Should risk be a factor for War Powers Act?
President Obama is coming dangerously close to the deadline for withdrawal of all US troops from the Libyan theater of operations in accordance with the War Powers Act. However, the White House denies that the War Powers Act applies since American troops aren’t exposed to significant risk because Libyan forces aren’t able to return fire in a “meaningful way”. However, does risk to American troops matter in regard to whether the president can engage in warfare?
The Constitution gives authority for waging war in all ways except on how to fight a war to Congress. The president is Commander in Chief and is ultimately responsible for how a war is fought because leadership by committee is fine for crafting laws, but suicide in combat. Under President Nixon, the War Powers Act was created as a mechanism for dealing with that president’s use of the military.
Even as recently as the Gulf War, warfare automatically meant troops would be in harms way. Today, that’s a very different case. In the case of Libya, the White House argues that the US role is primarily support and that American lives aren’t at risk. Maybe that makes a difference to some folks, but not so much to me. I’m not alone either. Jack Goldsmith, who worked for President Bush in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, told the New York Times:
“The administration’s theory implies that the president can wage war with drones and all manner of offshore missiles without having to bother with the War Powers Resolution’s time limits,” Mr. Goldsmith said.
It’s a valid point. Thanks to things like cruise missiles and drones, we can provide a lot of firepower without exposing troops to risk. That isn’t a bad thing, because wars must be fought from time to time. However, to argue that a lack of risk to Americans essentially makes the War Powers Act null and void in certain cases of military action is ridiculous. Goldsmith is right. The implication is that we can blow a country to hell so long as they can’t harm us and Congress is powerless to do anything about it.
Any president that exercises that much power is a risk to freedom all over the world.