Often forgotten is the fact that the Constitution was crafted and ratified after a decade of what the founding generation considered to be flawed and ineffective rule under America’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. And a key complaint was that the Articles, which attempted to govern the newly independent nation with a Congress and no independent chief executive, lacked the decisiveness and steadfastness required for the conduct of the country’s foreign and defense affairs. With today’s votes in the House—first, rejecting a resolution of support for the president’s decision to go to war with Libya (Yes, I said, “go to war”) and, second, voting down a measure to cut off funding for that campaign—we are reminded of why those same founders thought it necessary to craft a new Constitution, with its unitary executive and separated powers. As only congresses can do, the House today, in essence, said: we don’t support the war but we don’t have the courage of our convictions. As a constitutional matter, this is hardly a hallmark day in the annals of the U.S. Congress.
That said, as a matter of policy, the House has stumbled into the correct decision. It would have been a disaster for NATO, American credibility, the people of Libya, and the region if the plug had been pulled on the campaign to oust Gadhafi (Yes, I said, “oust”). For all the problems in the Obama administration’s decision to “lead from behind,” when it comes to the military and diplomatic effort in the case of Libya, it is, as AEI colleague and former deputy secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, clearly in America’s interest that Gadhafi fall. The best thing Congress can do now is start pushing the administration to carry out this campaign in a more decisive fashion. If members of Congress are truly interested in ending the conflict, they should be demanding that the White House pull the caveats off the Pentagon and let our military get on with the business of deposing Gadhafi, who is, in fact, a two-bit, tin-pot, (Groucho) Marxist version of a dictator.