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Mar 22nd, 2011

Did Obama Violate the Constitution with Libya Military Action?


Dennis Kucinich talks Libya (MSNBC “The Last Word,” March 22, 2011) — Will the military operation in Libya get caught in the political tug of war over the budget? The Congressman explains why he’s introducing legislation to make sure no taxpayer money goes to pay for the attacks. (05:32)

By Pete Williams and Jonathan Hutcheson

First Read
March 22, 2011

Did President Obama violate the Constitution or federal law when he ordered the U.S. military to take part in coalition attacks on forces loyal to Moammar Khaddafy in Libya?

The Constitution itself doesn’t answer the question, because it gives Congress authority “to raise and support Armies,” “to provide and maintain a Navy,” and “to declare War.” But it also provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”

Congress has formally declared war only five times in U.S. history — for the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. But presidents have approved dozens of military actions with no such declaration, including the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam.

Well over 100 military operations were ordered without any advance Congressional authorization at all. Recent examples include actions in Grenada, the overthrow of Manuel Noriega in Panama, and intervention in civil wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

A federal law, the War Powers Act of 1973, requires the president to consult with Congress “in every possible instance” before deploying U.S. forces. An exception was made for emergencies created by attacks on the U.S. or its armed forces.

Some legal scholars conclude that President Obama violated the law’s requirements, when he failed to seek congressional approval. …

But one former official who advised President George W. Bush said that while the decision to deploy U.S. forces in the Libyan operation was a political and strategic mistake, it’s entirely legal.

“Congress raises and supports the military, but the president is the commander. Declaring war and making war are two different functions. There’s no question President Obama has the authority to do what he did,” the official said, asking that his name not be used.

Mr. Obama’s actions are consistent with the way every president since Richard Nixon has treated the War Powers Act, choosing to notify Congress only after a decision has been made to sign orders authorizing military operations.

His actions do, however, appear to contradict the view he expressed as a candidate. In December 2007, he told Charlie Savage, then of the Boston Globe that a 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.” …

Full story


Related report

Obama, Libya and the authorization conflict (Tom Curry,, March 22, 2011) — The president does not need authorization from Congress before launching a military offensive — so said Vice President Dick Cheney and other advisers to President George W. Bush in the summer of 2002 as that administration prepared to use force to topple Saddam Hussein. … In the case of Libya, President Barack Obama has consulted with congressional leaders, but sought no authorization for his military operation against Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. … Full story


Related reports on this site

Libya Air War Begins (March 19, 2011)

One of three stealth B-2 Spirit bombers returns to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri from its mission in support of the Operation Odyssey Dawn no-fly zone over Libya. The three planes dropped precision munitions on an airfield near the city of Misrata. A military official said the B-2s flew 25 hours round trip from Whiteman and dropped 45 2,000-pound bombs. (Photo credit: Senior Airman Kenny Holston / U.S. Air Force via AFP — Getty Images)

NATO Ultimatum to Gadhafi (March 18, 2011)

Libya No-Fly Zone, Airstrikes Imminent (March 17, 2011)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — March 22, 2010

MN-06 Endorses Conspiracy Nut for Congress

Rep. Michele Bachmann (Photo credit: Newscom / Zunique)

One year ago today, I reported that Republican delegates at Minnesota’s Sixth District GOP convention in St. Cloud on Saturday, March 20, 2010 voted unanimously to return politically paranoid conspiracy nut Michele Bachmann to Congress for a third term.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — March 22, 2009

Six Wars in Iraq

Image: Smoke billows from Iraq Planning Ministry
“Shock and Awe” (Ramzi Haidar / AFP — Getty Images)

Two years ago today, on March 22, 2009, I reported that according to NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, the Iraq war was in a sixth phase — “America’s exit strategy” — the first five phases having been “shock and awe” (March-April 2003), “nation-building” (2003-2004), “insurgency” (2004-2005), “civil war” (2006-2007), and “the surge” (2007-2008).

5 Responses to “Is Libya Action Unconstitutional?”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Libya Update Says:

    […] Is Libya Military Action Constitutional? (March 22, 2011) […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Barack Obama’s Libya Speech Says:

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  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » (Some) Boots on the Ground in Libya Says:

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  4. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Gadhafi Kin Killed in Airstrike Says:

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  5. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Battle for Tripoli Has Begun Says:

    […] Is Libya Military Action Constitutional? (March 22, 2011) […]

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