional authority. It may have even helped the White House. Without it, Kucinich’s resolution may have had a better chance.
Boehner’s resolution included criticism of Obama for not providing Congress “with a compelling rationale based upon U.S. national security interests.” It directs the secretaries of state and defense and the attorney general to provide within 14 days all documents created after Feb. 15 that relate to consultations with Congress about the Libyan intervention and the War Powers Resolution — a request that inevitably will raise questions of executive privilege.
It also carries a list of 21 items — for which it reports within the same 14 days — that range from “specific commitments made . . . to ongoing NATO activities regarding NATO,” to “justification for not seeking authorization by Congress for the use of military force in Libya,” to “the composition and political agenda” of the interim Libyan liberation council.