The Case for Stiff-Arming Congress on Libya

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This note, from long-time Atlantic reader mikey, is in response to my argument that Obama was hurting himself and the country with legalistic (as opposed to broadly convincing and historically legitimate) arguments against involving Congress in the Libya decision. He says:

>>You're right, you know.  Absolutely, incontrovertibly, unarguably right.  The US is not a monarchy or a dictatorship, and it is spelled out explicitly in the Constitution that under the Separation of Powers, only Congress has the power to declare war.  Yep, the logic is clear, the history unquestionable, the legality unequivocal.

Except.

Except for this time.  Except for now.

The Republicans in this congress have shown themselves to be despicable, disingenuous and infantile.  They try to hide their true agenda behind manipulative lies and platitudes, while they wage a scorched earth campaign against women, minorities and the blue collar middle class.  They have made it clear that the good of the republic is not a compelling reason for them to act, that they stand only against Barack  Obama, and there is literally nothing they are not willing to sacrifice on the altar of their partisan acrimony and ideological agenda.  Worst of all, they have made it clear, in matters from climate change to expansionary monetary policy to raising the debt ceiling that they are actually willing to work actively to keep the economy depressed in order to improve their political chances in the 2012 general election, regardless of the suffering it causes among their constituents.

If anything, President Obama has been far too accommodating of this venal, self-interested body.  To give them a further opportunity to stay America's hand in time of crisis, to allow them yet another opportunity to gleefully throw sand in the gears of basic American governance, to expect at this late date that they might put their nation ahead of their party would be futile, a fools errand of the first order.

No.  It is clear that these spoiled children legislators will only work to prevent American action, and will block anything that might resemble growth or success for their own selfish purposes.  This time, at this historic junction, this President needs to keep them as far from the levers of power as he possibly can.  And hopefully, history will look back at this foul moment of the ascendancy of ideology over patriotism, and forgive him.<<

Also, from someone with recent experience as an Army officer:

>>There is on Tom Ricks' Foreign Policy weblog a posting from a couple days back by a (sadly somewhat foolish) midshipman at USNA that I think is germane to discussion of Congress' role -- their taking a vote of some kind or another would be very helpful in providing a clear statement of authority to those of us in uniform. They're putting a big burden on the decisions of kids like that and they owe him better. [Sample from the midshipmen's note begins, "President Obama's decision to avoid seeking Congress's permission to continue America's role in the Libyan conflict marks one more step in the long march toward a balance of power within the federal government that is more Napoleonic than democratic." The note ends, "While President Obama is certainly no oppressor, the trend that he is reinforcing opens up the possibility that the time will come where we will have to contend with a leader who is."  - jf ]

FWIW I hate this war so badly I want the President gone from office, but I also think the War Powers Act, Constitutional or not, is ridiculous. I mean, geez, is it so frickin' hard for Congress to vote on something, to use any of its many existing powers to stop a war?  Because if it is, then probably they shouldn't be involved...)<<

And from a foreigner working in China, about Obama:

>>He, and his lawyerly crew, are trying to reform the term "war" into meaninglessness. They want the word to have no meaning. An essentially nihilist position. For a definition of war, one might go back closer to the founder's time... say to Johnson's or Webster's definitions for war. Johnson's, which is quite serviceable, "The exercise of violence under sovereign command against withstanders."

Lyndon Johnson came in on a mandate and left sunk by a war. Obama's presidency is beginning to stink of war.<<

Offered for the record. More on other topics shortly.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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