What powers? Legality of Libya operation at issue

The uprising and civil war in Libya is now more than three months old, and shows every sign of having settled into a stalemate that can only be broken by force of arms — arms that are likely to come from one source, the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including the United States. Yet neither NATO nor the U.S. can claim any solid legal footing for their ongoing intervention.

Last Friday marked the 60th day since President Obama committed U.S. forces to the conflict, ostensibly to enforce a United Nations resolution calling for a no-fly zone so as to protect Libya civilians. Under the 1973 War Powers Act, a president is obligated to seek the permission of Congress to continue military action beyond 60 days. Mr. Obama has not done so.

Late Friday, the president did send a letter to congressional leaders noting that their support “…would underline the U.S. commitment to this remarkable international effort,” adding that a resolution of support “is important in the context of our constitutional framework.”

What’s remarkable here is not the military effort, per se, but the fact that NATO undertook an essentially offensive action against a sovereign nation in the absence of an attack on any member state. That is not what the alliance was formed for. Yet, having vowed to merely enforce the no-fly zone — and no doubt envisioning a quick end to Col. Muammar Gadhafi’s regime — NATO is now mulling the use of British attack helicopters, which would constitute a clear escalation of what is already an undeclared, albeit limited, war.

Mr. Obama’s reference to a constitutional framework is ironic, at best. U.S. forces were deeply involved in initial military operations against Libya, and even though our involvement has been scaled back, even one frigate constitutes military action.

U.S. presidents are not granted the power to take the nation to war simply because they think it’s the right thing to do. Ours is a nation of laws, and Mr. Obama’s apparent refusal to comply with the War Powers Act — and Congress’ refusal to hold him to it — constitute a troubling assault on the rule of law.

[Source: News Telegram.com, Worcester, UK, 26May11]

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Libya War
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