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Obama should have given Congress more say on Libya

By John B. Larson, Special to CNN
  • John Larson commends Obama and Clinton for working with the U.N. to respond to Libya
  • But, Larson says, Obama committed U.S. military without consulting the full Congress
  • Larson: War Powers Act limits president's ability to commit forces without Congress' OK
  • He says president needs to describe mission: cost, length, reason, exit strategy

Editor's note: U.S. Rep. John B. Larson represents the 1st Congressional District of Connecticut. He serves as the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and is on the House Ways and Means Committee.

(CNN) -- It's a story we've heard many times before. An African nation is in revolt against a brutal dictator, who is using his military to attempt to crush the uprising. However, this time, the war in Libya is front-page news in America because our military, and our international allies, are actively engaged in combat to try to end the violence.

There is no question -- Col. Moammar Gadhafi is committing atrocious acts of violence against his own people. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should be commended for working with the United Nations and our allies to shape a strong international response.

With that said, I am very concerned that the president committed America's military to operations in the region without true consultation with the Congress. Call this what they will, we are waging war -- while still engaged on two other fronts -- which will likely require substantial resources over a long period of time.

Following the Vietnam War, Congress adopted the War Powers Act to limit the president's ability to commit U.S. forces in the absence of congressional approval.

While I understand the president is acting within the letter of the law, I stand by the intent of that act: "To insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities."

His responsibility to the nation is to justify why this action was necessary and what the scope will be.
--Rep. John Larson
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I know the administration conferred with congressional leaders from both parties -- and I am gratified by that -- but I feel strongly that, as an equal branch of government that was clearly intended by our Founding Fathers to be involved in decisions on the use of military force, the full Congress should have been more informed and involved in this decision.

Given our current fiscal constraints, and our military's current responsibilities, this decision truly deserved -- and still deserves -- a robust debate about questions such as:

-- What is our mission?

-- How long will the mission take?

-- What is our exit strategy?

-- What is the cost?

-- And why Libya, but not the Ivory Coast, or other conflicts around the globe?

I know President Obama has thought those questions through, and I know he can answer them. I know he didn't take this action lightly. He consulted with our military leaders and the international community. Duly elected representatives of the American people need to be consulted as well. His responsibility to the nation is to justify why this action was necessary and what the scope will be. As a Congress that represents the nation, we can't commit these resources without an explanation.

Make no mistake. I am an ardent supporter of President Obama. It's the Constitution, however, that lays out the importance of consultation with the people's House. And I believe that using our military against another nation, even a brutal regime like Gadhafi's, requires that Congress both be informed and exercise our constitutional authority.

I have called for the president to come before Congress, and I sincerely hope he responds.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of John B. Larson.

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