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A Proposal: War Powers Act Should be Amended to Cover Drones, Libya-Style Wars

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Congress should update and amend the existing War Powers Act (WPA), passed in 1973 over Richard Nixon's veto, to cover future American military operations relying on drones instead of ground forces. Republican and Democratic House leaders seriously questioned President Obama's executive order for the war in Libya, but have not followed up with amendments to protect the crucial constitutional role of Congress -- and American voters -- in future decisions to go to war.

The Pentagon budget for Libya, submitted by Obama to Congress, included an initial outlay of $713.6 million for "military operations." The War Powers Act, however, requires the President to terminate any deployment within 60 to 90 days unless authorized by Congress.

Democrats like John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich were joined by Republicans like Speaker John Boehner, Walter Jones and Ron Paul in opposing the unilateral military action without Congressional approval.

The Obama team was internally divided in its rationale for the war, and has refused to disclose key internal legal documents. In their view, the War Powers Act applies only where there is "sustained fighting," an "active exchange of fire with hostile forces," or the deployment of ground troops. The US interpretation could be applied in present and future wars deploying only drone attacks without troops on the ground.

The Pentagon's own budget language for Libya included a plan to "find, fix, track, target and destroy regime forces;" "suppression of enemy air defense;" "occasional strikes by unmanned Predator UAVs against a specific set of targets;" and the utilization of massive refueling and intelligence assets on behalf of NATO forces.

The US claim that these military operations were devoted only to the protection of civilians has nothing to do with the requirements of the WPA.