President Barack Obama’s claim that U.S. military operations against Libya should not be subject to the War Powers Act and do not require Congressional approval is drawing heavy fire from friends and foes alike.
A coalition of lawmakers that spans the political right (Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.) center (Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.) and left (Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio) is criticizing Obama’s policy for Libya, which includes the use of American drones to attack Libyan targets.
Senator Dick Durbin, became the latest Democrat to desert Obama on the issue when he insisted Friday that the U.S. air war against the government headed by Muammar Gaddafi did indeed fall under the Act and that Congress should vote to authorise it.
While the president is the commander-in-chief of the US military, since the passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973, Congress has required that the president seek congressional approval for combat operations continuing after a period of 60 days. This resolution expanded the implied authority of Congress that stems from the constitutional power of Congress to declare war.
In a 38-page report submitted to Congress earlier this week, White House and State Department lawyers contended that the Act did not apply because Washington’s intervention does “not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops”.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been unable so far to agree on a resolution authorising the operations.
Echoing this week’s report, Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, stressed that Washington’s role was “constrained and limited” and that the operation itself did “not amount to hostilities” as defined by the Act.
The administration report said its Libya-related military operations – which, since the first week of the intervention, have consisted mainly of aerial surveillance, targeting information, refuelling costs, and logistical support – have so far cost more than 700 million dollars. Current expenditures are running at roughly 10 million dollars a day.
Moreover, U.S. warplanes, while not engaged directly in combat, are carrying out about one-quarter of total NATO sorties, while Predator drones have been striking targets on the ground.
While the original justification for U.S. involvement was the protection of civilians, administration officials, including Obama, have made it increasingly clear that the operation is designed to oust Gaddafi from power.
“Military operations of this significance, with far-reaching consequences on our military, security, and relations with other nations, require the clear support of the American people,” noted the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, in a statement Thursday in which he asked that the Committee Chairman, Senator John Kerry, schedule hearings on Libya and the War Powers Act. These hearings are now tentatively scheduled for Jun. 28.