If Obama's Bombing of Libya Was Legal, His Bombing of Syria Would Be Too

Conn Carroll

8/26/2014 12:30:00 PM - Conn Carroll

President Obama has already ordered reconnaissance flights over Syria and is currently deliberating whether or not to authorize military strikes on Islamic State bases in that country. But whatever Obama decides to do, do not expect him to wait for a vote in Congress authorizing his actions.

In 2013, as HotAir Noah Rothman notes, Obama promised he would seek a vote in Congress before bombing the Assad regime in Syria. But now, Rothman also notes, the White House is claiming they have no need to seek congressional approval before such a campaign. 

Asked to explain the discrepancy yesterday, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest claimed bombing Syria in 2014 "was a different situation" than bombing Syria in 2013 and then noted that Obama did not seek permission from Congress when he approved the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

And it is true that Obama did not seek congressional approval to enter Pakistani airspace and kill bin Laden. But that short and small strike was perfectly in line with past presidential uses of executive war powers. From Townhall Magazine's June 2014 issue:

Before launching Operation Odyssey Dawn against Libya on March 19, 2011, Obama secured authorization from both the Arab League and the United Nations. But at no point did he ever push for a debate, or vote, in the United States Congress.

Now it is true that presidents have taken military action without specific authorization from Congress in the past. In 1986, for example, President Reagan also bombed Libya. And in 1998, President Clinton launched cruise missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan.

But those actions were both brief and limited responses to specific terrorist attacks on Americans. Reagan bombed Libya for a single day as punishment for their involvement in a bombing of American servicemen in Berlin. Clinton’s cruise missile attack was also limited to a single day and was in direct response to the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Obama’s attack on Libya, however, lasted seven months, one week, and five days. Countless Libyan military personnel were killed during the campaign, as well as more than 60 civilians according to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

But unlike Reagan and Clinton, who were responding to specific attacks on Americans, Obama acted without any provocation. Libya had not recently attacked America, and was not threatening to, when Obama started bombing the country.

There simply is no constitutional justification for Obama’s unilateral bombing of Libya. Which is why top lawyers at both the Pentagon and the Justice Department told Obama he had no legal right to attack Libya as broadly as he was planning without authorization from Congress.

But instead of deciding the issue democratically, Obama overruled his lawyers and ordered the DOJ to write a new legal memo justifying his decision.

If Obama can bomb Libya for over half a year, when that country presented no threat to the United States, then there is no stopping him from launching a similar, even larger, campaign against Syria as well. 

And Obama's expansive view of executive power does not end at the water's edge. In 2011, Obama told Hispanic journalists at a White House roundtable, "This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is not true. The fact of the matter is there are laws on the books I have to enforce. And there is a great disservice done to the cause of getting the DREAM Act passed and comprehensive immigration reform passed by perpetuating the notion that somehow by myself I can just go and do these things.”

But just months later Obama did "just change the laws unilaterally" when he announced his June 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA functionally turned the failed DREAM Act legislation into executive action reality.

Then in 2013, when amnesty activists pushed Obama to expand DACA, Obama insisted, "If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws."

But now, of course, Obama is, again, planning to do act unilaterally on immigration, this time granting temporary amnesty to as many as 8 million illegal immigrants


Obama does not have to face the American people at the ballot box ever again. What political checks there are on his power are diminishing everyday and he seems increasingly to believe there are no legal limits to what he can do either.