Obama dis­misses ‘fuss’ over Libya and pres­i­den­tial power

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KARA ROW­LAND

Fac­ing the press for the first time since a bi­par­ti­san re­buke, by lawmakers, Pres­i­dent Obama on June 29 de­fended his han­dling of the con­flict in Libya, dis­miss­ing as “noise” legal and con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions about whether he should have sought con­gres­sional ap­proval to ex­tend the U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion en­forc­ing a nofly zone over the North African nation.

Ar­gu­ing that Amer­i­can sup­port for the NATO mis­sion is pro­tect­ing civil­ians from forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi, Mr. Obama chided crit­ics for fo­cus­ing on pro­ce­dural is­sues and said the wel­fare of the Libyan peo­ple is his para­mount concern.

“We have en­gaged in a lim­ited op­er­a­tion to help a lot of peo­ple against one of the worst tyrants in the world, some­body who no­body should want to de­fend,” Mr. Obama told re­porters in a wide-rang­ing news con­fer­ence in the White House’s East Room. “And this sud­denly be­comes the cause celebre for some folks in Congress? Come on.”

“A lot of this fuss is pol­i­tics,” he added.

Mr. Obama said anti-Gad­hafi forces are ben­e­fit­ing from mo­men­tum more than three months af­ter the bomb­ing cam­paign started, even as the au­to­cratic leader clings to power. Rebels said last week that they had ad­vanced to within 50 miles of Col. Gad­hafi’s strong­hold of Tripoli with the help of arms that were air­dropped by the French mil­i­tary.

Con­gres­sional crit­ics con­tend that Mr. Obama has gone far be­yond what he promised be­cause Amer­i­can war­planes and un­manned drones are still strik­ing at Libyan tar­gets. They also say he has ig­nored dead­lines set by the 1973 War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion to seek con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tion as the cam­paign grinds on.

Lawmakers in both par­ties have bris­tled at the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claim that Mr. Obama is in com­pli­ance with the law be­cause Amer­i­can troops are not in tremen­dous dan­ger and the U.S. ef­fort is small when com­pared with other NATO coun­tries.

“I think you’ve un­der­mined the cred­i­bil­ity of this ad­min­is­tra­tion. I think you’ve un­der­mined the in­tegrity of the War Pow­ers Act. And I think by tak­ing this very nar­row ap­proach, you’ve done a great dis­ser­vice to our coun­try,” Sen. Bob Corker, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, told Harold Koh, the State Depart­ment’s top legal ad­viser, at a con­tentious hear­ing on June 28.

The pres­i­dent in­sisted at his news con­fer­ence that he has kept ev­ery prom­ise about the op­er­a­tion and noted that the U.S. handed over con­trol of the mis­sion to NATO al­lies as he said it would and point­ing out that Amer­ica’s Euro­pean al­lies in NATO are now bear­ing most of the bur­den.

“We have done ex­actly what I said we would do,” he said. “We have not put any boots on the ground. And our al­lies, who his­tor­i­cally we’ve com­plained aren’t will­ing to carry enough of the load when it comes to NATO op­er­a­tions, have car­ried a big load.”

Af­ter se­cur­ing a U.N. res­o­lu­tion, Mr. Obama de­ployed U.S. forces in March to first lead, then later to sup­port a NATO op­er­a­tion. He alerted Congress of the con­flict un­der the pro­vi­sions of the 1973 War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion, but never sought au­tho­riza­tion. He has since said that with U.S. troops no longer in the lead, the res­o­lu­tion is not rel­e­vant and its with­drawal dead­lines don’t ap­ply.

On June 29, Mr. Obama was asked whether he was pre­pared for the con­flict to go on for an­other year, but the pres­i­dent didn’t re­ply di­rectly. In­stead, he said he promised Amer­i­cans that the U.S. lead role would last a mat­ter of weeks — a prom­ise he said he kept.

Now the fo­cus shifts back to Congress.

On June 28, the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing U.S. in­volve­ment in Libya for up to a year. The bi­par­ti­san 14-5 com­mit­tee vote sug­gested strong sup­port for Mr. Obama’s war plans, in­clud­ing lim­ited airstrikes by U.S. forces.

But the com­mit­tee acted af­ter the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives two weeks ago de­liv­ered a sym­bolic re­buke by vot­ing 295-123 against a mea­sure for­mally giv­ing Mr. Obama au­thor­ity for the Libya mis­sion, and mo­men­tum ap­peared to be build­ing for a pro­posal to cut off all fund­ing for the op­er­a­tion.

The pres­i­dent ar­gued that lawmakers con­cerned about the le­gal­ity of the mis­sion were miss­ing the point — the Gad­hafi regime was go­ing to “mas­sacre his peo­ple” if the U.S. and its al­lies failed to act — but nev­er­the­less said he thinks the op­er­a­tion is legal.

“Do I think that our ac­tions in any way vi­o­late the War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion? The an­swer is no,” he said.

Asked whether the mis­sion can be judged a suc­cess so long as Col. Gad­hafi re­mains in power, Mr. Obama re­it­er­ated that the Libyan leader “needs to go,” but he didn’t spec­u­late how or when that might hap­pen. The U.N. res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing a no-fly zone did not call for his re­moval.

“I think it’d be hard for us to feel con­fi­dent that the Libyan peo­ple are go­ing to be pro­tected un­less he steps down,” Mr. Obama said. “Now, what that means, whether there’s the pos­si­bil­ity of Libyans ar­riv­ing at some sort of po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment — you know that, I think, is some­thing that ul­ti­mately the Libyan peo­ple are go­ing to have to make a de­ci­sion about.”

BLOOMBERG

Pres­i­dent Obama, at a news con­fer­ence on June 29, said he has kept ev­ery prom­ise about the Libyan mis­sion, not­ing that the U.S. handed over con­trol to NATO.

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