President Obama formally notified Congress today of the beginning of airstrikes against the Iraqi town of Amerli, as required under the War Powers Act. Administration officials say the attack was “consistent with the military missions we have outlined to date in Iraq.”
Under the War Powers Act, the president is allowed only to launch such unapproved operations in the case of “a national emergency,” which would be a difficult case to make in Iraq, and also he can only continue the war for 60 days without a Congressional authorization for the use of military force.
The 60 day clock really should have been ticking from the start of airstrikes earlier in August, but could be argued to begin with the Amerli strikes, which are what the administration notified Congress about.
Either way, continuing the war beyond 60 days would be a blatant violation of the law, though not one without precedent. In 2011, President Obama informed Congress of the attacks in Libya, and continued US military involvement in the war for months after the 60 day deadline passed without authorization.
Informing Congress at all suggests the president views the new Iraq War as likely to last more than 60 days, though he has shown a reluctance to seek actually Congressional approval for any of his wars, viewing the notifications as good enough.
In Libya, President Obama argued the war wasn’t technically a war, and that US obligations under NATO required its continuation with or without Congress. The former is going to be an even harder case to make in the Iraq War, though NATO is expected to discuss ISIS at this week’s summit, and may expand the war into an overall NATO operation, which President Obama has suggested in the past trumps Congress.