Candidate Obama versus President Obama

    America’s third war appears to be unconstitutional. Check out this quote:”The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”So said presidential candidate Barack Obama.Given the statement he made in 2007, candidate Obama would not have supported the actions of President Obama. The American-led military attack on Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses was launched for the explicitly stated purpose of protecting the Libyan citizenry. In other words, there is no “actual or imminent threat” to America; nobody is linking Gadhafi to al Qaeda, or claiming that he possesses weapons of mass destruction. Absent such a threat, President Obama arguably breached the Constitution when he bypassed Congress and unilaterally went to war.It’s no shock that Congress was cut out of the action late last week. As the Obama team raced to secure the United Nations resolution, Congress was barely consulted at all; rather, it was informed only at the point of fait accompli. Presidents in both parties have been doing this sort of thing for a long time. For instance, Ronald Reagan bombed Gadhafi three decades ago without congressional approval, and Bill Clinton ignored Congress 12 years ago when he launched a bombing campaign against the Serbs in Kosovo.Granted, we’ve grown accustomed to being governed by an imperial presidency. But that raises important constitutional questions: Does Article I, Section 8 – which grants Congress the power to declare war – mean anything anymore? Or has this provision become as archaic as the compact disc?Some constitutional law experts are indeed talking about this – Yale profs Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway warn that Obama, by acting alone on Libya, may be dealing “a death blow to our constitutional commitment to checks and balances in war-making” – but it would be nice if the liberal critics of George W. Bush would do the same. They roundly condemned Bush for his imperial behavior on a wide range of issues; in the interest of intellectual consistency, they now have an obligation to similarly rebuke Obama.So, kudos to Michael Lind. A Bush critic and scholar at the New America Foundation, Lind contended on the Salon website the other day that the Libya action, “a war unrelated to American defense,” is basically a “presidential power grab.” I doubt that the congressional Democrats will talk that way (aside from Dennis Kucinich, who’s fuming about impeachable offenses), but, at minimum, they’re in no mood to give Obama a lot of rope on Libya. They clearly have questions about this military action, and they’re not pleased that they were institutionally dissed.Here’s liberal California congressman Mike Honda: “In launching over 100 missiles on Libya this weekend, (the administration has) leveled a devastating blow to our legislative-executive checks and balances. I demand a serious conversation in Congress before new countries are incautiously invaded and before America’s legislative branch is eviscerated further.”Here’s liberal Massachusetts congressman Michael Capuano: “Consulting with allies does not exempt the Executive Branch from consulting with Congress.”Here’s moderate Alaska senator Mike Begich: “Congress needs to understand…how long the administration anticipates U.S. involvement, the impact of our involvement on our other national security priorities like Afghanistan, and what the ultimate objective is. The administration needs to be straight with Congress and the American people about what the cost of this activity will be to American taxpayers.”It’s too late to undo the decision, but clearly the White House recognizes, in the name of domestic peace, that its Democratic allies will need to be spun after the fact. The first task – albeit a dubious pursuit – is to argue that the president did act within his unilateral authority when he launched war in Libya. In other words, the White House now insists that protecting the Libyan civilians is necessary to squelch a dire national security threat to our nation.To which you might be wondering: Huh? How can they possibly contrive that connection?Well, they’re trying – although it requires a fair bit of rhetorical elasticity. In a letter to Congress yesterday, the Obama team contended that Gadhafi’s attacks on the rebels and civilians “constitute a threat to the region, and to international peace and stability.” Therefore, if we don’t curb his behavior now, we risk “dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States.”Candidate Obama would never buy that one.

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