Wow... for a moment there I thought that Congress had rediscovered its male body parts. Should've known better, I guess. But what would you have thought if you'd read this headline: “Obama told to justify Libya”. And the subhead: “Boehner issues deadline for response in accordance with War Powers Act”. Yes! The Republican House Speaker challenging a Democratic president's authority to wage war without the authorization of Congress! This ought to be good. I imagined subpoenas... hearings... impeachment... jail time... but all for naught. It turns out that all Congress can do is “urge” the president to “explain the legal grounds for the continued U.S. military involvement in Libya”. That makes it sound pretty darned optional. But they did set a “deadline” for his response – by which I guess they mean a response to their “urging”, as opposed to things like “telling” or “ordering”. Oh, but they're “ratcheting up the pressure”, according to the AP article -- saying that Obama “did not seek Congressional consent” within the required time. Which is kind of like getting one's arm twisted by Stephen Hawking.
Can't you just see Obama and his neocon cronies sitting in the White House chortling over all this, and giving each other high-fives? Imagine, the U.S. Congress – the mice that roared! After 80-odd years of gradually turning all of their powers and authority over to a dictatorial Executive Branch, they dare to speak up at this late date – like some aged, haggard woman of pleasure suddenly asserting her virtue? No one's going to buy this, especially not a president who has wholeheartedly taken on the full dictatorial powers of the presidency, and significantly expanded on them besides.
I'm not enough of a student of history to tell you at precisely what point, or why, Congress began to turn itself into a vestigial organ – a cipher in the vaunted “balance of powers”. To be sure, the urge to “go along to get along” has been with us always... and elected representatives are nothing if not masters of compromise and the “deal”. But I think there's another mechanism operating here as well, which is the mass hysteria that typically accompanies any sort of crisis, and the tendency of Congressmen to be intimidated and overwhelmed by it all. It has to do with the natural human tendency to look up to the “strong man” -- not “men”, note, but “man”, as in singular. And the focus of this impulse from the earliest days of the Republic has been the president – regardless of his aptitude, intellect, morals, or judgment, and especially regardless of the Constitution. The man in the White House... the “man with the hat”... is the revered and glorious leader in good times but even more in bad times, whom all then turn to, and we have been living in times of more-or-less crisis for, as I said, 80-odd years now, at least. The first to take full advantage of this ill-starred tendency was FDR, but his successors have been no less willing to at least ride along on his coattails – especially when it comes to war and other “crises”.
So it really becomes, ultimately, a matter of the president plus the people, marching off to war amidst banners and the cadence of drums, and Congress is left behind in the dust. What they say, think, and do really matters very little – even when they manage to get some of it translated into law or regulation... because, to paraphrase Stalin, how many divisions does Congress have? And don't think that idea hasn't popped into the mind of many a president over the years. "What can they do to me?" Well, there is impeachment, of course – which has been tried a grand total of twice in all these years. A president has a better chance of being run over by a runaway streetcar than impeached and convicted. So that possibility doesn't even appear on radar. And compared to the glories of being a “war president”, it would be of small concern even if it did.
So with that as background, consider the pathetic mewping of Congress over Libya. If they had no problem with Kuwait, Panama, Kosovo/Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. they certainly have no right to suddenly wake from their slumbers and rediscover the War Powers Resolution, do they? At least that's the position Obama & Co. seem to be taking. And after all, the Resolution was passed during Nixon's time – a time of great strife, before tempers had cooled enough to allow the president to act autonomously.
Plus, consider the politics of it all. As I pointed out recently, America is a war-like, war-loving nation, no matter what anyone says. Most of the voters prefer war to peace. And the Republicans, under the baleful influence of the neocons, the Evangelicals, and the arms makers, never met a war they didn't like... and the Democrats never met a war being waged by a Democratic president that they didn't like. And, any war being waged on behalf of Israel – which means any war against any element of Islam, or against any Islamic country – will be met with deafening silence by members of both parties.
So what's Boehner's problem? Surely it can't be with the Libyan conflict per se. That's just a hook with which he hopes to snag Obama. It is, in fact, an act of desperation in anticipation of next year's elections (forgetting that the average voter has a hard time remembering to take the garbage out once a week, not to mention something that happened more than a year before Election Day). But it won't work, because there's “no controlling legal authority”, in the immortal words of Al Gore. And the reason for that is that Congress has long since given up any authority it might ever have had in this matter. They were stampeded by war hysteria led by FDR in 1941... intimidated by Truman a decade-odd later... totally conned by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, courtesy of LBJ – and he had worked there, note, so he already knew what spineless weasels most of them were. Then we had more war hysteria after 9/11, and that brings us up to the present day.
And sure enough, this very afternoon the Obama administration sent a note to Boehner and Congress telling them to, basically, pound sand. It turns out that “President Obama has the legal authority to continue American participation in the NATO-led air war in Libya, even though lawmakers have not authorized it.” And why is that, class? Why, it's because it's not our war but NATO's. And it's not really a war, because it doesn't involve “hostilities”. (I knew there was something unusually kind and gentle about our rocket attacks on Tripoli, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.) And we're just in a supporting role. And a bunch of other similar self-serving crap. In other words, even though the War Powers Resolution was the work of Congress, only the president is allowed to define when, where, and if it applies – which is kind of like allowing a killer to have the final say on whether his act was murder or self-defense. Oh, and it's not a war because our troops are not really “at risk”. Which I guess means that we could use cruise missiles to nuke Tehran but it wouldn't be an act of war because none of our troops would be “at risk”.
But! Lest anyone fear that what we have here is total anarchy based in the White House, we are reassured as follows: “We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own... we are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped, or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.”
I must say, the sheer audacity of this statement is positively blinding in its implications. “It's only war if we say it is, and since we'll never call it war, it's never war, so it's always OK, and you can take your silly Resolution and shove it you-know-where.”
So, what should the response of Congress be to this outrage? To immediately initiate proceedings for impeachment, of course. But what will their response be? To go meekly back into their golden cages, tails between their legs (and nought else). Yes, they piped up again, only to be slapped down – the same way Obama keeps getting hushed by Netanyahu. So now we have a better idea of the true pecking order in today's world. Whereas FDR was a dictator in every sense of the word, my theory has always been that LBJ was the last in that line, or, as I called him, “the last tyrant”. Starting with Nixon, the presidents have been figureheads disguised as dictators, and in fact servants of higher powers, both domestically and on the international level. And Obama is no exception. He can defy Congress all he wants and get away with it, but he is in fact taking orders from others – people who are “above his pay grade”, to use his own terminology. And in fact, Congress is taking orders from those same others – when it's even worth the trouble of giving them orders, which is increasingly less necessary as their obsolescence becomes more total and more painfully obvious.