There are plenty of issues to talk about in tonight’s foreign-policy presidential debate. But here’s a pretty straightforward question I want answered: Why does President Obama think it was okay for him to attack Libya without congressional authorization?

“Today, I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya,” Obama said in a flippant and presumptuous announcement of the war. Now, I know this may sound quaint, but the Constitution gives the authority to go to war to Congress, not to the President. Congress never voted to declare war on Moammar Qadafhi, and President Obama couldn’t legally authorize the action.

Under the War Powers Act, Congress ceded some authority to the President, but that was only unleashing attacks in the case urgent threats to the U.S. Libya never was that. (Doug Bandow at Cato makes the case here.)

Even constitutional law teacher Barack Obama said in 2007:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

But that’s exactly what Obama did in Libya.

And, I wrote at the time about how Obama never even tried to gain support:

Matching the offhand assertion of authority to start an offensive war was the unserious way he announced it. While France’s Nicolas Sarkozy stood before an international gathering in Paris and Britain’s David Cameron arranged an address from No. 10 Downing St., Obama took a brief break from his trade meetings in Brazil to issue a statement at first carried to Americans only in audio form.

Bush has been called a brash cowboy, but at least he started his wars “ex cathedra,” so to speak, conveying the gravity of war by solemnly addressing “my fellow Americans” from the Oval Office.

Further, Bush started his wars only after leading long national debates. Obama pledged to be more deliberative than Bush, but on Libya, any deliberation mostly excluded the public and Congress.

The prospect of U.S. military intervention in Libya first arose weeks ago, when an all-out civil war erupted there. Yet Obama never pushed the issue until after his U.N. ambassador voted for the use of force at the Security Council. Obama never tried to cultivate American support for a third war. While Cameron defended his position during question time in Parliament, Obama merely sent a few aides to Capitol Hill.

President Obama gets a free ride on many things. His illegal war in Libya was one. It would be nice if that free ride ended tonight.