Hillary to Congress on not seeking authorization for Libya war: Too bad

I don’t know how else to read this except as the White House telling Congress that they don’t want to hear from them going forward, period. And based on the reactions from both Republicans and Democrats at the briefing, sounds like they don’t know how else to read it either.


They said one dynamic was very clear: The administration doesn’t much care what Congress thinks about the actions it’s taken so far.

Challenged on whether Obama overstepped his constitutional authority in attacking Libya without congressional approval, Clinton told lawmakers that White House lawyers were OK with it and that Obama has no plans to seek an endorsement from Congress, attendees told POLITICO…

“If they didn’t need congressional authorization here in these circumstances, can you tell me under what circumstances you’d ever need congressional authorization if we’re going into a war? Nobody answered [that] question,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). “The administration and its lawyers believed they had the authority under the War Powers Act.”…

Without a vote, it’s impossible to tell whether a majority of members would support more intense action in Libya, but it’s clear the administration has done little to assuage its critics. Lawmakers expressed skepticism that they’d even be consulted if the administration were to take such action.

“Now he wants people like me to support him,” said one moderate Democrat. “Quite frankly, I can’t.”

Isn’t he required under the War Powers Act to seek congressional authorization after 60 days of hostilities? Or is this guy so intent on waging war whether Congress likes it or not that he’d go to court to try to have the WPA ruled unconstitutional? Normally I’d dismiss that possibility as insane given that he did, after all, run in ’08 on his anti-war cred and that not even a Republican president would dare pull a move like that amid bipartisan clamoring for accountability, but I don’t know that anything can be safely ruled out at this point.

No wonder Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intel Committee, is now drawing a very sharp line on arming the rebels:

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a late Wednesday interview that the Obama administration’s top national security officials were deeply split on whether arming the rebels was a good idea. In a classified briefing Wednesday with lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Rogers said it was clear that there were deep divisions between the cabinet officials regarding the wisdom of arming the rebels.

“I’ve never seen an uneasiness amongst their national security cabinet members as I have seen on this. It’s kind of odd,” said Rogers. He declined to say which cabinet members were supporting arming the rebels and which were opposed, but he said it was obvious that they disagreed…

“Any covert action that happens would have to get the sign off of the intelligence chairmen, by statute. You won’t get a sign off from me,” Rogers said referring to National Security Act 47. “I still think arming the rebels is a horrible idea. We don’t know who they are, we only know who they are against but we don’t really who they are for. We don’t have a good picture of who’s really in charge.”

I won’t pretend to know offhand whether he has the right to block The One under the NSA, but if we’re no longer abiding by the War Powers Act, why bother with that one either?

Seriously, what’s Obama’s angle in all this? The last thing he wants with an election around the corner is full blame if things go badly wrong in Libya. As I’ve argued before, rationally, he should be looking to get Congress involved in all this to provide himself with some political cover. Even if they refuse to play along and deny him authorization, that’s okay too. That’s his exit strategy from all this — just blame Congress for tying his hands and then that’s the end of it. Why would President Present want to finally take sole responsibility for a policy measure when it’s as dicey as this one?

Update: Cold comfort: Obama’s apparently not the only western leader half-assing this thing by refusing to consult with important advisors.

Sarkozy won a fair measure of praise for being the first leader to recognize the Libyan opposition as the legitimate leadership of the country – but even that may come back to haunt him if things go wrong. Sarkozy’s decision was taken almost on the spur of the moment, and under the spectacular brow-beating of mediagenic philosopher Bernard-Henri LÉvy, who decided to make crusading to protect the Libyan opposition a re-make of his 1990 campaign as the savior of the Bosnians during the Balkan war. Sarkozy reportedly did so without even consulting his newly-named Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe (who was said to have been both hostile to the move and aghast that a media star had taken his role as France’s top diplomat). “There may heavy consequences,” says Bitar, “when a president makes decisions based on input by celebrities.”

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