In Defense Of The President’s Libya Action

Last week I wrote a post that questioned President Obama’s decision to commit to military action in Libya. Specifically, I suggested that he was acting outside of his Constitutionally designated power. This opinion piece from the WSJ written by John Yoo (definitely not an apologist for the Left) suggests to me that I was too simplistic in my judgments.

Real opposition comes from a different quarter: young congressional Republicans like Jason Chaffetz of Utah or Justin Amash of Michigan. Their praiseworthy opposition to the growth of federal powers at home misleads them to resist Washington’s indispensable role abroad. They mistakenly read the 18th-century constitutional text through a modern lens—for example, understanding “declare war” to mean “start war.” When the Constitution was written, a declaration of war served diplomatic notice about a change in legal relations between nations. It had little to do with launching hostilities. In the century before the Constitution, for example, Great Britain fought numerous major conflicts but declared war only once beforehand.

Our Constitution sets out specific procedures for passing laws, appointing officers, and making treaties. There are none for waging war. The Constitution declares that states shall not “engage” in war “without the consent of Congress” unless “actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay”—exactly the limits desired by antiwar critics, complete with an exception for self-defense. But even these limits are absent when it comes to war waged by the president. The Framers wanted Congress and the president to struggle over war through the political process, not the courts.

It is easy to criticize Obama for flip-flopping with respect to a President’s powers and responsibilities to Congress. Fairness, however, requires that you give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has grown with the responsibilities imposed upon him by the Presidency.

I humbly (a word with which I am not terribly familiar) concede that my previous criticism was in error.

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