Obama's Libya Moves Show His Freer Foreign Policy Hand, Rankling Congress

March 21, 2011

Frank James

President Obama's ordering of U.S. military into action in Libya is yet the latest example of a feature of the U.S. presidency that it doesn't take a political scientist to see, that presidents can and do often act with a freer hand in foreign affairs and war-making than they can in domestic affairs, especially when control of Congress is divided between or totally in the hands of other parties.

And Congress is, of necessity, rarely happy about that.

While most lawmakers appear to be supporting the president's decision, though with reservations, it's clear others aren't. Democratic Party liberals question why the president didn't get congressional approval first. And they're not alone.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) even reportedly questioned why Obama's actions weren't impeachable offenses.

Politico reported over the weekend:

Kucinich, who wanted to bring impeachment articles against both former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over Iraq — only to be blocked by his own leadership — asked why the U.S. missile strikes aren't impeachable offenses.

According to the piece, Kucinich's view may have been on the extreme end of liberal reaction but reflected the anger of progressives with how Obama ordered U.S. military strikes.

Meanwhile, even though many Republicans supported the president's decision to order U.S. air power into action as part of UN-sanctioned moves to rein in attacks on rebels and non-combatant civilians by forces loyal to strongman Moammar Ghadafi, GOP members seek answers from the president, too.

A statement by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) from Sunday:

BOEHNER: "The United States has a moral obligation to stand with those who seek freedom from oppression and self-government for their people. It's unacceptable and outrageous for Qadhafi to attack his own people, and the violence must stop.

"The President is the commander-in-chief, but the Administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America's role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished. Before any further military commitments are made, the Administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved."

Huffington Post notes that congressional lawmakers on either end of the political spectrum, liberals and Tea Party movement sympathizers alike, are sounding very similar concerns.

"I think [the president] has a duty and an obligation to come to Congress," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah.) told The Huffington Post. "I see no clear and present danger to the United States of America. I just don't. We're in a bit of the fog at the moment as to what the president is trying to ultimately do."

"In the absence of a credible, direct threat to the United States and its allies or to our valuable national interests, what excuse is there for not seeking congressional approval of military action?" asked Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) in a separate interview. "I think it is wrong and a usurpation of power and the fact that prior presidents have done it is not an excuse."

The president is scheduled to take questions Monday from the news media and, no doubt, some reporter is likely to ask a question, influenced by these congressional concerns, about how he has chosen to exercise his commander-in-chief powers in Libya.

Ironically, the president will be fielding these questions in Chile at a joint press conference with that nation's president, Sebastian Pinera, part of a Latin American trip, another symbol of his freer foreign policy hand. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.