"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," then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said in December 2007.
What a difference a change of job title makes.
"Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates three weeks before President Obama ordered a no-fly zone over – and other military action against – Libya.
Like many anti-Iraq War/Bush-is-a-warmonger critics, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., supports the Libyan action. Bush-hater Rachel Maddow of MSNBC rationalized that unlike the bloodthirsty President George W. Bush, you see, Obama ordered the military into action under a different "narrative" – that is, reluctantly and without zeal. Understand?
The non-unilateralist Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama, unlike Bush, sought no congressional war resolution. Obama, therefore, ordered military action against Libya "unilaterally" – without the congressional approval that he once argued the Constitution demanded.
As Obama further explained in his December 2007 statement, "In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent." So a president, according to Obama, does not need congressional authority – provided the action involves "self-defense" or "stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
What is the "actual or imminent threat" to America posed by Libya?
Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, spooked bleep-less after our invasion of Iraq, surrendered his WMD. The dictator admitted Libya's complicity in the bombing of the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie and paid financial settlements – after which the U.S. removed Libya from the list of terror-sponsoring states. The U.S. imports less than 1 percent of its oil from that country. What threat to national security?
Fast-forward to March 2011. Rebels threaten to topple Gadhafi's brutal regime. But the dictator fights back, and unless stopped by outsiders, his military appears poised to put down and slaughter the rebels. Enter Obama. "We cannot stand idly by," he said, "when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy."
Obama thus approves this act of war – for humanitarian purposes.
But Iraq's Saddam Hussein created a far greater humanitarian nightmare. "The Butcher of Baghdad" slaughtered, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – far more people than were killed in Bosnia and Kosovo, where President Clinton ordered military force for humanitarian reasons. Yet, when weapons hunters found no stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, the dwindling number of pro-war Democrats turned against the war – never mind the sickening sight of thousands of Iraqis found in shallow graves.
If U.S. foreign policy dictates intervention during humanitarian crises, why stop with Libya? Why start with Libya?
The list of brutal thug leaders is long. Nearly 40 percent of the world's population lives under un-free, often brutally repressive, governments, and another billion or so people have only partial freedom.
Humanitarian in-harm's-way deployment of the military is treacherous and unpredictable. Consider Somalia ("Black Hawk Down" Battle of Mogadishu in 1993); Lebanon (241 servicemen, mostly Marines, killed when terrorists blew up their barracks in 1983); and Bosnia/Kosovo (President Clinton promised troops out by Christmas 1995).
The purpose of the military is to act on behalf of our national security. We are not the world's hall monitor. Bush-hating Iraq War critics used to say stuff like that – along with "war is not the answer."
Now, let's revisit the reasons for the – as pre-President Obama called it – "stupid" war.
Obama, like virtually everyone else, assumed Saddam possessed stockpiles of WMD while actively pursuing a nuclear capability. President Bush sought and obtained congressional authorization. He called Saddam's Iraq a "grave and gathering threat" to our national security.
Ninety percent of Americans, in the dark days following Sept. 11, 2001, expected another attack within a year – except perhaps this time with chemical or biological weapons. From the "oil-for-food" program, Saddam stole money, possibly re-routing it to terrorists. He financially rewarded families of homicide bombers. We learned, following the Persian Gulf War, that he was much closer to achieving nuclear capability than previously thought. Saddam kicked out the U.N. inspectors sent in to verify the promised dismantling and destruction of the weapons.
That Saddam possessed stockpiles of WMD, having used chemical weapons on the Iranians and his own people, was not in dispute. All 16 U.S. intelligences agencies thought so "with the highest probability." France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Egypt, Jordan, China, Israel – and even Saddam's own generals – assumed Iraq possessed WMD. Even U.N. weapons inspector and Iraq War critic Hans Blix thought Saddam likely possessed these weapons. As Blix admitted at a 2004 University of Berkeley forum: 'I'm not here to have gut feelings. But yes, in December 2002 (three months before the invasion) I thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.'"
Call Libya the Obama doctrine: non-national security, non-congressionally approved military attacks are perfectly legitimate for humanitarian reasons. Except not for Iraq under President George W. Bush – who awaits his apology.