America was worse than just war-weary by 1973, when the War Powers Act became the law of the land — as the Senate and House both overrode the veto of a hawkish and hard-line president, Richard Nixon.
Most Americans were disillusioned — and many were downright disgusted — about how their commanders-in-chief and congressional rubber-stampers had misled them into the long Vietnam War that began undeclared and would soon end un-won.
It was the liberals who led the way in enacting the joint resolution that was considered to be finally giving senators and representatives the clout to stop future hawkish presidents from unilaterally plunging America into wrong wars. The temper of those times was so disillusioned that large numbers of centrist and even conservative senators and representatives joined in voting for the joint resolution that became the War Powers Act.
Back then, no one working at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue could have possibly imagined that someday the political forces would be so realigned that congressional conservatives would try to use the War Powers Act to thwart a military action ordered by a president whose opponents attack him for being a liberal.
But President Barack Obama argued only days ago that the War Powers Act did not apply to his approval of air strikes on the Libyan troops and military command sites. He claimed these are not “hostilities” because the Libyan forces are not shooting back at their U.S. attackers.
What the president’s position comes down to is that the U.S. air strikes — now mostly by unmanned aircraft — don’t count as hostilities unless the people we are killing and wounding at Gadhafi’s military or government installations have the chance to shoot back before they die.
Then what happened in the House of Representatives was that a bipartisan measure to authorize Obama’s airstrikes for a year longer failed — but Republican-led efforts to clamp new restrictions on Obama’s military efforts also failed. If the president had simply dealt forthrightly with Congress, as he should have, he surely would have prevailed in the end.
The Senate certainly won’t move to limit Libyan operations now. So Obama will get his way by making himself look downright Nixonian.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.