March 22, 2011
Republican members of Congress are claiming the conflict in Libya is unconstitutional because Barack Obama failed to seek Congressional approval. President Obama sent a letter defending the Libya intervention to members of Congress on Monday in an effort to quell a growing rebellion over his failure to consult the Senate and the House of Representatives before embarking on the third major military action of his presidency. In the letter, Obama attempted to address criticism that he had failed to either brief or discuss his decision in detail with both Democrats and Republicans. Under the US constitution, Congressional approval is required for declarations of war.
Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican on the House armed services committee, was among members who argued that military action in Libya was unconstitutional. He told the Hill magazine: “The United States does not have a King’s army. President Obama’s unilateral choice to use US military force in Libya is an affront to our constitution.” The Libyan conflict appears to have crept up almost unawares on many members of Congress and the US public. Events moved at speed at a time when members of Congress were either in their home states or travelling back from Washington, with the vote at the United Nations on Thursday evening and bombing beginning two days later.
Obama contacted key members of Congress on Friday asking them either to attend a meeting at the White House or participate via phone. Some have since complained the line was bad while others said it was a briefing rather than a discussion. The intervention in Libya has not yet generated much public debate, other than mild protests about becoming involved in another war and the cost at a time when budgets are being cut. Part of the reason is that so far there have been no US casualties and relatively few pictures of Libyan bodies shown on US television. There was also sympathy for the plight of the rebels threatened with massacre in Benghazi.
A survey by CNN/Opinion Poll conducted on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and published on Monday, recorded 50% approval for Obama’s handling of the crisis, with 41% disapproving, and support for a no-fly zone climbing from 56% to 70% over the last week. There was overwhelming opposition to the use of US ground troops. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who chairs the House foreign affairs committee, called on the president to “clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya”.