Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy." Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter.
By James M. Lindsay
I wrote two weeks ago that nothing would come of congressional efforts to reverse President Obama on Libya. Lo and behold, lawmakers have given speeches, pounded tables, and held votes.
The sum total of all this activity is that Congress has let the White House have its way.
True, the House did refuse last week to vote to authorize the Libya mission, a step that numerous media outlets called a “historic rejection.”
It was, at least in the same way that the 1847 House vote denouncing the Mexican-American War for being “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun” was a rebuke of President Polk. Both votes go into the history books, but neither changed anything.
This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee formally repudiated the legal arguments that the White House has used to defend its position on Libya.
The committee then voted 14-5 to authorize President Obama to continue current military operations.
Readers who like to see the glass half full can say that Congress at least tried to assert its war powers authority and that it failed for all understandable reasons: disagreement on the merits of the president’s policy; a fear of the consequences for U.S. credibility abroad in saying no to the White House; and plain partisan politics.
The downside to Congress’s failure either to authorize the Libya mission or forbid it is that claims that the president possesses an independent war-making authority just got a little stronger. President Obama says today that the Libyan operation doesn’t rise to the level of “hostilities” or set a precedent. But you can bet that his successors will argue tomorrow that it is a powerful precedent that enables them to act as they see fit.
Such is the way that constitutional authorities get redefined and reshaped.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of James M. Lindsay.