Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Triangulation Man: Libya

In 2007, Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage asked candidate Triangulation Man when the president has the authority to call for military action against Iran. Our fearless hero made it clear any military action must be approved by Congress.

SAVAGE: In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

OBAMA: 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.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. 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.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

If there is one thing we learned about Triangulation Man is that he would never take the Republican Party position on domestic or foreign policy.

Bill Kristol

"No, we cannot leave Gaddafi in power," Kristol agreed. "And we won't leave Gaddafi in power."

"The immediate military mission, Admiral Mullen correctly described but the political goal is to remove Gaddafi and ultimately military assets will serve that political goal."

John McCain

“We can't risk allowing Qaddafi to massacre people from the air, both by helicopter and fixed-wing [aircraft]."

Our hero quickly moved to the right of center to please Republicans. Triangulation Man's efforts led to House Speaker John Boehner to publicly criticize the Libya policy.

“All of these concerns point to a fundamental question,” Mr. Boehner writes, “What is your benchmark for success in Libya?”

Mr. Boehner, who issued a short statement on Libya over the weekend, ratcheted up his criticism of Mr. Obama’s handling of operation as Democrats and Republicans continue to voice concerns about the cost of the mission and the president’s decision not to pursue approval from Congress before authorizing military force.

In his letter, Mr. Boehner writes that he is “troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.”

Obama ordered the no-fly zones over Libya. Republicans now refuse to support the policy. Boehner is willing to sound like a peace activist to garner political points against Obama. Another sore point for Congress is Obama ordered the air-strikes without congressional approval. Polititifact ruled that Obama did a full flip flop from his 2007 position.

The use of military force against Libya should be argued on the merits of the operation. However, Obama's flip flop smacks as a president attempting to appear tough on foreign policy. Either Obama was telling voters what he thought they wanted to hear in 2007 or he has developed a contempt of Congress since becoming president. The politically smart thing would have been to force Congress to vote on the use of military force against Qaddafi. This would have forced Republicans and Democrats to take a position and own it. Apparently, Obama had little confidence that his powers of persuasion and military strategy would be approved. That does not inspire confidence.

Update: John Bolton was in Palm Beach, Florida today. Bolton was highly critical of Obama's handling of Libya. Anyone want to place bets on Bolton would have still criticized Obama, if the President didn't order the no-fly zones.

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