Lawyer Shopping: Obama Overrules Administration on Libya
There's been a lot of ironic and unpleasant news this week but this has to take the cake:
President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.
Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.
But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.
Other high-level Justice lawyers were also involved in the deliberations, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. supported Ms. Krass’s view, officials said.
Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said, “Our views were heard, as were other views, and the president then made the decision as was appropriate for him to do.”
The irony, of course, is that President Obama is the fellow who ran for president as the one true liberal who wouldn't have voted for the Iraq War. Indeed, I think many of the votes he got were purely on the basis of that one position. Now we have another war and this same person defies the Office of Legal Council and the Pentagon's legal counsel to prosecute it without congressional approval. Whodda thunk it, eh?
Well, actually I think the president's Iraq war opinion was always overblown. When push came to shove in the campaign and Obama voted for FISA, it was pretty clear on which side of these issues he was going to come down. The constitutional scholar has always tended to see these things in somewhat utilitarian terms.
Maybe he just didn't want to have a debate with the congress or maybe he really believes this claptrap about Libya no being a real "war." Either way, I think we can finally put to rest the argument about President Obama's principled unwillingness to use the power of the Executive branch to get his way on policy. This proves he's more than willing to use it when he wants to.