Obama Administration Tells Congress War Powers Act Doesn’t Apply To Libya Mission

The Obama Administration is offering an odd explanation for why it doesn't need to comply with the War Powers Act.

The Obama Administration responded late yesterday to requests from various Members of Congress concerned about the fact that no Congressional Resolution had been voted on to authorize the U.S. mission in Libya, despite the requirements of the War Powers Act. The response, however, is likely to raise more questions than it answers:

In an effort to satisfy those arguing he needs to seek congressional authorization to continue US military activity in accordance with the War Powers Resolution, President Obama wrote a letter to congressional leaders this afternoon suggesting that the role is now so “limited” he does not need to seek congressional approval.

“Since April 4,” the president wrote, “U.S. participation has consisted of: (1) non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance; (2) aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone; and (3) since April 23, precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets in support of the NATO-led coalition’s efforts.”

A senior administration official told ABC News that the letter is intended to describe “a narrow US effort that is intermittent and principally an effort to support to support the ongoing NATO-led and UN-authorized civilian support mission and no fly zone.”

“The US role is one of support,” the official said, “and the kinetic pieces of that are intermittent.”

It’s not at all clear that the fact that American military involvement is limited is at all relevant, though. The War Powers Act, for example, requires that the President report to Congress when any of these conditions apply:

(1) into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances;

(2) into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat, except for deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces; or

(3) in numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation;

It seems fairly straightforward that subjection (1) clearly still applies to the Libya situation, and that this is far more than just the supply mission that the Obama Administration is trying to make it out to be. American forces are still, apparently, in the skies over Libya even if we aren’t engaging in direct combat. Predator drones have been used to support NATO missions. If that isn’t a situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is possible if not likely, then I don’t know what it is. Trying to pass this off as a mission in support of NATO simply doesn’t fly.

And Rand Paul, who was one of the Senators to whom the Administration was responding, doesn’t seem convinced either:

Perhaps that’s why, at the same time they’re sending that letter, the Administration is also backing a plan to hold a vote on the Libya mission:

Sixty days after launching military action against Libya, President Obama on Friday sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to pass a resolution supporting the U.S. mission.

“I wish to express my support for the bipartisan resolution drafted by Senators Kerry, McCain, Levin, Feinstein, Graham, and Lieberman, which would confirm that the Congress supports the U.S. mission in Libya and that both branches are united in their commitment to supporting the aspirations of the Libyan people for political reform and self-government,” Obama wrote.

This resolution will probably pass Congress easily, which leads to the obvious question, why didn’t they do sooner?

FILED UNDER: Africa, Congress, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. I think this is the Whoopi rationale: it isn’t war-war.

  2. But seriously, if it isn’t a war, does that make our combatants more susceptible to various international tribunals?

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Why didn’t they do it sooner? Simple. The GOP thought this would be a disaster for Obama, and they wanted to let him hurt himself.

    The facts however have turned out differently.

    Total US casualties so far? Zero.

    Are the other NATO powers handling the bulk of the missions? Yes.

    Is Gaddafi losing? Yes.

    Will he eventually leave? Yes.

    You’ll notice there are no more stories about Misrata. Why? Gaddafi has failed to take it.

    There are in fact battles taking place on the Libya-Tunisia border where rebels have managed to hold onto a border crossing.

    Take a look at a map of Libya and think about what it means that Gaddafi can’t take Misrata or even secure the Libya-Tunisia border.

    The predictions of a costly disatser for Obama have turned out to be flatly wrong. This is now very likely to be a bloodless triumph for Obama. And on the heels of the Bin Laden takedown, that terrifies the GOP. So now, suddenly, the GOP discovers the war powers act hoping to terminate this operation before it demonstrates — once again — that Obama is smarter than they are.

  4. Thomas says:


    Wow, your post is filled with errors. No American casualties? Ummm…Chris Hondros was an American and he is DEAD, killed by Libyan forces!!!

    No rebel force has attempted a move on Tripoli. And every missile fired by an American jet over Libyan airspace costs $12,000,000!!! And you have the audacity to say that Republicans wanted Obama to fail when most Republicans like John McCain supported this action?

    The truly conservative Republicans and the truly liberal Democrats such as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich respectively are trying to bring the president’s actions back in line with the constitution! Ever heard of it? It works well if followed!

  5. Dodd says:

    Obviously the GOP forced Obama to disregard the law. Anyone can see that.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    So when will the GOP in the House bring articles of impeachment against the president…

  7. Just 'nuthuh ig'rant cracker says:

    “I’ll see your “you didn’t pass an continuing resolution” and raise you an “I don’t care, the act doesn’t apply here anyway.” Your bet–are you in or out?

    The “late” (and surprisingly bi-partisan, considering contemporary GOP tactics) continuing resolution seems to me an “I fold” reply.

    Am I wrong?

  8. AllenS says:

    Let us go back a few years and let Blowhard Joe Biden explain the war power act:

    Joe Biden told an audience in 2007 that war without congressional approval warrants impeachment.

    He repeated the claim on MSNBC:

    “I want to make it clear. And I made it clear to the President that if he takes this nation to war with Iran without Congressional approval. I will make it my business to impeach him. That’s a fact. That is a fact.”

    Biden is the dumbest white man in America.

  9. Greedy Banker says:

    [Comment deleted for violation of site Comment policies – DM]

  10. Jay Tea says:

    OK, time to violate a few rules of this site and of common decency.

    Would someone in a position of authority kindly reveal “Greedy Banker’s” IP address? Or, perhaps, pass along that information to the FBI or the Secret Service? Calling for the assassination of a federal elected official is Real Serious Shit.


  11. I have deleted his comment Jay. It slipped in before I woke up this morning.

  12. michael reynolds says:


    Hondros was a journalist. It’s absurd o equate his tragic death in that occupation with a US war casualty.

    You announce that my comment is “filled of errors” and you point to none.

    You want to try again?

  13. michael reynolds says:


    Obviously the GOP forced Obama to disregard the law. Anyone can see that.

    I assume that was directed at Doug?

  14. Eric Florack says:

    “I want to make it clear. And I made it clear to the President that if he takes this nation to war with Iran without Congressional approval. I will make it my business to impeach him. That’s a fact. That is a fact.”

    Biden is the dumbest white man in America.

    Dumb? Possibly. But duplicitous seems a better description.

  15. Jay Tea says:

    Well done, Doug. I’d still like to see him Tasered, at least.


  16. michael reynolds says:

    The implication here is that Doug sleeps. I was under the impression he blogged 24 hours a day.

  17. Gulliver says:

    Rules for thee but not for me… same old same old from this loser of a President who has broken more laws already than both Bush’s even thought about. He’s a joke. And a lame one at that.

  18. human being says:

    @Michael can you please explain to me exactly why Americas in Libya and why are they committing the exact same crime they accused Moammar Gadhafi of?

  19. Matthew Kaney says:

    Mr. Reynolds… perhaps you are right about Republican tactics, but viewing everything in terms of partisan politics does very little to change the facts here. You speak as if you are proud of U.S. involvement in Libya, and I find this very troubling. But let me address your statements first

    Total US casualties.. very well, but how about total Libyan casualties, civilian or otherwise? Human beings are human beings, whether they are wearing a uniform or not. If you want to differentiate, then it must be applied universally, in which case Gaddafi is not attacking innocent civilians, but enemy soldiers.

    Are the other NATO powers handling…. completely irrelevant. We either are or are not involved in a military action. And you cannot be so naive to think that other countries’ involvement is not tied to U.S. aid or other quid pro quo support.

    Is Gaddafi losing? Yes!? Hardly. According to an article in the NY Times yesterday “Despite more than 2,500 NATO airstrikes, and an increasing focus in the past two weeks on targets in Tripoli, there have been few signs of an imminent collapse of the Qaddafi government, and rebel forces in the east, despite recent gains around the city of Misurata, have shown no sign of a broader breakthrough to the west.”

    “This is now very likely to be a bloodless triumph for Obama.” – I suppose, if you are so American-centric that the only lives that matter to you are those of our troops.

    But let’s look at the larger issue, why are we really there? Gaddafi’s efforts to suppress rebellion are not substantially different than similar efforts in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Mexico, and the list goes on. There is, however, a great deal of evidence that the rebellion has largely been fueled by involvement from our intelligence community. The truth is that compared to many leaders which we support, Gaddafi’s treatment of the Libyan people is stellar. Despite retaining much wealth for himself, he has distributed a large amount of the oil wealth to the citizenry, and in recent years has stepped up this distribution. He is responsible for making the per capita income of Libya the highest of any country in Africa. He has constructed the world’s largest system of aqueducts, tapping into rivers underneath the Sahara. He has implemented direct democracy on the local level. There are no homeless in Libya, and there is a universal healthcare system.

    I am not trying to dismiss rotten things that he has done, but they are no different than any other government.. and the point I am trying to make is that there are other reasons that we are in Libya. I suspect one of those reasons is his efforts to make a new currency, the gold backed African Dinar, the standard currency for oil trade.

    I can only hope that soon, more Americans will realize that party politics are merely a distraction and begin paying attention to American policies as a whole.