After the White House's bid to expand the president's war-making powers, you knew this was coming: House Speaker John Boehner, Arizona Sen. John McCain and even congressional Democrats all at least questioned President Obama's rationale on continuing the Libya intervention Thursday, and many broke into open criticism. Bohner said Obama's explanation that Libya doesn't constitute a war as covered by the War Powers Resolution "doesn't pass the straight-face test," and as the WaPo's David A. Fahrenthold and Felicia Sonmez wrote, even an early supporter of intervention didn't speak up for the president:
“I am no legal scholar, but I find it hard to swallow that U.S. armed forces dropping bombs and killing enemy personnel in a foreign country doesn’t amount to a state of hostilities,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “Unfortunately, this only adds more confusion to our already confusing policy in Libya.”Technically, the Senate is already on the record -- unanimously -- as being in support of a Libya intervention, but that was one of those voice-vote dealies that members don't take seriously.
It also is unclear what will happen next in the Senate. That body is already considering one resolution that would support the Libyan operation, and another that would rebuke Obama for starting it without asking Congress first. McCain said he would introduce another measure that offered explicit authorization for the use of limited force in Libya.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon said Thursday that he would support congressional action restricting American forces to a "combat support" role in Libya unless Congress acts formally to authorize the Libyan operation. "Unfortunately, it sounds as if the White House is playing word games, instead of simply asking Congress for authorization to engage in military action," McKeon said.
The White House clearly expected Thursday's skepticism, because spokesman Jay Carney had a weapon spun up in the tube and all ready to go at the afternoon press briefing: Boehner, back during the Clinton administration, criticized the War Powers Resolution.
"I think it’s noteworthy that the views expressed in the Speaker’s letter stand in contrast to the views he expressed in 1999 when he called the War Powers Act 'constitutionally suspect,' and warned Congress to 'resist the temptation to take any action that would do further damage to the institution of the presidency,'" Carney said. "I make an observation about that because I think it is worth noting in the current context."
So is Boehner just playing politics now? asked a reporter. What a question. Here's what Carney said:
"I simply think it’s important to know what his views were then. And what’s important about that, too, is that this was 1999 and he had concerns about the actions that then-President Clinton was taking in the Balkans, and yet despite those concerns, urged Congress to resist invoking the War Powers Resolution because of the potential damage it could do to the institution of the presidency."
The Libya intervention was always a gamble, but the cards have not been falling in Obama's favor. He hoped a precise, quick air war could topple Libyan strongman Moammar Qaddafi, but that didn't pay off. He hoped the NATO Euro-allies who really wanted this operation would take care of it themselves because they have lots of great incentives: it's right on their doorstep, it affects their energy supply and could yield an immigration explosion -- and yet the U.S. had to begin selling NATO more bombs as it ran out. And domestically, Obama gambled that the chorus of voices that came just short of calling him a wimp before the intervention -- most notably McCain, along with some others -- would at least keep silent as the Libyan war drew on, if not become allies.
So far, none of those wagers appear to have paid off.