The Obama Administration’s Wartime Power Grab

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 7, 2011

Bruce Ackerman–no conservative, he–points out the degree to which the Obama Administration has reinforced notions of an Imperial Presidency thanks to its actions in Libya:

Obama appears even more unwilling than his much-criticized predecessors to reach out to Congress. President George W. Bush got Congress to sign onto the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq before the first American assault; and President Bill Clinton won congressional approval for a targeted appropriation in support of his Kosovo campaign during the 60-day window established by the resolution. Obama should take the same course, building the bipartisan coalition required to redeem his unilateral action. Congressional buy-in is especially important now that the Libya campaign threatens to drag on. If the president tries to go it alone now, he greatly increases the risk of partisan attacks in the future. Beyond the pure constitutional arguments, there’s a positive political calculation to be made here as well.

Equally important, an exercise in unilateralism will establish a dangerous precedent in presidential war-making for his successors to exploit. By repudiating the 60-day restriction on his power, Obama opens the way for future presidents to launch “limited” wars that are far more ambitious than the rather modest Libya incursion. As a former constitutional law professor in Chicago, the president surely must understand the long-term consequences that would follow from eroding the checks on presidential power to wage war. Indeed, such a legacy stands in stark contrast to his assurances on the campaign trail in 2007 that “[t]he 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.”

As I have discussed before, I don’t think that President Obama is going to get into trouble for his wartime powers exercise; the President usually gets wide latitude regarding this issue. But he should be pilloried for violating just about every promise he made in 2008 to rein in the Imperial Presidency. I am sure that there are a lot of Obama fans who don’t like Bruce Fein for circulating impeachment articles over this issue, but they liked it just fine when he attacked the Bush Administration for the exercise of Presidential powers that did not go nearly as far as the kind that we see in regard to Libya.

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