Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron joint op-ed: Qaddafi must go; Update: Senate resolution coming?

I’m not sure what the point of this is, unless they’re simply out to do damage control amid reports that O’s vaunted multinational coalition is running into predictable multilateral problems. The one kinda sorta newsy bit is that they’re making regime change an overt goal of the mission, which they acknowledge isn’t authorized by the UN resolution. But since there’s no sustainable outcome that leaves Qaddafi in power and since Obama’s been saying for weeks that his departure is now official U.S. policy, hey — they’re not going to sweat the small stuff.

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement. It would be an unconscionable betrayal…

There is a pathway to peace that promises new hope for the people of Libya — a future without Qaddafi that preserves Libya’s integrity and sovereignty, and restores her economy and the prosperity and security of her people. This needs to begin with a genuine end to violence, marked by deeds not words. The regime has to pull back from the cities it is besieging, including Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zintan, and return to their barracks. However, so long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good. At that point, the United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Qaddafi has destroyed — to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society.

If you’re worried that there’s no actual mechanism described here for getting Qaddafi to leave, well, just remember that Obama’s more of a framework/outline kind of guy. Besides, the mechanism should be clear enough given that bombs were falling on Tripoli today, any lip service about the limitations of the UN resolution to the contrary notwithstanding. The op-ed goes on to say that the mission has the support of a “broad coalition of countries,” but the lead Libya story tonight at the Times is that only half of that broad coalition is now actively participating, with just six nations responsible for airstrikes against Qaddafi’s forces. So heavy has the load gotten for Britain that, despite Obama’s promise that U.S. contributions would last “days, not weeks,” we’re still chipping in with bombing runs here and there. Which is to say, our “kinetic military action” is still quite kinetic.

We’ll pass the 30-day mark on the mission this week, the halfway point in the time allotted by the War Powers Act for the president to seek authorization from Congress. Imagine if that issue comes to a head in the middle of May, right when the debt ceiling armageddon is upon us.

Update: So here’s how they’re going to dodge the War Powers Act:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday evening that he and a group of negotiators have “nailed down” language on a Libya resolution and are waiting for instructions from leadership on how to proceed…

McCain’s office confirmed that the current language is a “sense of the Senate” resolution, meaning it would not carry the force of an authorizing measure. Given that Unites States has handed off power to NATO, the White House has argued that congressional authorization would not be required.

But as of Wednesday, American planes were still running missions in the region, according to news reports. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers two weeks ago that U.S. forces would be on “standby” in case allied forces were failing.

So as long as the president commits U.S. servicemen to action under an international umbrella — even one, like NATO, that’s basically a subsidiary of the United States — he doesn’t need Congress’s approval? That’s a neat wrinkle in Article II power.