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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Passes Time-Limited Authorization of Libyan Mission

Harold Koh got slapped around by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, but that was a small price to pay for the Administration for winning the ultimate battle.

In a victory for President Barack Obama, a Senate panel voted Tuesday to approve U.S. participation in the military campaign against Libya and Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.

The 14-5 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stood in sharp contrast to the House’s overwhelmingly rejection of a similar step last week, muddling the message about congressional support for the commander in chief’s actions and the NATO-led operation.

“When Moammar Gadhafi is bunkered down in Tripoli, when yesterday the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of crimes against humanity, at a moment where our armed forces are supporting a NATO mission aimed at preventing more such atrocities, do we want to stop the operation?” the committee’s chairman, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., asked his colleagues.

This is the resolution that limits US involvement for one year, and bars ground troops in Libya of any kind. Richard Lugar and Jim DeMint were among those voting no.

Now, whatever you think about whether the Libya mission should or should not be authorized, this is a preferable outcome to the executive just unilaterally engaging in military action by fiat. Congress authorizing the mission is at least an expression of them using their Constitutional responsibility. President Obama in his press conference called this “noise about process,” but it’s actually a far bigger issue than he claims. This or the next President, armed with the ability to go to war anywhere, anytime, without being checked by Congress, would have an enormous amount of unilateral power. That’s not only not acceptable, it’s not Constitutional.

In other news, the rebels in Libya may actually be on the move. They captured a major arms depot, and moved the front closer to the capital of Tripoli.

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David Dayen

David Dayen