NYT: White House searching for "plausible theory" by which Libya war won't soon be illegal

In an alternate reality where anyone still cares about Libya or the War Powers Act, this article is the biggest story in America today. As it is, the president concocts a half-assed legal dodge to avoid even minimal accountability in matters of war and somehow it’s not even on the board at Memeorandum.

Luckily, Congress doesn’t care either or else we might have had quite a tiff on our hands here.

The administration apparently has no intention of pulling out of the Libya campaign, and Mr. Steinberg said that Mr. Obama was committed “to act consistently with the War Powers Resolution.” So the Obama legal team is now trying to come up with a plausible theory for why continued participation by the United States does not violate the law.

A variety of Pentagon and military officials said the issue was in the hands of lawyers, not commanders. Several officials described a few of the ideas under consideration…

By ending all [drone] strike missions for American forces, the argument then could be made that the United States was no longer directly engaged in hostilities in Libya, but only providing support to NATO allies.

Another idea is for the United States to order a complete — but temporary — halt to all of its efforts in the Libya mission. Some lawyers make the case that, after a complete pause, the United States could rejoin the mission with a new 60-day clock.

I like the phrasing about how they’re trying to “come up” with a legal theory to justify a war a few days before the 60-day grace period ends, as if they’re some sort of high school study group brainstorming over pizza the night before a big class presentation is due. And the presentation doesn’t even have to be good — merely “plausible,” sort of in the C-/D+ range. Congress is famously an easy grader.

Hopefully the White House will have some fun with it, just to see how much crap Senate eminences like Kerry — who now admits the war is a stalemate — and McCain are willing to eat. The boldfaced logic in the blockquote is wonderfully surreal, for instance: If you take it seriously, that the president can wage war indefinitely without congressional authorization merely by declaring a formal halt and then a formal re-start to operations every 60 days, then the War Powers Act is a colossal joke. You wouldn’t have to go to court to try to nullify it on separation-of-powers grounds; it’d be effectively defunct, killed by its own weakness as Congress refused to support it. First the economy, then Bin Laden, now the WPA: Say what you will about The One, but when he wants something dead, he knows how to get the job done.

As for how long the mission will go on, apparently that’s entirely up to Qaddafi. He issued a statement today claiming that NATO bombs will never find him, but rumors are swirling that that’s not true.