Now, Republicans worried about the way Obama is handling the intervention have aligned with far left Democrats to challenge Obama on continued U.S. military engagement in Libya. Both the House and the Senate passed resolutions this month demanding that Obama provide Congress with the rationale behind the intervention. On Monday, the House voted to prohibit funding for U.S. military operations in Libya. House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement expressing concern that Obama had not defined what the U.S. role in Libya would be.
There is a legitimate fear by Republicans that the left-leaning Obama, whose record in politics has generally been averse to military action, is over his head when it comes to initiating armed combat. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, expressed this concern, “I am feeling sick to my stomach that we are into something where the president does not know what he is doing.” Bolton is troubled that Obama’s mission does not specifically focus on removing Qaddafi.
Without consulting Congress, Obama launched a missile assault on Libya on March 19. He informed Congress afterwards on March 21. He demanded that Qaddafi step down or face military action from the U.S. and its allies, but failed to provide a deadline or describe what kind of military action. Obama also unilaterally sought support from the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.
Under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, Obama is required to obtain Congressional approval of military action within 60 days of the initiation of force. Obama said he would seek approval, but never did. The 60-day deadline passed on May 20. Obama has defended his decision not to seek Congressional approval by saying he has turned over leadership of the strike to NATO. However, the U.S. is the largest contributor to operation United Protector. It is conducting 70 percent of the reconnaissance missions, over 75% of refueling flights and has fired 228 missiles as of mid-May.
Obama is not the first Democrat President in recent years to botch the instigation of hawkish military action. Bill Clinton also faced considerable opposition to bombing the Serbs in the Kosovo War, although for more substantive reasons. The Serbs were not the only aggressors; the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was also committing atrocious acts of violence. Clinton failed to get the Republican-controlled Congress to approve of the military action, although Republicans in Congress eventually tacitly approved it by approving funding. The NATO-led bombing lasted 18 days longer than the 60-day deadline of the War Powers Resolution.
Democrats have harshly attacked Republican presidents like George H.W. Bush in the past for not seeking Congressional approval for military junctures. Democrats accused President Bush of not obtaining Congressional approval for certain military operations in Iraq and military action after the 911 terrorist attacks. It is somewhat hypocritical for the Democrats to now be doing exactly what they have railed against Republicans for doing in the past.
The irony can be most seen in a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” resolution Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced which stated, "The president does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." The language came from a statement Obama made, answering a question about bombing Iran when running for president in 2007.
Compounding the problem is that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 has never been accepted by presidents as binding. It was passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress in 1973, overriding President Nixon’s veto, in order to prevent future long term military engagements like the Vietnam War and World War II. Some view it as a Congressional usurpation of the executive branch’s powers. Until the Supreme Court rules on its constitutionality, these kind of separation of powers confrontations over military action will continue.
A majority of Americans still want the U.S. and our allies to force Qaddafi from power in Libya, according to a Fox News poll released last week. Our allies want us to take a lead role. The leaders of four dozen countries and international organizations met at the Libyan Conference in March and agreed that Qaddafi must be removed. Qaddafi has a long history of fueling international terrorist groups, including groups operating within the U.S. like the Al-Rakr gang in Chicago which plotted to bomb government buildings and bring down American planes. Qaddafi was recently proven to be behind the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed down on Lockerbie, Scotland during a flight between London and New York.
However, a majority of Americans now also oppose generic military action in Libya, no doubt due to concerns over the purpose of Obama’s mission and his lack of Congressional support. The last thing people want is getting embroiled in another expensive war that goes on and on without results, racking up casualties of U.S. soldiers. We already have that under Obama, it is called Afghanistan.
It remains to be seen whether Obama can salvage support for the legitimate mission of removing Qaddafi from power. It may be too late, but he knew what he was doing. It makes no sense for Obama to have bungled the initiation of force unless he was purposely trying to sabotage it to make the Republicans look bad. When Qaddafi is eventually forced out of power, Obama will claim credit and remind everyone that Republicans opposed him. He is trying to repeat what President G.W. Bush did with Saddam Hussein, which ensured Bush’s reelection. Republicans better not let him get away with it or they can forget about beating Obama in 2012.