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Constitutional firestorm over Libya war and Biden's past impeachment words greet returning Obama

March 24, 2011 |  3:02 am

Oh, my how awkward is this?the Obama family with Grandmother Marian Robinson leave Air Force One Wednesday after a five-day tour of South America 3-23-11

President Obama, his daughters, his wife and his mother-in-law had just debarked from five days of parties, toasts and sightseeing across South America.

Suddenly, he's hit with serious bipartisan constitutional questions about his launching of attacks on Libya with United Nations approval, instead of Congressional approval, during that foreign jaunt.

It's one thing to have a Republican Speaker of the House and some Democrats as well wondering out loud how come Congress was not consulted before Obama committed American military forces to combat operations to do something in the vicinity of Libya when there was no threat to Americans.

John Boehner raised that issue Wednesday in a formal letter to the president (Scroll down for full text).

He said in part:

I respect your authority as Commander-in-Chief and support our troops as they carry out their mission.
But I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission. 

In fact, the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the....

...American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered. At the same time, by contrast, it appears your administration has consulted extensively on these same matters with foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League.

But it's something else when President Obama's own vice president, Joe "I Don't Use Words Lightly" Biden suggests that a president who commits U.S. troops with no imminent threat to the country or its citizens and no congressional approval should be impeached. (See video).....

To be sure, Joseph well remembers entering the Senate when political shrapnel still flew from the Democratic president who got in over his head in a vaguely defined foreign military conflict called Vietnam. Biden repeated these video remarks in several places in 2007.

That was, of course, back when Biden still thought he should be president and George W. Bush and Obama should not.

Presumably, now that it's his boss who's entering a vaguely defined foreign military foray withvice president joe Biden gets a new jacket in a visit to the Yankees spring training camp Camp 3-23-11 with Manager Joe Girardi during a  political fundraising trip to Florida no congressional entrance permission and no exit strategy, Joe has had a change of mind.

As the sorties continue, the pair can discuss that in their private White House lunch today, now that Biden is back from a political fundraising trip to Florida and snagging a new jacket at the Yankees training camp (see photo).

Obama did, however, get United Nations approval for the ongoing strikes on Libya. About which there happens to be nothing in the Constitution.

Not many can find any real, new or imminent threat to America from Kadafi now that hasn't been around for many years. Here's how Obama visibly struggled during a South American news conference this week to explain the U.S. national interest now in Libya:

The American people and the United States have an interest, first of all, in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people, and saying he will show no mercy and go door-to-door and hunt people down and we have the capacity under international sanction to do something about that, I think it’s in America’s national interest to do something about that.

Say what? The ex-state senator who so famously said the U.S. had no business overthrowing the brutal Saddam Hussein poison gas-spewing regime in Iraq is now into ousting Kadafi based on his broadcast threats to "cleanse" Libya of opponents? But it's OK because the U.N. approves and we won't be a leader long?

So how then is it not in alleged American interests to police brutality in, say, Sudan, Yemen, even China, whose president Obama instead recently hosted at a White House state dinner? How about Syria where authorities killed 15 protestors Wednesday. Or what about North Korea's Kim clan starving millions to live high?

Crime-stopping global brutality seems a surprisingly expansive self-appointed mission for this president to claim for America's already overstretched military forces. Not to mention reminiscent of Jimmy Carter's avowed human rights diplomacy of the late 1970s. Not to mention also hopeless.

The good news for Obama is that this ridiculously unnecessary flap has changed the subject from the economy/deficit/foreign trips.

Still, watch for Obama to find some venue other than a Virginia classroom to explain Libya and himself very, very soon. (UPDATE March 25: As predicted, Obama has scheduled a speech on Libya for Monday evening, March 28, at the National Defense University. We'll have the full text here, as usual.)

This unexpected image of a cowboy president from Illinois is gaining traction in the public mind and late-night comedians' monologues  ("Three wars now," Jay Leno said Wednesday night. "Can you imagine how many wars we'd be in if Pres. Obama hadn't gotten the Nobel Peace Prize?")

If this keeps up, the Republicans might not even need to nominate anyone next year.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Here's Boehner's complete letter:

Text of Speaker Boehner's letter to the president, as provided by his House office

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for your letter dated March 21, 2011, outlining your Administration’s actions regarding Libya and Operation Odyssey Dawn.  The United States has long stood with those who seek freedom from oppression through self-government and an underlying structure of basic human rights. 

The news yesterday that a U.S. fighter jet involved in this operation crashed is a reminder of the high stakes of any military action abroad and the high price our Nation has paid in blood and treasure to advance the cause of freedom through our history.

I respect your authority as Commander-in-Chief and support our troops as they carry out their mission. But I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission. 

In fact, the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your Administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered. At the same time, by contrast, it appears your Administration has consulted extensively on these same matters with foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League. 

It is my hope that you will provide the American people and Congress a clear and robust assessment of the scope, objective, and purpose of our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved. Here are some of the questions I believe must be answered:

•    A United Nations Security Council resolution does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy. You have stated that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi must go, consistent with U.S. policy goals. But the U.N. resolution the U.S. helped develop and signed onto makes clear that regime change is not part of this mission. Republican House Speaker John Boehner and President Obaama talk on Capitol Hill l3-17-11

In light of this contradiction, is it an acceptable outcome for Qadhafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya? If not, how will he be removed from power?

Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests? 

•    In announcing that our Armed Forces would lead the preliminary strikes in Libya, you said it was necessary to “enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners.” 

Do we know which partners will be taking the lead?  Are there clear lines of authority and responsibility and a chain of command? Operationally, does enforcement of a no-fly zone require U.S. forces to attack non-air or command and control operations for land-based battlefield activities, such as armored vehicles, tanks and combatants?

•    You have said that the support of the international community was critical to your decision to strike Libya. But, like many Americans, it appears many of our coalition partners are themselves unclear on the policy goals of this mission. If the coalition dissolves or partners continue to disengage, will the American military take on an increased role? Will we disengage? 

•    Since the stated U.S. policy goal is removing Qadhafi from power, do you have an engagement strategy for the opposition forces? If the strife in Libya becomes a protracted conflict, what are your Administration's objectives for engaging with opposition forces, and what standards must a new regime meet to be recognized by our government?

•    Your Administration has repeatedly said our engagement in this military action will be a matter of “days, not weeks.”  After four days of U.S. military action, how soon do you expect to hand control to these other nations? After the transition to coalition forces is completed, how long will American military forces remain engaged in this action? If Qadhafi remains in power, how long will a no-fly zone be enforced?

•    We are currently in the process of setting priorities for the coming year in the budget. Has the Department of Defense estimated the total cost, direct and indirect, associated with this mission?  While you said yesterday that the cost of this mission could be paid for out of already-appropriated funds, do you anticipate requesting any supplemental funds from Congress to pay for ongoing operations in Libya?

•    Because of the conflicting messages from the Administration and our coalition partners, there is a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission, what our national security interests are, and how it fits into our overarching policy for the Middle East. The American people deserve answers to these questions. And all of these concerns point to a fundamental question: what is your benchmark for success in Libya?

The American people take the use of military action seriously, as does the House of Representatives. It is regrettable that no opportunity was afforded to consult with Congressional leaders, as was the custom of your predecessors, before your decision as Commander-in-Chief to deploy into combat the men and women of our Armed Forces. Understanding some information required to respond may be classified, I look forward to a complete response.

Sincerely,
/s/ John A. Boehner

Related:

Good news: Joe Biden gets a party fundraising letter out despite radiation, the economy and new war

Photos: Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press (the Obama family with Grandmother Marian Robinson leave Air Force One Wednesday after a five-day tour of South America); Peter Massa / Associated Press (Biden in Florida for political fundraisers visits the Yankees spring training camp and gets a new jacket); Olivier Douliery / EPA (Boehner and Obama on Capitol Hill, March 17).

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