President Barack Obama has violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
That is a good thing. The War Powers Resolution was constitutionally dubious when it was passed — by a Democratic Party-controlled Congress intent on obstructing the powers of a Republican president.
Instead of taking a principled stance against a questionable law, however, President Obama chose to mask his violation with cleverness — a corrosive, shallow cleverness smacking of the worst in partisan skullduggery.
Too bad. Tackling the War Powers Act would have strengthened the presidency as an institution and reinforced Obama’s moral authority. Democratic and Republican presidents have argued rigorous enforcement of the act leads to congressional micro-management of a war and erodes presidential prerogatives to the detriment of U.S. security.
The act forbids employing U.S. armed forces in combat for more than 60 days without congressional authorization or declaring war. The Libyan War’s 60 days ended May 20. Obama never sought congressional authorization. To do so would make him look, once again, like George W. Bush.
Congress might also rebuff him since he has devoted so little public political effort to the war. A few legislators have raised the issue of Obama’s legal failure, but media outrage is missing, as are the usual arch-left moral seizures associated with American combat. No demonstrators, lathered in blood red paint, chant before television cameras. We hear no manic lectures from the ponytailed professoriate on the White House tyrant’s imperial arrogance.
For the good of American security, we should rescind the problematic law. Yet legislation to rescind might face a presidential veto, for Obama claims he isn’t violating the act.
Which leads to the president’s corrupting cleverness. Rather than confront the resolution’s suspect demands, it seems Obama wants to keep the law for Democrats to wield as a political cudgel when Republican presidents wage war. Invoking it will prompt the profs to begin their lectures.
Obama bases his claim that the act does not apply to his Libya venture on word games that are as transparently silly as they are intellectually 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 might chuckle 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, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” The Big O echoes the big egg that Alice discovered sitting on a wall, before his fall.
The Pentagon uses the term kinetic attack to mean the use of a weapon that relies on energy (e.g., high explosive energy) to inflict damage. Kinetic operations (organizing kinetic attacks to achieve a goal) are combat operations. So the subject is deadly serious, orchestrated warfare — unless you use Obama’s readily revised dictionary as a reference.
The administration’s next act of verbal prestidigitation is to claim that U.S. forces are, by and large, supporting NATO’s war by providing logistics capabilities (like tanker aircraft) and intelligence. So — the ruse goes — we aren’t at war too much, it’s war einy-tiny, since we’re mostly non-kinetic.
This argument would lose in a middle-school debate tournament, but in Washington’s Obama-worshipping precincts, who knows? If a Republican president made it, we’d hear for six years that the man was a low-IQ cowboy attempting “strategery.”
Obama has tried to turn Humpty Dumpty definitionalism into policy before, and failed. In early 2009, he declared the Global War on Terror kaput and replaced it with “Overseas Contingency Operation.” Changing the 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 for achieving policy objectives. That may be the case if you are community organizing in Chicago, but a more sober and presidential appreciation of reality is appropriate when cruise missiles disorganize air defense communities (by blast effects). Otherwise, the commander in chief risks diminishing one of his most precious strategic assets: moral authority.
Austin Bay is a syndicated columnist.