Hell hath no fury like a Congress scorned by a president. After the White House authorized air strikes and military support in Libya, a majority of members from the House and Senate demanded reasonable explanations for not being brought into the decision making process. To some, President Obama had a valid excuse for not doing so: It would have slowed down the response and might have cost thousands of innocent lives.
The poorly trained rebels are now being given a chance to fight back against forces loyal to Libyan Leader Muammar Qadhafi as NATO takes command of a quickly assembled international coalition to help them. While Obama swung pendulum in the direction of quick action, it is beginning to swing back just as hard, pushed by Democrats and Republicans who want answers to their questions. [Check out editorial cartoons about the Middle East uprisings.]
This is the perfect time for the president to treat Congress as an equal partner and send a war resolution up to Capitol Hill which would define the size and scope of our military involvement in Libya. If it passes, then Obama has authorization to continue the military support under NATO supervision. Members of Congress would have a chance to cast their votes for and against the proposal based upon its merits. The military mission can be appropriately authorized and move ahead.
However, it looks like Obama has no intention of doing so. This is a strategic and tactical mistake. He will need funding by Congress in order to continue the activities by our military. Defense officials say it will cost around $50 million per day. That is a lot of money, but it sounds like a low figure and many on Capitol Hill believe it will cost much more. At a time of budget showdowns between Democrats and Republicans, it would be prudent for the administration to get a permission slip that would allow for spending the money necessary on Libya.
The White House will soon experience a “no-fly zone” of its own on Capitol Hill in reaction to President Obama and his administration’s attitude over the use of force in Libya. In televised press conferences, congressional hearings, and meetings, Obama’s team explained that it doesn’t have to get permission from Capitol Hill. In fact, Congress and the public learned at the same time that the CIA was on the ground for two weeks vetting the rebel forces on whether they should be given guns and ammunition. Who thought that was a good idea?
Did someone forget that Congress owns the purse strings? It is an equal branch of government and doesn’t like being told that it isn’t very important. This may be a “teachable moment” for Obama if he continues down this road. When a supplemental appropriations request to pay for military action in Libya arrives at the steps of the House and Senate, watch how many lawmakers show the president just how important they are.