The Obama Administration’s lawyers have done some mental gymnastics the last few days in finally resolving, to the Administration’s satisfaction, the issue over whether the President has exceeded the War Powers Resolution in deploying American forces for greater than sixty days in Libya without Congressional authorization. Here’s what they came up with, from the Washington Post:
On the legal question, which the report spends a single paragraph addressing, the administration states that Obama believes he has participated in the Libya operation in a way “consistent” with the War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress in 1973 in an attempt to constrain a president’s war-making capabilities after the undeclared conflicts in Vietnam and Korea.
The report says that “because U.S. military operations [in Libya] are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the resolution,” the deadlines for congressional approval or force withdrawal do not apply.
“We’re not engaged in sustained fighting. There’s been no exchange of fire with hostile forces. We don’t have troops on the ground. We don’t risk casualties to those troops,” said one senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity during a conference call arranged by the White House. “None of the factors, frankly, speaking more broadly, has risked the sort of escalation that Congress was concerned would impinge on its war-making power.”
What a sly distinction–the operations in Libya are distinct from those contemplated by the resolution, as if the Administration can read the resolution’s mind. But then, this is why lawyers are so valuable. When the pretense of following the law is politically mandatory, clever lawyers must be employed to ensure the law’s meaning is pretzelized to accommodate whatever activity in which the government seeks to engage.
This is the same President Obama that, as candidate Obama, promised never to engage the country in hostilities without congressional approval, implying he would be an improvement in that sort of thing over President Bush. Instead, Obama is relentlessly pushing the country to conflict in areas neither of the Bushes, nor Clinton, dared, on the danger of being too easily painted as imperialistic warmongers (which both of the Bushes were anyway, and deservedly so).
Obama inherited Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s got no one to blame but himself for Libya, Pakistan and Yemen being folded into the list of airspace-occupied countries in just the last six months. The further along in his reign, the more clear it becomes that Obama is not only not anti-colonialist, he believes, unlike most liberals, that the ability of government to beneficially affect human (of the American variety) affairs does not stop at the border. Anyone getting in his way of improving lives (again, American only) through government action is liable to be targeted for assassination, as recent US operations in Yemen attest, from the Long War Journal blog:
The new CIA drone program will initially focus on collecting intelligence to share with the military, officials said. As the intelligence base for the program grows, it will expand into a targeted killing program like the current operation in Pakistan.
While the specific contours of the CIA program are still being decided, the current thinking is that when the CIA shifts the program from intelligence collection into a targeted killing program, it will select targets using the same broad criteria it uses in Pakistan. There, the agency selects targets by name or if their profile or “pattern of life”–analyzed through persistent surveillance–fits that of known al Qaeda or affiliated militants.
By using those broad criteria, the U.S. would likely conduct more strikes in Yemen, where the U.S. now only goes after known militants, not those who fit the right profile.