As a candidate for president, Barack Obama was a Distinguished Constitutional Scholar. As a president waging an illegal war? He’s just some guy who, gosh, isn’t really in a position to talk about that complex document he took an oath to uphold and defend.
At a press conference this week, NBC correspondent Chuck Todd — presumably under strict orders not to ask about Newsweek’s Princess Di cover — questioned the erstwhile legal scholar about whether he felt the War Powers Resolution, which forbids the president from deploying troops without congressional consent except in cases of imminent danger to national security, and even then for only 60 days, passed constitutional muster.
Well, the president replied, “I’m not a Supreme Court justice, so I’m not — I’m not going to put my constitutional law professor hat on here.” And so he didn’t, declaring it irrelevant — “I don’t even have to get to the constitutional question” — as he was already abiding by the law in question, rejecting the claim his actions “in any way violate the War Powers Resolution.”
But the president didn’t really want to get into legal specifics, other than to point out that the resolution was passed in the wake of the Vietnam war and probably wasn’t intended to apply to countries merely having the shit bombed out of them by U.S. forces (like, say, Cambodia). There’s a reason Obama didn’t want to put on his “constitutional law professor hat” during the press conference: he lost it during the 2008 campaign.
Back then, ages ago I know, Obama had no qualms addressing thorny legal issues concerning executive power. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” he told The Boston Globe.
You can see how such become inconvenient when you’re the one unilaterally authorizing the wars.
Obama also probably didn’t want to delve into the details because, when not reading the War Powers Resolution with the special goggles handed out to die-hard Democratic loyalists, it’s quite clear — indisputable, really — that the Obama administration is violating the letter of the law. Contrary to administration claims, bombing a country and trying to assassinate its leader most certainly do qualify as acts of war, or “hostilities” in the resolution’s terminology. And it’s most certainly the case that by helping its NATO allies do the same, U.S. forces are being asked to “command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government,” and that there’s an “imminent threat” that those forces “will become engaged,” all of which triggers the War Powers Resolution. That means Obama’s roughly three-month old war is, if it weren’t illegal from the start, explicitly so since the 60 day limit on non-congressionally authorized troop deployments expired a month ago.
As for all those complaining about the blatant illegality of the latest and greatest humanitarian bombing campaign — what Obama called the “noise about process and congressional consultation and so forth” — the president declared it was much ado about nothing. “I’ve had all the members of Congress over to talk about it,” he patiently explained, maintaining U.S. involvement in the war he once said would last “days, not weeks,” had. “So a lot of this fuss is politics.”
Politicians being politicians, the president’s assessment is no doubt partially true, though it’s a two-edged sword as Obama’s own unwillingness to seek what almost certainly would have been easy congressional approval of the Libya war back in March likewise had a lot to do with politics. Seeking congressional approval may have spurred a wider debate about the wisdom of entering yet another war at a time when social programs at home are being slashed and Americans are increasingly tired of being known only for burgers and bombs, and seeking an authorization to use force may have required Obama to lay out an endgame scenario — an actual plan — rather than platitudes about freedom and America’s uniquely heroic role in world affairs.
“We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world, somebody who nobody should want to defend,” Obama added during the press conference, bravely taking on the influential Gaddafi Lobby in Washington. “[W]e should be sending out a unified message to this guy that he should step down and give his people a fair chance to live their lives without fear. And — and this suddenly becomes the cause celebre for some folks in Congress? Come on.”
Got that? Dissent aids the enemy. Unity is Strength. The rule of law is a campaign slogan, nothing more. And Barack Obama is George W. Bush.