Hillary Clinton on why no congressional authorization is required for war in Libya

Originally posted elsewhere on 3/28/2011

In a recent appearance on ABC’s This Week, Hillary addressed the fact that the Obama administration has not sought Congressional authorization for the war in Libya. In her words:

Well, we would welcome congressional support, but I don’t think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama were — was speaking of several years ago.

I think that this had a limited time frame, a very clearly defined mission which we are in the process of fulfilling.


Clinton was responding to ABC’s Jake Tapper. He had stated:

I’m still wondering how the administration reconciles the attack without congressional approval with then candidate Obama saying in 2007 the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation…

Tapper is clearly using the word “unilateral” to refer to the President acting on his own without congressional authorization. In her response to Tapper, Clinton twists “unilateral” to mean the U.S. acting on its own without international approval. However there is no constitutional prohibition against the U.S. acting on its own. The constitutional issue at stake is the fact that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the president from initiating a war on his own when in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution this power is invested in the Congress.

Tapper had played a 2007 video clip of Clinton denouncing presidential military action without congressional authorization. A transcript of Clinton’s complete 2007 address is located here. And here are a few excerpts from Clinton’s 2007 address:

  • In confronting enemies and threats…Our strongest asset remains the democracy that we are privileged to take part in as members of the Senate and as representatives of our constituents. Our democratic institutions, under our Constitution, balance one another and check against excesses and concentrations of power that help us wrestle with difficult challenges in an open and forthright way. This constitutional framework is not an obstacle to pursuing our national security, but the example that we should project to the world. Our democracy, with its tradition of accountable power and open debate, is America at its best.
  • So, Mr. President, there are no easy answers to the complex situations we confront in the world today, but if we do face threats, then Congressional consultation and authorization will bring the American people into the debate. Whatever steps, if any, may be required should be taken by our nation, not just by our President. We must act as Americans, not as members of one party or another.
  • Mr. President, if we face up to our constitutional responsibilities as the Congress, if we conduct the oversight that is required, if we exercise our checks and balances, then we are likely to reach a better conclusion than we have thus far.

As to whether our “kinetic military action” in Libya has a “clearly defined mission,” to date the public does not know if the mission is to

Secure a no-fly zone
If it is, why are we blowing up tanks?
Prevent civilian casualties
Why are we trying to blow up Qaddaffi?
Or, bring about regime change
Surely this would require congressional authorization?!?!

However the president is supposed to be addressing the matter tonight in a televised broadcast, so hopefully we will soon have a clear understanding of what the mission is.

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