Pawlenty: Don't tie president's hands on military action

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) says it is important to allow a president to decide freely to launch military strikes similar to the one President Obama authorized against Libya.

Pawlenty, like other likely GOP presidential candidates, has criticized Obama for not acting quickly or decisively enough against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. But when asked if he would "go through Congress" if he was in the Oval Office today, Pawlenty demurred.

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"It's a very complex matter and it's not something that lends itself to an easy answer," Pawlenty said during an interview with a student television station at Vanderbilt University, where he spoke on Tuesday.

"I think we need to make sure we don't tie the executive or the commander in chief's hands so tightly that he or she can't respond in an emergency quickly or in a situation that deserves and needs a quick response," he added. 

Pawlent'y comments reveal a significant distinction between criticism over Obama's handling of the Libya mission from congressional Republicans and from GOP rivals looking to unseat him in 2012.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have chided Obama, saying he did not seeking proper congressional authorization for launching airstrikes against the Libyan military late last week.

But potential presidential candidates, who could be faced with a similar scenario in the White House, have largely focused on the timing, focus and scope of the U.S.'s engagement with Libya.

Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a possible candidate and former House Speaker, is one of the only ones to have brought up Congress, and that was in the context of a request for a war supplemental funding bill, not authorization.

The president did meet with congressional leaders before launching the strikes and sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week saying he has the authority to help enforce a U.N. resolution against Gadhafi as commander in chief.

Pawlenty did not specify at exactly what point he would formally notify Congress and seek authorization for a military operation, which is required under the War Powers Act within 48 hours and 60 days, respectively.

"There is a historical legal tension between the executive branch and the legislative branch when the notice and the interaction between the president and the Congress is required," he said. "The War Powers Act is a very complex and significant piece of legislation and its something that requires a more involved discussion than just saying, it's all this way or all that way."

As a candidate in 2007, Obama said he preferred congressional approval for military operations.

"In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent," Obama told The Boston Globe. "History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action."