Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The end of the War Powers Act

How ironic it is that, as Yale law professors Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway write in the Washington Post today, the War Powers Act is dying under a Democratic president. Friday will mark the 60th day of our operations in Libya. According to the War Powers Act, Congress needs to formally endorse the action by Friday or American involvement should end in 30 days.

This week, the War Powers Act confronts its moment of truth. Friday will mark the 60th day since President Obama told Congress of his Libyan campaign. According to the act, that declaration started a 60-day clock: If Obama fails to obtain congressional support for his decision within this time limit, he has only one option — end American involvement within the following 30 days.

Obama has not only failed but he hasn’t even tried — leaving it to Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, to call for a “specific resolution that would give [the president] authority.” Neither the president nor the Democratic congressional leadership has shown any interest. They have been sleep-walking their way to Day 60.
Congress is out of session this week so that endorsement won't be coming. The Obama administration is trying to pretend that the law shouldn't come into effect because NATO is in charge of the operation. But that is just bogus since it is our forces that are leading the effort.

When I teach the War Powers Act in my AP Government and Politics class, I always point out to the class that all presidents have complied with, but not endorsed the law. There are quite a few constitutional scholars who suspect that the law is not constitutional. Would some congressman, such as Dennis Kucinich, who opposes the action in Libya actually challenge President Obama in court using the War Powers Act? It would be a good thing to get an answer to whether or not the law was a constitutional limitation on the president's warmaking powers.

If Congress doesn't return and endorse Obama's use of troops in Libya, the War Powers Act will be a dead letter.
If nothing happens, history will say that the War Powers Act was condemned to a quiet death by a president who had solemnly pledged, on the campaign trail, to put an end to indiscriminate warmaking.