Critics of President Obama's unilateral decision to intervene in Libya's civil war note that it seems to contradict a position he took when he was running for president. In a December 2007 survey of presidential candidates, Obama told The Boston Globe, "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." The Wall Street Journal summarizes the Obama administration's response:
The White House said the president's actions don't contradict his earlier views, noting that the president met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers regarding Libya before any action took place.
A senior administration official said that the 2007 comment envisioned "an invasion like we saw in Iraq. A mission of this kind, which is time-limited, well-defined, and discrete, clearly falls within the President's constitutional authority."
Seriously? Meeting with a few legislators is not, by any stretch of the imagination, equivalent to obtaining congressional authorization. As for the unnamed administration official's claim that Obama's 2007 statement dealt with "an invasion like we saw in Iraq," it is clearly not true. Here is the question Obama was answering:
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?)
In other words, Obama was contemplating a scenario much like the current one in Libya, where the U.S. responds to "a situation that does not involve stopping an imminent threat" with air strikes aimed at destroying particular targets but rules out an invasion (as required not only by public opinion but by the U.N. Security Council resolution that Obama cites as his legal authority). The major difference is that the Iran scenario involves a potential (though hypothetical and distant) threat to U.S. national security, whereas Libya's civil war does not—making the case for unilateral executive action even weaker.
See my column tomorrow for more on Obama's dangerously open-ended rationale for his war of choice.