SOMETIMES PRESIDENT Barack Obama is too much of a lawyer, and that shows in his handling of the Libyan situation with an increasingly irritable Congress.
The decision to join NATO in enforcing a no-fly zone to stop Moammar Gadhafi from going through with his promise to slaughter all the inhabitants of the rebellious city of Benghazi, Libya's second largest, was the right one.
The decision to let France and Britain take the lead with the support of some of the smaller NATO nations and several Arab nations with the U.S. providing logistical, intelligence and reconnaissance support was the right one. It established the principle that we don't have to fight everybody's battles for them.
The Republicans were hardly helpful on this. Newt Gingrich, when he was still a significant GOP voice, said we should intervene and a week later said intervention was a mistake. In general the Republican position was: "Show some leadership, for heaven's sake, just don't get us into another war."
There are differing versions of how much the Obama administration told the Congress at the outset of the Libya operation, now passing the four-month mark. But this president, any president, owes Congress a thorough explanation of the strategy, objectives and pitfalls whenever our armed services are committed. Obama should try to answer the basic question regularly raised by Gen. David Petraeus: "Tell me how this ends."
Obama cavalierly dismissed the 1973 War Powers Resolution that requires a president to obtain congressional authorization when hostilities pass the 90-day mark.
The White House explained this week that Congress' approval wasn't needed because the U.S. is in a supporting role in Libya and not engaged in "hostilities."
No, those 80 U.S. airstrikes and strikes by armed drones on sovereign territory are not hostilities, they are acts of war.
The Republicans are showing a concern about the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution that they never showed during the George W. Bush administration. The House has voted against giving Obama authority to continue the Libyan mission but unless it is willing to back that up by cutting off funds, the vote is largely symbolic.
The better course is a measure by elder statesman Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., already approved by the Foreign Relations Committee, that backs the military campaign but requires Obama to comply with the War Powers Resolution.
Obama is right when he says "a lot of this fuss is politics" but underneath all that fuss is the serious question of how American troops are committed to combat.
The Libyan mission, as both Obama's critics and supporters have noted, has broadened from protecting civilians to ousting Gadhafi and installing a representative government in his place. And we -- and our allies -- have gone too far down that road to turn back now.