Kucinich Tries To Force US Out Of Libya

From Politico, a reason to love Dennis Kucinich (and his co-sponsors, Reps. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.)):

Seeking to avoid a showdown over Libya, House GOP leaders have pulled back from a floor vote on a resolution by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that would bar U.S. involvement in the NATO-led campaign to topple Muammar Qhadafi.

GOP leaders were scrambling on Wednesday morning to come up with an alternative plan for considering the measure. These could include having the Armed Services or Foreign Affairs committees draft back-up proposals.

Citing “lots of unrest on both sides of the aisle,” a senior House GOP aide said Republican leaders are still working through their options.

Another senior Republican staffer said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “is concerned that if this were to come to the floor now, it would pass” and could adversely affect the NATO mission in Libya.

Daniel Larison — by the way, how weird is it that my favorite foreign policy blogger writes for American Conservative Magazine? — wryly comments:

If the resolution passed, it probably would adversely affect the mission in Libya. Of course, it is supposed to affect the mission adversely. The purpose of the resolution is to withdraw U.S. forces from that mission.

Normally, this wouldn’t be much of an issue — the House leadership can bury bills they don’t like more-or-less forever. However, as Politico reports:

Because the Kucinich proposal relates to the 1973 War Powers Act, it is considered privileged under House rules, meaning Kucinich could force a floor vote even if Democratic and Republican leaders are opposed to doing so. The resolution “ripens” next week, making it possible for Kucinich to bring about a vote when Congress returns from next week’s recess.

It’s also possible that the GOP will allow Kucinich’s resolution to come to a vote Friday (today). Some House Republicans are supporting a weaker, toothless resolution instead, which expresses “disapproval” of the Obama administration’s actions. So the news today should be interesting.

Foreign Policy has an article explaining the relevance of the War Powers Act to our Libya campaign:

We are at a constitutional crossroads, similar to the one the United States confronted in 1973 when Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution, which set the 60-day limit, over Richard Nixon’s veto. The Constitution famously grants Congress the power to declare war, but Nixon continued to fight in Vietnam for three years after Congress had withdrawn the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the conflict.

Faced with this plain constitutional violation, Congress acted decisively to restore the system of checks and balances. For centuries, the president and Congress had wrangled over the kind of actions that counted as a “war” for constitutional purposes, with presidents exploiting legal ambiguities to cut Congress out of key decisions. The act broke this impasse by imposing a time limit on all “hostilities” — a functional term meant to eliminate legalistic evasions the White House had developed over what counted as “war.” Henceforward, the 60-day deadline would apply whenever the president began “hostilities,” and if he failed to gain congressional approval, the act gave him 30 days to terminate the military operation.

This clear and simple 60/30-day setup is especially important at a time when other restraints on presidential war-making have atrophied.

The White House claims that its actions are legal under the War Powers Act, but I’m not clear on what their legal theory is.

Larison again:

The strange thing about the way the administration has handled this since March is that Congress would have likely signed off on the Libyan war if it had been asked to debate and vote on it. There must normally be enough Republican hawks and reliable Democratic partisans that they could have pushed through an authorizing resolution without too much difficulty. The remarkable thing is that the sheer contempt that the administration has shown for our law and representative institutions may have finally alienated enough people to turn them against a military intervention that they might otherwise have supported.

Larison also points out that the Administration might just ignore whatever resolution Congress passes.

I remain on the fence about whether our intervention in Libya will actually accomplish much good in the long run. But I’m not on the fence about wars of choice: I’m against them. And I’m not on the fence about Congress’ right to decide on when the US goes to war. Usually, Congress seems entirely too happy to abdicate that responsibility; maybe Libya will be an exception.

Anyway, it’s very late and I’m very tired and I’m not at all sure this post is coherent. But I’m posting it anyway. So there!

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4 Responses to Kucinich Tries To Force US Out Of Libya

  1. 1
    Kevin Moore says:

    So far the peoplez in power seem happy to not address the issue at all. “War? What war? OH! That war. Look, it’s not really a war. More like a friendly assist. With long range weapons and bombing campaigns that cost millions of dollars a pop. Aaaand a few civilian casualties, but c’mon, you know we don’t count those. Be serious.”

    Congress cedes war powers to the executive branch, because it makes them less accountable when things go messy, as they invariably do in war. The executive branch accepts this responsibility, because war powers are easier to exercise and face little public opposition. Critics are by default assumed by our culture to be traitors, hippies, enemy sympathizers, and weak. Any criticism of military policy is equated with failure to support the troops. Respond to any criticism with footage of a soldier’s mom crying or soldier’s child tying a yellow ribbon around a tree. Failing that, draw a cartoon of Kwazy Ka-daffy.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    I’m all in favor of getting Congress to go on the record on this. Say what you will about President Bush getting us involved in Iraq, but he put it to a vote in Congress. If you can’t get Congress to support putting our armed forces in the field then they shouldn’t be there. I do think that the President should be able to quickly act in a limited fashion without Congressional approval first. But eventually – and I think the time frame in the War Powers Act is appropriate – he or she should have to get approval from Congress. President Obama seems strangely reluctant to keep the promise that Candidate Obama made, a number of times, to do just that.

    Kevin, I’m suprised that Pres. Obama hasn’t called it a police action yet.

    Over the years Congress has ceded a lot of powers to the executive branch, not just war powers. The usual trick is to pass a broadly-stated regulatory bill and then leave the actual regulations (which have the force of law) to be written by a regulatory agency, which is part of the executive branch. As you note in this particular case, it permits them to take credit for doing something while avoiding resonsibility for what’s actually done.

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