Today the House of Representatives will reportedly pass a resolution that strongly criticizes President Obama’s actions in Libya. The resolution falls short of defunding the mission in Libya, but it is considered a serious rebuke from the legislative to the executive. Some members of Congress have gone as far as to suggest impeachment proceedings against the President based on the mission. The reaction to the Libyan mission provides a stark contrast to the behavior of Congress in the past, when the legislative branch simply rubber stamped most foreign interventions of this nature. The current Congress claims that the President should have sought approval from the legislative branch within 60 days of the start of the Libyan intervention. However, a review of history shows that Congress has routinely ignored the 60 days limit in the past.
Since the Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973 presidents have engaged in all kinds of conflicts for longer than “60 days” without a congressional rebuke. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- The CIA intervention in Afghanistan in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s
- President Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983
- The United States intervention in Lebanon from 1982-1983
- The United States role in the Iran-Iraq War from 1987-1988 through Operation Earnest Will
- President George H.W. Bush’s ordered invasion of Panama in 1989
- President Clinton’s ordered invasion of Haiti in 1993
- The United States intervention in Somalia from 1992-1995
In many cases these interventions involved a higher degree of military involvement than the mission in Libya. There are no United States troops on the ground in Libya. No manned U.S. airplanes are attacking Libya. The U.S. role is now mostly that of support, performing refueling, surveillance, and drone attack missions.
Even Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted that his Republican colleagues were more “muted” in their response to President George W. Bush’s foreign interventions, and likely would have approved of the Libyan intervention if a Republican president were in charge. To use the term “muted” might even be an understatement. The Republican Congress continually approved new funds for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and resisted Democratic attempts to enforce accountability measures such as benchmarks. President Bush also conducted various drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen without any condemnation, rebuke, or accountability from Congress.
Some have suggested that the executive branch has gained too much power over the past 100 years, and that it was now time for the legislative to rein that power back in. While that may be true, President Obama has somehow become the unfortunate “sacrificial lamb” of the legislative branch’s newfound skepticism of the executive.