During President Obama's White House press conference today, he dismissed attacks from some Republicans and Democrats on his handling of the conflict in Libya. "A lot of this fuss is politics," said the president, insisting that his actions don't violate the 1973 War Powers Resolution mandating that "military forces must be withdrawn from battle within 90 days without congressional authorization." He reiterated that the operation is "limited in time and scope" with "no risk of additional escalation." But his most ardent critics aren't accepting the "limited operation" argument as a justification for the war.
Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive disputed Obama's account that his actions were in harmony with the War Powers Act. "First, the War Powers Act allows the President to send our military into hostilities only when there is 'a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,'" he writes. "There was no such national emergency here. Libya did not attack the U.S." Rothschild goes on to argue that labeling the conflict a "limited operation" doesn't legitimize the president's actions. "Nor does saying the action is against one of the 'worst tyrants in the world.'"
Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald compares President Obama's position with his views as a candidate in 2007 who at the time said "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Greenwald notes that these "were not some off-the-cuff remarks about an ancillary issue. Rather, they were part of a statement he prepared in which he cited numerous key legal advisers" including Cass Sunstein, Greg Craig and Laurence Tribe. The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan has responded similarly, deeming the affair "Obama's Libya Dodge."
However Massimo Calabresi argues in an interesting piece at Time that the president's critics are mistaken in coming down so hard on Obama. They're also, he says, wrong to compare the president to George W. Bush:
The episode has convinced the left that Obama is increasingly acting like George W. Bush. As someone who contributed to the early formation of the Obama-as-Bush meme, I think it has jumped the shark. Bush told Congress it could not restrain him in any way when he was acting as commander-in-chief. Obama is doing exactly the opposite: tying himself in legalistic knots to avoid such an outright power grab. Others on the left have argued that Obama’s end-run around the Justice department lawyers to accept Koh’s argument is another Bush-like maneuver. But it was the Justice department’s accepted authority as the sole arbiter of legal opinion that contributed to Bush’s excesses: rather than having an internal debate, Bush only had to get one lawyer at Justice, John Yoo, to sign off on extreme measures. The one comparison that holds up is that Obama didn’t adequately make the case for intervention with the American people before rushing to attack in March.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.