Obama’s letter to Congress about deployment of Marines to Libya and Yemen is awfully nice, but let’s be honest: It’s not a legal requirement.As well it shouldn’t be; the president can’t be expected to ask permission every three seconds when he wants to utilise military assets. (Considering the current session of stalemate with Congress, I think this particular distinction is important.)
According to the War Powers Resolution of 1971: The president is allowed to immediately deploy troops during a “national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” for a period of 60 days, with 30 days on the back end for a withdrawal period.
After the 90-day window, the president needs a resolution from Congress or a congressional Declaration of War to continue directing the military in actions abroad.
It’s worth noting that most presidents have opposed this law since its inception; and congress has periodically voted to repeal the law depending on which party was in power, and what was politically expedient.
There have been multiple instances where presidents have ignored the law:
– Reagan in 1981
– Clinton during Kosovo
– And most recently Obama during Libya’s revolution.
Bush got a resolution from Congress for both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not that this needs mentioning, but the president’s requirement to seek a resolution from Congress is necessary as a check on power.
If the president didn’t need to ask permission, in essence to get “the people’s” OK, then use of America’s formidable military might could prove too tempting.
Finally, the definition of “armed forces” in the resolution seems a little muddled in recent history: Is that only military personnel, or does that include equipment, such as drones or long range Tomahawks? Are so called “black” operations included in this mix? To venture a guess, probably not.
Regardless, the letter Obama just sent to Congress is more a matter of election cycle cordiality, than it is a matter of legal prudence.
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