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President Obama’s legal team has been making the case over the past few days that the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which prohibits military operations longer than 60 or 90 days on foreign soil without congressional approval, does not apply to the United States’ continued involvement in Libya because of the logistical, tangential nature of our sustained involvement there. John Boehner, much of the Congressional GOP and some liberal Democrats agree, and The New York Times joined them yesterday:

It would be hugely costly — for this country’s credibility, for the future of NATO and for the people of Libya — if Congress were to force President Obama to abandon military operations over Libya. However, Mr. Obama cannot evade his responsibility, under the War Powers Act, to seek Congressional approval to continue the operation.

The White House’s argument for not doing so borders on sophistry — that “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops,” and thus are not the sort of “hostilities” covered by the act. This country’s involvement in the air campaign is undeniably limited. Since the United States handed off command to the Europeans in early April, the Pentagon has provided refueling and surveillance for NATO planes, hit air defenses and sent in armed, remotely piloted drones.

But the 1973 act does not apply solely to boots-on-the-ground, full-out shooting wars. It says that 60 or 90 days after notifying Congress of the introduction of armed forces “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated,” the president must receive Congressional authorization or terminate the mission. No word games can get him off the hook. Though pressure from the left seems likely to continue to build on this issue, it seems unlikely the president would risk Congress refuting continued involvement in the war-torn country, especially since a fractious coalition of Tea Partiers and anti-war Democrats might defeat the motion. [NYT]

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