President Obama’s claims this week that the War Powers Act doesn’t apply to the Libyan War on the grounds that it falls short of “hostilities” sounded ridiculous when he made them. The behind the scenes debate that led to this announcement, however, was nothing short of incredible.
That’s because President Obama’s claim not only didn’t convince Congress, it didn’t convince his own legal advisers, and both the Pentagon and the Justice Department counsels told the president unequivocally that the war required Congressional approval.
White House spokesman Eric Shultz said the decision came after a “full airing of views.” In the end this simply means that the president thumbed his nose at head legal counsels for both the Pentagon, charged with fighting the illegal war, and the Justice Department, in theory responsible for upholding the law.
Schultz insisted that disagreements in such debates are “ordinary and healthy,” but it is decidedly out of the ordinary for the president to ignore such advice when it comes from top legal officials.
It seems surprising, in retrospect, that President Obama even had to ask if dropping bombs on a country counted as “hostilities.” But having heard from his top legal minds that yes, these are “hostilities,” the unfathomable truth is that he simply decided to ignore it.