In March I posted on the President's Libya action and the War Powers Act. I argued that, while the President was not constitutionally required to get Congressional approval for his action, he was certainly required to do so under that legislation. He didn't.
The only defense of the President's neglect is that the Libyan situation constituted the kind of emergency that allows the President to act without seeking prior approval. He is in that case obligated to inform Congress that he has put American forces in harm's way. He actually did that. That started a clock ticking.
This week, the War Powers Act confronts its moment of truth. Friday will mark the 60th day since President Obama told Congress of his Libyan campaign. According to the act, that declaration started a 60-day clock: If Obama fails to obtain congressional support for his decision within this time limit, he has only one option — end American involvement within the following 30 days.
Obama has not only failed but he hasn't even tried — leaving it to Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, to call for a "specific resolution that would give [the president] authority." Neither the president nor the Democratic congressional leadership has shown any interest. They have been sleep-walking their way to Day 60.
The Administration acknowledges its legal duties under the WPA. It has apparently decided to ignore them.
Make no mistake: Obama is breaking new ground, moving decisively beyond his predecessors. George W. Bush gained congressional approval for his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bill Clinton acted unilaterally when he committed American forces to NATO's bombing campaign in Kosovo, but he persuaded Congress to approve special funding for his initiative within 60 days…
Since the House of Representatives is out of session this week, Congress can't approve the operation before the Friday deadline. But under the expedited procedures specified by the act, speedy congressional approval is feasible next week.
If nothing happens, history will say that the War Powers Act was condemned to a quiet death by a president who had solemnly pledged, on the campaign trail, to put an end to indiscriminate warmaking.
The War Powers Act was very probably an unworkable piece of legislation from the start. President Nixon was right to veto it and Congress wrong to override his veto. It is, however, the law and is something the Democrats have long regarded as a significant achievement. By acting in contempt of it, the President is being characteristically feckless.
The same goes for Congress. With the exception of Dennis Kucinich, Congressional Democrats are blithely ignoring a law that they regard as vital. Republicans are genuinely skeptical of the law, but they pretend to believe in the rule of law. This isn't sleep walking, it's zombie walking.
If the War Powers Act is bad law, then the President and Congress should act to repeal it or modify it. Leaving it on the books and paying lip service to it while contemptuously violating it is an offense against the republican form of government. All the President has to do is ask Congress to approve the mission. Perhaps he doubts that Congress would approve it. Perhaps he just doesn't want to publically defend his policy. Either way, this is bad faith.