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Jewish World Review
June 29, 2011
/ 27 Sivan, 5771
Obama, Nixon suddenly joined in posterity
America was worse than just war-weary by 1973, when the War Powers Act became the law of the land -- as the Senate and House both overrode the veto of a hawkish and hard-line president, Richard Nixon.
Most Americans were disillusioned -- and many were downright disgusted -- about how their commanders-in-chief and congressional rubber stampers had misled them into the long Vietnam War that began undeclared and would soon end un-won.
It was the liberals who led the way in enacting the joint resolution that was considered to be finally giving senators and representatives the clout to stop future hawkish presidents from unilaterally plunging America into wrong wars.
The temper of those times was so disillusioned that large numbers of centrist and even conservative senators and representatives joined in voting for the joint resolution that became the War Powers Act. Among them, Nixon's longtime supporter, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, who, as Republican National Chairman loyally defended Nixon throughout the Watergate scandal. Nixon issued a statement bemoaning the final vote, contending the measure "seriously undermines this nation's ability to act decisively and convincingly in times of international crisis."
On that November 7 afternoon, no one who worked at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue could have possible dreamed that someday the political forces would be so realigned that congressional conservatives would try to use the War Powers Act to thwart a military action ordered by a president, whose opponents attack him for being a liberal.
But President Barack Obama indeed argued just days ago that the War Powers Act did not apply to his approval of air strikes on the Libyan troops and military command and control sites Moammar Qaddafi. The War Powers Act says a president cannot order U.S. military into "hostilities" for longer than 60 days without seeking congressional approval, But Obama contended that the U.S. airstrikes he ordered are not against hostile forces -- because the Libyan forces are not shooting back at their U.S. attackers.
Here's how this came about: Obama initially overruled two of his top legal officials -- Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, who issued an opinion that that what the U.S. is doing in supporting the now NATO-led, United Nations sanctioned effort against Qaddafi's regime does constitute having the U.S. military engage in "hostilities." By that ruling, Obama would have had to seek congressional authorization to continue the airstrikes after 60 days, a deadline which came and passed a month ago.
So instead, Obama, himself a constitutional scholar, overruled those experts and found himself some others who would decide it more to his liking. Among them were White House Counsel Robert Bauer and the State Department legal adviser Harold H. Koh. They worked on a State Department report that was sent to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. It made the president's mind-numbing case: "U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors."
In other words, what Obama's position comes down to is that the U.S. air strikes -- mostly now by unmanned drone aircraft -- are just killing and wounding people at Qaddafi's military or government installations. And it doesn't count as "hostilities" unless they have the chance to shoot back before they die.
What happened in the House was that a bipartisan measure to authorize Obama's airstrikes for a year longer failed -- but Republican-led efforts to clamp new restrictions on Obama's military efforts also failed. If the president had simply dealt forthrightly with the Congress, as he should have, he surely would have prevailed in the end.
Indeed, the Senate won't move to limit him. So he will get his way. But he has diminished himself in the process.
Obama made himself look downright Nixonian. And in the quiet of a Washington summer, you may be able to hear in the distance Richard Nixon guffawing in his grave.
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