The Libya Rebuke


The House of Representatives voted 268-145 to “formally rebuke” President Obama for his handling of the war in Libya today, passing a resolution by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that also demanded “more information on the mission within two weeks and stating for the record that Obama has not gotten permission from Congress,” according to Fox News.

Fox also notes that this measure “only reflects the view of the House and does not have the force of law,” although Boehner says it “puts the president on notice,” and if he doesn’t “get this right,” Congress will “exercise its constitutional authority and we will make it right.”

Boehner’s fellow Ohioan, Democrat Dennis Kucinich, was already chomping at the bit to exercise that Congressional authority, and he had a lot of Republican support, but his much tougher resolution – which would have demanded an immediate withdrawal of troops – was scuttled in favor of giving the President some time to respond. 

The Washington Times describes this as a “stunning rebuke to the commander in chief,” but the Administration doesn’t sound particularly stunned.  Spokesmen were deployed to dismiss the House resolution as “unnecessary and unhelpful,” and ask what everyone is whining about, since “we’ve continued to consult with Congress all along.”  Those must have been some very intense consultations, since the House felt the need to scream “Stop!” at the top of its legislative lungs today.

The restraints against government are very important.  If a particular restraint, such as the War Powers Act of 1973, is nonsensical, it should be debated and defeated… not ignored.  If the Act is basically a laudable statement that the whole of our representative government should be fully engaged in the difficult business of war, but some of its particulars are foolish, then it can be amended.

Defeat and amendment cannot be imposed retroactively by fiat.  The purpose of such a law is to provide guidance to the executive, not create a little legal puzzle for him to solve before he barrels ahead with his agenda.  The laws binding government should be respected in advance more often than they are enforced after violation. 

That would save us from garbage like a blatantly unconstitutional health-care plan, which will drag us through economic devastation for years before the Supreme Court puts it down for good.  It would also save us from having to tell the men and women of the U.S. military that the war they’ve been prosecuting for months turns out to be illegal, and they should pack up their gear and head home.

Obama has trouble seeing such laws, since they are so far beneath him.  Today’s resolution might get his attention, if he decides the political costs of flaunting it are too high.  That will largely depend on how things go in Libya over the next few weeks. 

The Libyan oil minister defected earlier this week, decrying “the daily spilling of blood” and “unbearable spiral of violence” under Qaddafi.  The UK Telegraph reports the Libyan dictator has also lost “five generals and a number of other senior officers,” who claim “support is draining rapidly away from Col. Qaddafi.” 

Qaddafi’s regime says they don’t need those losers anyway, because they’ve got “a tribal structure” prepared to “back him with all the force necessary.”  If that’s a lot of empty bluster, maybe the regime will finally collapse, and we can hand Libya over to… whoever is lurking within the rebel leadership.  Then we should have a very thorough discussion about the clear limits of Presidential war-making powers, and precisely when Congress should become involved.  We’d better get this stuff written down now, so there’s no confusion in the future.