The Obama administration made clear Wednesday that it will keep running military operations in Libya even if it doesn’t get formal approval from Congress, contending U.S. involvement is limited to a support role that does not violate the War Powers Act.
The White House is facing pressure from Congress to clarify U.S. actions in Libya, where the conflict has settled into a stalemate despite NATO military efforts launched under a U.N. resolution aimed at protecting civilians. Western powers insist that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi step down, but there are few indications he will do so soon.
Earlier in the week, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a letter reminding the White House that Sunday marks the 90th day of the military engagement, the absolute limit allowed without congressional approval under the 1973 law.
The White House came out with its defense in an afternoon briefing Wednesday.
White House Counsel Bob Bauer said the U.S. role in the fighting has been reduced to a point at which congressional approval is not required.
In the early stages of the conflict, the U.S. played a more direct role in the fighting, including launching cruise missiles in an effort to destroy Kadafi’s forces. Since then, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and coalition partners have taken a more prominent role, the White House said.
“We’re not engaged in sustained fighting. There’s been no exchange of fire with hostile forces. We don’t have troops on the ground. We don’t risk casualties to those troops,” Bauer said.
Even without congressional authorization, the White House believes U.S. actions are consistent with the resolution, Bauer said.
Separately, the Obama administration sent Congress a report showing that through the first week of June, U.S. military and humanitarian operations in Libya cost $716 million.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was disappointed with the Obama administration’s defense of its military actions in Libya.
“What they’ve done is totally drained the reservoir of goodwill by virtue of the way they’re handling this,” he said.
Earlier in the day, antiwar Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking an immediate halt to U.S. involvement in Libya on the grounds that it is unconstitutional under the legislation.
“The White House claim that the war is not war is not a legal argument,” Kucinich said in response to the Obama administration’s position. “It is a political argument. The legal argument will hopefully be addressed by the courts.”
Michael Corgan, an associate professor of international relations at Boston University, said such friction is typical of the power struggle between the two branches of government. History shows that when challenged under the War Powers Act, the president “usually gets his way,” he said.
“Welcome to the 2012 presidential campaign,” said Corgan, a Navy veteran who has also taught at the U.S. Naval Academy. “It’s curious how back when George Bush was president, all this war stuff was good. Now it’s not. This goes on all the time. You can pin this on either party.”