The continuing military stalemate in Libya has prompted charges in
Congress that in failing to obtain congressional approval for the
operation, President Obama is in violation of the War Powers resolution.
This morning, commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent
Barrie Dunsmore, gives us some background.
Barak Obama’s shifting position on the War Powers resolution is a
perfect illustration of the old saw, where you stand depends on where
When Barack Obama was sitting in the Senate, he took a
firm stand in favor of the War Powers Resolution. Now that he is sitting
on the Oval Office his stand on the resolution is to ignore it.
War Powers resolution was passed in 1973. It was a reflection of
Congressional frustration at having been marginalized by presidents
Johnson and Nixon in their conduct of the Vietnam War. The resolution
stipulates that presidents must end any military hostilities that have
not received Congressional blessing – 60 days after they have begun.
one of the U.S. Constitution says "The Congress shall have the power…
to declare war." But article two states, "the president shall be
commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." With this
ambiguity, of the countless wars America has engaged in since its
inception, only five were officially declared by Congress. The last of
those was World War II. Notably Korea and Vietnam were not declared
wars. The War Powers resolution was supposed to remedy this anomaly, but
it hasn’t. Since it was passed, every president has questioned its
constitutionality although the law has never been tested in the Supreme
I remember going up to the Capitol to cover the
testimonies of various secretaries of state – most often before the
Foreign Relations and Arms Services committees. It didn’t seem to matter
what party the secretary was from – or which party was in charge of the
committee. Each senator or congressman would make speeches thinly
disguised as questions to show how brilliant he or she was – although in
my view usually proving quite the opposite. I remember remarking to
friends that my faith in democracy varied in inverse proportion to the
hours I had to spend at such hearings.
But I was wrong. What I
failed to recognize was that this was a kind of tribal ritual that only
the participants themselves truly understand – but without which
America’s system of government would not work. The Constitution
explicitly created the executive, legislative and judicial branches of
government so that no single one would become all powerful. And under
that system, the president is actually strengthened if he gets the
support of Congress for on-going American military engagements.
the case of Libya, Obama hasn’t played the game, arguing instead that
the intervention in Libya doesn’t meet the threshold of being a war – so
he doesn’t need Congressional approval. This may be clever but
Congress doesn’t actually want the
responsibility of deciding what to do in Libya, but it doesn’t want to
be ignored either. At a hearing on the subject this week, Republican
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee accused the Obama administration of
"sticking a stick in the eye of Congress." On that, the senator may be