I'm going to split my comments into two posts. In this one, I'll talk about the specific question of War Powers. The bottom line on that, to me, is that it's not nearly as big a deal as some believe.
Here's my thinking about it. The constitutionally mandated balance between the president and Congress turned out, in practice, and perhaps increasing over time, to favor the executive. Congress tried to redress this by passing new procedures in the 1970s, but the mechanism involved has pretty much been useless from the very start. Indeed, I agree with Scott Lemieux that Congress mostly likes it that way.
So is that tyranny? And is Barack Obama's decision that the hostilities in Libya are not "hostilities" in ways that trigger action under the War Powers Resolution a further step along that tyranny?
In my view, no, albeit a qualified no.
The main hesitation I have is that I'd certainly be happy to see Congress take a more active role in foreign and military policy, including decisions to go to war. To the extent that questions of war and peace are far more concentrated in the presidency than the Constitution envisioned, that's a bad thing, in my view.
However, there's little that can be done about Congress's preference for ducking these things.
The question is when presidential actions go too far, and it seems to me that there are two very important types of action to be concerned about, neither of which appears to apply here. The first would be cases in which the president authorizes new conflicts in secret -- perhaps the greatest historical example is the bombing of Cambodia, but there are other examples. It's one thing for Congress to (in most cases) passively acquiesce with whatever the president wants; it's a much more serious business for Congress to not even know what it's going along with.
The second type of case would be ones in which the president circumvents what Congress says: that's the Iran-Contra case. Again, it's too bad that Congress normally takes a passive role, but it's important that when it does properly assert its Constitutional authority that the executive follows Congressional restrictions.
The Libya case doesn't fit into either of those; it certainly isn't secret, and there hasn't been any Congressional action for the administration to contest. Congress is perfectly free to act (and, as far as we know, to take informed and binding actions), regardless of whether Obama follows the War Powers Resolution procedures or not. So while I do not dispute those who say that Obama is wrong on the law here, I'm not at all convinced that that's a distinction that matters very much. What saves the US from presidential tyranny is an active, engaged, independent Congress. If we have that, then the War Powers Resolution is unnecessary; without it, the War Powers Resolution won't really help, regardless of how the president acts.
I'm far more concerned, to tell the truth, about extensions of the "War on Terror" into various locations outside of Afghanistan. Since those actions are covert operations, it's far too easy for the president to keep Congress in the dark. If that's happening, and I worry it is, it's a far more serious violation of the Constitutional balance even if the president could make a decent case that those actions are authorized by Congressional action way back in 2001, because if Congress is ignorant of important actions then Members cannot judge for themselves, as they are entitled to do, whether they want those actions to continue.
But with Libya...if Members of Congress want to act, they can do so, regardless of whether the president considers what's happening "hostilities" or not.
As for what Obama's getting wrong here...I'll save that for the next post.