President Obama's bombing of Libya without congressional authorization or debate puts us on a dangerous path. A minimum standard for transparency in government is that the House and the Senate go on the record for or against a new war.
The US is now at war in a third Muslim country, according to the "official tally" (that is, counting Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, but not Pakistan or Yemen, for example.) But Congress has never authorized or debated the US military intervention in Libya.
Some will no doubt claim that the president is acting in Libya within his authority as commander in chief. But this is an extremely dangerous claim.
To put it crudely: As a matter of logic, if President Obama can bomb Libya without congressional authorization, then a future President Palin could bomb Iran without congressional authorization. If, God forbid, we ever get to that fork in the road, you can bet your bottom dollar that the advocates of bombing Iran will invoke congressional silence now as justification for their claims of unilateral presidential authority to bomb anywhere, anytime. […]
Obama's own words: president doesn't have that power
A memo distributed to Republican aides in the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee made the case that congressional authorization is necessary and used Obama's own words to make the case.
On Dec. 20, 2007, then-Senator Obama was asked a question: "In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress?"
His response: "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." […]
With Benghazi apparently no longer under Libyan government threat, and with Western bombs falling in Tripoli, this dispute over the scope of Western military intervention is virtually certain to intensify. You can debate the constitutional issue of war powers until the cows come home; but as a practical matter, if Congress doesn't formally address the issue, such debate isn't very relevant.
If a majority of the House and the Senate support the present US military intervention in Libya, let them say so on the record, at least, by voting for a resolution to authorize military force. If the majority of the House or Senate are opposed, let them say so on the record. A minimum standard for transparency in government is that the House and the Senate go on the record for or against a new war.
Robert Naiman is policy director at Just Foreign Policy and president of Truthout’s board of directors.
An original version of this piece first appeared at truth-out.org.
Christian Science Monitor: If Obama can bomb Libya, a President Palin can bomb Iran without Congress's OK By Robert Naiman