Congressional opposition to President Obama’s unilateral decision to launch an undeclared war with Libya is coming from across the partisan and ideological spectrum.
The opposition takes many forms, but at its core is a recognition, by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, progressives and libertarians, senior members and freshmen, that presidents are required to seek a Congressional declaration of war—as outlined in the Constitution—before sending US military forces to attack another country.
What is striking about the statements coming from House and Senate members is the consistency of that constitutional commitment.
Here’s what Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, the Maryland Republican who serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces of the House Armed Services Committee, says: “The United States does not have a King’s army. President Obama’s unilateral choice to use U.S. military force in Libya is an affront to our Constitution. President Obama’s administration has repeated the mistakes of the Clinton administration concerning bombing in Kosovo and the George W. Bush administration concerning invading Iraq by failing to request and obtain from the U.S. Congress unambiguous prior authorization to use military force against a country that has not attacked U.S. territory, the U.S. military or U.S. citizens. This is particularly ironic considering then-Senator Obama campaigned for the Democratic nomination based upon his opposition to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.”
“Muammar Qaddafi is a tyrant despised throughout the Middle East and North Africa. His brutal and merciless attacks against his own citizens are horrific,” adds Bartlett. “It is self-evident that the tragic situation in Libya is not an emergency since the Obama administration sought and obtained support from both the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to authorize military force against Qaddafi. The Obama administration also had time to organize a 22-nation coalition to implement a no-fly zone with military attacks led by U.S. Armed Forces against Qadhafi’s forces. Nonetheless, the Obama administration failed to seek approval from the American people and their elected legislators in the Congress. Failing to obtain authorization from the U.S. Congress means that President Obama has taken sole responsibility for the outcome of using U.S. military forces against Qadhafi onto his shoulders and his administration.”
Congressman Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who has been a consistent critic of undeclared wars, says: “The Obama administration’s decision to attack Libya was made without any Congressional approval. It’s outside the Constitution of the United States. Whether you like President Obama or not is not the question. The question is if you like the Constitution more. And the Constitution places very firmly in the hands of Congress the decision as to whether or not to commit the men and women of our armed services to a conflict, or the physical assets of the United States of America into a conflict. “
“We are bombing Libya right now,” adds Kucinich. “Congress did not approve, according to the Constitution. Such an action lacks legality in the United States and the president should have to answer to that. I mean, this isn’t anything that is a small matter. It’s a very grave matter, actually.”
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican who like Kucinich has often been at odds with US military adventuring abroad, says: “Congress sits by, as usual, pretending that Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution does not exist. According to this long-ignored section, ‘The Congress shall have Power To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.’ This is black letter law, not some aspirational statement by our Founders. Their intent was indisputably clear: Congress alone, not the Executive Branch, has the authority and the obligation to declare war if hostilities are to be initiated against a foreign state that has not attacked the United States.
Adds Paul: “Let us be clear about one thing: for the US to take action to establish a ‘no fly’ zone over all or part of Libya would constitute an act of war against Libya. For the US to establish any kind of military presence on the sovereign territory, waters, or over the airspace of Libya is to engage in a hostile action that requires Congressional authorization. Whatever we may think about the Qaddafi regime, we must recognize that this is a coup d’état in a foreign country. What moral right do we have to initiate military action against Libya? Libya has not attacked the United States. Neither the coup leaders nor the regime pose an imminent threat to the United States and therefore, as much as we abhor violence and loss of life, this is simply none of our business.”
Here’s what North Carolina Republican Walter Jones Jr., a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, complains that: “We’re neutered as a Congress. It’s like we don’t exist.… I wish the president had not gone into Libya without first coming to Congress. We have for too long, as a Congress, been too passive when it comes to sending our young men and women to war.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, says:
The decision for the United States to accelerate our military engagement in Libya is one that should have been debated and approved by Congress. We are still paying the price entering for entering two ill-advised wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I have grave concerns about the many unanswered questions that remain in Libya. Do we now own this military operation? When will this dramatic acceleration of military intervention end? What is our responsibility and commitment there? And where do we draw the line for military intervention considering unrest and violence in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Yemen? Entering into a significant military engagement with Libya has the potential to become a quagmire that will cost lives, money and America’s standing around the world. The United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya, and I am committed to ensuring that the United States does not become embroiled in another war.
Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller, a key Republican who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, says:
I find it very troubling and unacceptable that President Obama has committed American forces to the conflict in Libya without any consultation or consent from Congress and without clearly stating to the American people the compelling U.S. national interest, our ultimate goal, the scope of our involvement, the potential cost and how we will achieve success. It is completely wrong that President Obama took this action without answering any questions and then immediately left the country. The President should immediately return home and call Congress back into session so that this action can be fully debated.
We have seen uprisings across the Middle East over the last few months and in many instances atrocities have been perpetrated. One now must ask where this Administration draws the line. What other internal conflicts might President Obama decide to engage American armed forces? What standard is he using when making a decision to engage American power? These are vital questions that demand answers before we get further drawn into this and other conflicts that have uncertain outcomes.
US Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrats who served as secretary of the Navy, says: “A concern that I have is that we have been sort of on autopilot for almost ten years from now in terms of presidential authority in conducting these type of military operations absent the meaningful participation of the Congress. We have not had a debate and I know that there was some justification put into place because of concern for civilian casualties. But this isn’t the way that our system is supposed to work.
New York Democrat Charles Rangel, a Korean War veteran who is one of the longest-serving members of the House, says: “Congress should be called into session immediately. This could be the beginning of another Korea or Iraq. We went into these conflicts without knowing how long they would last. War in Korea still has not ended and we have just entered the ninth year in Iraq. This has to stop sometime. It is up to the U.S. Congress to fulfill its constitutional authority.”
“On Libya, is Congress going to assert it’s constitutional role or be a potted plant?” asks Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who serves on the Armed Services Committee, as well as the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.
“Our country is currently facing a myriad of challenges, including working to complete our objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, protecting our cherished way of life from extremist terrorist networks and struggling here at home to address a skyrocketing deficit that poses a tremendous threat to our national security,” says New York Republican Congressman Chris Gibson, an influential member of the large caucus of GOP freshmen elected last fall. “Now is not the time to take on new missions. The Libyans must decide their own fate, and we should stop our military operations immediately.”