by Austin Bay
May 24, 2011
President Barack Obama has violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
That is a good thing. The War Powers Resolution wasconstitutionally dubious when it was passed -- by a Democratic Party-controlledCongress intent on obstructing the powers of a Republican president.
Instead of taking a principled stance against a questionablelaw, however, President Obama chose to mask his violation with cleverness -- acorrosive, shallow cleverness smacking of the worst in partisan skullduggery.
Too bad. Tackling the War Powers Act would have strengthenedthe presidency as an institution and reinforced Obama's moral authority.Democratic and Republican presidents have argued rigorous enforcement of theact leads to congressional micro-management of a war and erodes presidentialprerogatives to the detriment of U.S. security.
The act forbids employing U.S. armed forces in combat formore than 60 days without congressional authorization or declaring war. TheLibyan War's 60 days ended May 20. Obama never sought congressionalauthorization. To do so would make him look, once again, like George W. Bush.
Congress might also rebuff him since he has devoted solittle public political effort to the war. A few legislators have raised theissue of Obama's legal failure, but media outrage is missing, as are the usualarch-left moral seizures associated with American combat. No demonstrators,lathered in blood red paint, chant before television cameras. We hear no maniclectures from the ponytailed professoriate on the White House tyrant's imperialarrogance.
For the good of American security, we should rescind theproblematic law. Yet legislation to rescind might face a presidential veto, forObama claims he isn't violating the act.
Which leads to the president's corrupting cleverness. Ratherthan confront the resolution's suspect demands, it seems Obama wants to keepthe law for Democrats to wield as a political cudgel when Republican presidentswage war. Invoking it will prompt the profs to begin their lectures.
Obama bases his claim the act does not apply to his Libyaventure on word games that are as transparently silly as they areintellectually and morally dishonest.
Libya, according to Obama, is not even a war but a"kinetic military action." If the stakes were not so serious -- say,if the subject were basketball brackets rather than deadly war -- we mightchuckle at his buck-naked bravado. It recalls Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty."When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'itmeans just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." The Big Oechoes the big egg that Alice discovered sitting on a wall, before his fall.
The Pentagon uses the term kinetic attack to mean the use ofa weapon that relies on energy (e.g., high explosive energy) to inflict damage.Kinetic operations (organizing kinetic attacks to achieve a goal) are combatoperations. So the subject is deadly serious, orchestrated warfare -- unlessyou use Obama's readily revised dictionary as a reference.
The administration's next act of verbal prestidigitation isto claim that U.S. forces are, by and large, supporting NATO's war by providinglogistics capabilities (like tanker aircraft) and intelligence. So -- the rusegoes -- we aren't at war too much, it's war einy-tiny, since we're mostlynon-kinetic.
This argument would lose in a middle-school debatetournament, but in Washington's Obama-worshipping precincts, who knows? If aRepublican president made it, we'd hear for six years that the man was a low-IQcowboy attempting "strategery."
Obama has tried to turn Humpty Dumpty definitionalism intopolicy before, and failed. In early 2009, he declared the Global War on Terrorkaput and replaced it with "Overseas Contingency Operation." Changingthe name didn't alter the battlefield. Maj. Nidal Hasan's terror attack at Ft.Hood demonstrated the war is very much back here.
Obama must believe his word games are tactical tools forachieving policy objectives. That may be the case if you are communityorganizing in Chicago, but a more sober and presidential appreciation ofreality is appropriate when cruise missiles disorganize air defense communities(by blast effects). Otherwise, the commander in chief risks diminishing one ofhis most precious strategic assets: moral authority.