Constitutional Law Professor, Nobel Peace Prize Winner contemplates unconstitutional war in Libya 

For weeks, President Obama has resisted pressure to intervene in the Libyan conflagration. But it looks like somebody’s had a change of heart. Yesterday, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice announced that the Obama administration was working “very hard” to get the UN to pass a resolution authorizing aerial bombing of Libyan tanks and ground forces. “Washington is insisting that any military action would have to be authorised by the security council,” the Guardian reports.

It’s nice that the Obama team wants to get international approval before launching a third war in the Middle East. But you know who else might deserve a say? The American people, through their elected representatives.  As James Madison put it, “In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”

If Obama launches an air war on Libya without prior congressional authorization, he’ll violate the Constitution.  What's more--by his own admission--he'll be breaking his oath to uphold the Constitution.  

On the campaign trail in late 2007, reporter Charlie Savage quizzed the candidates on their views of presidential power. Asked if the president had the power, without congressional approval, to bomb a country that didn’t represent an imminent threat to the US, Obama answered:

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.

At a hearing today, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared “if the Obama administration decides to impose a no-fly zone or take other significant military action in Libya, I believe it should first seek a Congressional debate on a declaration of war under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.” Lugar said. When asked by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., if the administration thinks it needs congressional authorization to bomb Libya, the hearing’s lone witness, the State Department’s Bill Burns, replied, “I can’t give you a yes-no answer.”

Back on the campaign trail, Obama answered that question: it was, yes, unless there's an imminent threat, the president needs congressional authorization to go to war.  

What does President Obama think today? Who knows?

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Gene Healy

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