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Just months after terming the war in Libya “kinetic military action,” the Obama administration maintains that their “military operations” don’t constitute “hostilities” and thus don’t run afoul of the War Powers Act. Euphemisms have consequences.
So, too, do “military operations.” Last Friday, NATO’s mission to protect Libya’s civilians temporarily derailed when its strikes allegedly killed nine civilians in a residential neighborhood in Tripoli. NATO blamed a “weapons systems failure.” A day earlier, NATO mistakenly bombed a column of the very rebels that it seeks to aid. Just as actions too often don’t match intentions in war, words rarely match actions. As California Senator Hiram Johnson once noted, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”
“The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization,” the executive branch reported to Congress on Friday, “because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision.”
The rationalization was part of a 32-page report to Congress in response to a House resolution demanding compliance with the War Powers Act. The administration won’t say it rejects the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. It contends that the missiles flying in Libya do not constitute war—or “hostilities,” for that matter. So, the president maintains that he is in compliance with a statute that demands congressional authorization of a war within sixty days of its commencement and forbids the initiation of any hostilities unless provoked by a “national emergency created by attack upon the United States.” It has been more than three months since Operation Odyssey Dawn, redubbed Operation Unified Protector, commenced, and even top administration officials concede that Libya poses no threat to the United States.
The report’s contention that the U.S. military is not engaged in hostilities in Libya “doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” explained House Speaker John Boehner. He is not alone in his dim assessment of the legality of the unauthorized Libyan mission. The New York Times reported over the weekend that top lawyers within the Departments of Defense and Justice had advised the president that continuing the U.S. role in Operation Unified Protector violated the War Powers Act. The president rejected the counsel.
Both Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested that they are prepared to counteract the president’s usurpation of congressional power with legislation, possibly involving defunding the operation, as early as this week.
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