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Two Days Later, Obama Advises Congress That We’re Bombing Libya

Two days after it started, President Obama today officially advised Congress of the beginning of Operation Odyssey Dawn:

Amidst claims by members of Congress that they were insufficiently consulted, and ensuing White House pushback, President Obama Monday officially notified congressional leaders that at “approximately 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on March 19, 2011, at my direction, U.S. military forces commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya.”

The notification was part of the president’s “efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” but given complaints from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the fact that the war started two days ago, it had the effect of a rather discomforting “While You Were Out…” note.

Indeed it does. Additionally, it’s clear from the text of the letter, which I’ve embedded below, that the President believes that UNSCR 1973 is, by itself, sufficient justification for him taking unilateral action under the War Powers Act. The problem is that the conditions under which the Act provides that unilateral action is justified are rather well-defined:

(c) The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

None of those three conditions would seem to apply to the situation in Libya.

Letter from Barack Obama to Congress Regarding Military Action In Libya

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. [...] in the United States, Barack Obama sent Congress a letter while touring South America. Tweet FILED UNDER: Africa, Doug Mataconis, Europe, [...]

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  2. AllenS says:

    I’m sure that when Obama and the family return from vacation, he’ll explain this a little better for you.

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  3. jpe says:

    Amidst claims by members of Congress that they were insufficiently consulted, and ensuing White House pushback, President Obama Monday officially notified congressional leaders

    That’s not why he did it; he did it because he had to provide a report w/in 48 hours by the terms of the war powers act. 50 USC 1543(a)

    The problem is that the conditions under which the Act provides that unilateral action is justified are rather well-defined
    You’re quoting the policy section, which is a legal nullity. The actual authorization will be had through the procedures laid out in section 1544: if Congress approves the action w/in 60 days then it’s authorized. ie, Obama is looking for the retroactive Congressional authorization that the War Powers Act clearly contemplates. That’ll be the relevant legal authorization.

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  4. jpe says:

    Let’s try that last section of the comment again:

    The problem is that the conditions under which the Act provides that unilateral action is justified are rather well-defined

    You’re quoting the policy section, which is a legal nullity. The actual authorization will be had through the procedures laid out in section 1544: if Congress approves the action w/in 60 days then it’s authorized. ie, Obama is looking for the retroactive Congressional authorization that the War Powers Act clearly contemplates. That’ll be the relevant legal authorization.

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  5. mattt says:

    Jack Goldsmith had a nice writeup on this in Slate.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2288869/

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  6. Mike says:

    Really,JPE? You are that much of a sycophant? I suggest you read 50 USC Sect 1542 of the WPA…carefully.

    § 1542. Consultation; initial and regular consultations

    The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations.

    Your statement about “retroactive” congressional approval is absolutely the most ridiculous thing I have read today. Thank you for the laugh!!!

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