But American planes and drones continued their bombing long after the April turnover — and the drones are still flying over Libya. Since the cost of the mission is at three-quarters of a billion dollars and climbing, it is sheer fiction to suggest that we are no longer a vital player in NATO’s “Operation Unified Protector.”
This is especially so when an active-duty American officer remains at the top of NATO’s chain of command. As supreme allied commander, Adm. James Stavridis “leads all NATO military operations.” While a Canadian air force general, Charles Bouchard, is in charge of the Libyan campaign, the buck doesn’t stop with him but with Stavridis, who also reports to the Pentagon as head of the U.S. European command. Even if American drones discontinue their operations before the deadline, an American admiral will still be in a position to call the shots.
This is no accident. NATO has been a key vehicle for American military interests since the 1950s. It would create a terrible precedent to pretend otherwise. Once Obama crosses the Rubicon, future presidents will simply cite Libya when they unilaterally commit America to far more ambitious NATO campaigns.
Make no mistake: Obama is breaking new ground, moving decisively beyond his predecessors. George W. Bush gained congressional approval for his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bill Clinton acted unilaterally when he committed American forces to NATO’s bombing campaign in Kosovo, but he persuaded Congress to approve special funding for his initiative within 60 days. And the entire operation ended on its 78th day.
In contrast, Congress has not granted special funds for Libya since the bombing began, and the campaign is likely to continue beyond the 30-day limit set for termination of all operations.
Since the House of Representatives is out of session this week, Congress can’t approve the operation before today’s deadline. But under the expedited procedures specified by the act, speedy congressional approval is feasible next week.
If nothing happens, history will say that the War Powers Act was condemned to a quiet death by a president who had solemnly pledged, on the campaign trail, to put an end to indiscriminate warmaking.
Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway are professors of law and political science at Yale University.