The sudden involvement of the U.S. military in Libya has prompted some intense debate over whether the executive branch has the right to pursue military action against a foreign power without consulting Congress.
By all indications, the White House has complied with the language of the War Powers Resolution, which essentially says, "Gosh, it would be nice if you let us know in advance if you're going to start warring with people, but if you can't for some reason, you know, just send us a letter within 48 hours, okay?"
That said, an emailer reminds me that once upon a time, Vice President Joe Biden waged a mini-campaign against the Bush White House potentially waging unlateral war in Iran. Here's Biden on the campaign trail in New Hampshire in November of 2007:
QUESTIONER: "I have a great fear that say you're elected as the nominee of the party. Next August sometime during the summer, Dick Cheney and George are going to bomb Iran."
BIDEN: "Legitimate concern."
QUESTIONER: "What can you do about it?"
BIDEN: "I am not one, who if you've observed me for some time, I am not one who's engaged in excessive populist rhetoric. I'm not one that pits the rich against the poor. I'm not one who's gone out there and made false threats against presidents about, and god love him he's a great guy, I'm not Dennis Kucinich saying impeach everybody now. But let me tell you, I have written an extensive legal memorandum with the help of a group of legal scholars who are sort of a stable of people, the best-known constitutional scholars in America, because for 17 years I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
"I asked them to put together [for] me a draft, which I'm now literally riding between towns editing, that I want to make clear and submit to the Untied States Senate pointing out the president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran. And I want to make it clear, I want it on the record, and I want to make it clear, if he does, as chairman of the foreign relations committee and former chair of the judiciary committee, I will move to impeach him."
And here's Biden a few weeks later, at the Scott County Democratic Party banquet in Davenport, Iowa, saying the same thing:
Now, it's important to realize that there's no way in the wide world that President Barack Obama is going to get impeached over this. As Dave Weigel pointed out Tuesday, the prevailing attitude in Congress over the matter of congressional approval is best exemplified by the statements made by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who each basically said they'd simply rubber-stamp whatever Obama wanted to do. "I'd be glad to vote on it afterwards," said Graham, all but cementing Congress' ornamental role in military conflict.
Oversight of these matters was a responsibility that Congress abdicated a long, long time ago. (It better suits the modern legislator to preserve the chance to score cheap political points off of warmaking than it does actually providing oversight over warmaking in the first place.) But it would still be interesting to see how Biden would reconcile his position in 2007 with what his executive branch is doing today.
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