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Steve Jones

Foreign Policy Fight Heralds 2012 Election

By June 26, 2011

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When is foreign policy also politics? Always!

In two separate votes June 24, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives rebuked President Barack Obama for overstepping his authority by ordering American participation in NATO's Libyan intervention, then it voted to continue funding that participation.

The funding measure was a House response to a Senate resolution that John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA) proposed to continue funding the intervention for another year. Neither measure okays American ground troop involvement in Libyan civil war.

That's as expected. No Congressman -- Republican or Democrat -- would vote to "defund" a military operation in which the country is already involved.

The rebuke? That's political.

Yes, that's also obvious. As Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) said, "Politics is to Congress like wet is to water."

House Republicans have charged that Obama has violated the War Powers Act of 1973 by not getting proper congressional authority for the Libyan mission. Certainly, both the executive and legislative branches of government have oversight powers of each other, but the executive takes the lead on foreign policy.

With the 2012 election season opening (yes, even now), Congress members are staking out their political claims. And the House will be more vocal than the Senate, since, as noted, it's Republican controlled, and because every House member is up for election every two years.

They will attack Obama on the economy and medical care, to be sure. But they also need to hit him on foreign policy, where he became surprisingly strong in the spring. He has lived up to promises to draw down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he scored major points with the death of Osama bin Laden, and he tapped Americans' latent champion-of-the-rebels-against-tyranny self-image with the Libyan intervention.

House Republicans (and even some Democrats -- Obama lost 70 of them in the vote to rebuke) have to hit where they can. Expect more as the next 18 months unwind.

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