Libya: Obama Could Have Been Presidential. Instead, Pull the Plug.

Obama's Kosovo? Or Somalia?

I’m with Brad on Obama and Libya. Except when I’m not.

I would love to see Obama’s wings clipped. The czars, the health care takeover, the use of TARP funds to buy auto companies, the energy policy aimed to drag us back to the heady days of the 1970s (if not the 1570s), the “beer summit,” the bowing, the fecklessness, the arrogance (the two combined usually equal narcissism), the list goes on.

I would love to see the Presidency scaled back and the Congress actually take back its role as lawmaker rather than giving it all away to regulatory agencies. And I would love to see the federal government shrink to the point that those things would make perfect sense. But that’s not the reality in which we find ourselves.

I think Brad makes a very strong case in his two posts (here and here) that Obama’s actions in Libya are foolish, contra-Constitutional, and therefore merit impeachment. And hey, Dennis Kucinich agrees, so what’s not to like?!

The thing is, even though this is a bad argument from a strict constructionist point of view, what Obama did was not that far removed from what has become the accepted precedent since Truman sent the troops into Korea. It’s different, and I’ll get into that in a moment, but it’s not that different.

A “declaration of war” is called for by the Constitution, but Congress has allowed that to change to an “authorization” of some sort. They settle for the president coming to them for some sort of a blessing, permission, and an enumeration of what they are authorizing with regard to a war, police action, blockade, quarantine, etc. Though it is not set out this way in the Constitution, Congress has been largely okay with this arrangement, or at least not been upset enough to actually defund a war and impeach a sitting president over it.

I suspect this is in part because when the Constitution was ratified the Framers could not have envisioned the United States becoming the world’s sole super power, and especially not with the disparity we have today between us and the world’s number 2 military. At that time the Monroe Doctrine hadn’t even been asserted. War could be a more defined thing, reserved for rare extreme circumstances, in the few places that our small population and Navy reached.

But since that time the federal government has grown and changed into something the Framers simply would not recognize. Congress, whether or not it is abdicating its Constitutional duty to an unhealthy degree or not, has legislated away a whole lot of its powers to executive branch agencies. Again, I’m not saying I’m happy with this, just recognizing the reality.

Since the executive is more nimble than the legislature, it makes perfect sense for the legislature to give wider latitude to the president in many things, including waging war. Careful: “wider latitude” does not equal “carte blanche.” But when you give a president an inch, he will take a mile. Hence the War Powers Resolution and the entirely justified noisemaking by the Congress when the president is delinquent in keeping them aware of what is going on and ignores their opinions with regard to waging war.

But they’ve never actually defunded a war or impeached a president over one, so unless you’re a careful or respectful man you can safely put up with Congressional squawking and assume they’ll come along. Thus, the perfectly natural assumption on the part of a man with an inflated sense of his own awesomeness, a disdain for the normal way of governing in our republic, and a naivete that doesn’t quit, that he can just do what he wants on this whole Libya thing. After all, at least he isn’t ChimpyMcBushHitlerHalliburton.

But even with all of that as background, this case is different. And the difference is characteristic of Obama’s chutzpah, political naivete, regard for the U.N. and global opinion over the US Congress and American people, and the treatment Congress is used to, even from presidents like Bush whom they didn’t care for.

As I noted previously, if Obama thought it a good idea to protect civilians from Qaddafi’s artillery and air force, or if Obama thought it a good idea to assist the rebels to unseat Gadaffi, the appropriate time to do it would have been “as soon as humanly/politically possible from the time the bloodletting began.” I.e., roughly three weeks ago. At that point, I was willing to support such an action, if approached and presented and promulgated properly, according to the “new reality” I described above.

And at that point, as Bush did with the invasion and liberation of Iraq (please, refrain from commenting about the legality of that one–I will delete them because that is not at issue here), Obama’s job would have been to make the case for intervention first to the American people, and secondly to the Congress. Or, do both simultaneously.

Instead, he was silent. The only action he took was to project an intention to avoid intervention and allow/direct his secretary of Defense to block the no-fly zone others in NATO had proposed.

And then, after the UN Security Council passed a resolution approving military intervention, and after the French and Italians amped up to follow through on it, and after Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Powers started questioning his manhood (Okay, maybe they didn’t actually *question* it, but c’mon: three women pressuring a guy to start dropping bombs? It’s implicit.) he just up and orders “fire!” via a telegram from Brazil.

No talk with Congress. No speech broadcast from the Oval Office. No proposed resolution. No Rose Garden presser. No real clear explanation of why (or at least why now?). No statement of goals. No statement of what victory will look like. Just, “fire!”

Now, understandably, Congress is ticked. The American people are confused. Heck, the *military* is confused, if the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff goes on the Sunday talk shows and basically says, “yeah, we’re not sure what our goal is or what we’re supposed to accomplish, we were just told to blow up some installations, knock down some planes, and then maybe hand it all off to the French, or Italians, or someone else, at some point in the near or not-so-near future.”

Usually “SNAFU” is a comment offered well after the orders were given and bullets start flying; it’s not supposed to be included in the order handed down before any bullets fly.

This could have been an actual presidential leadership moment for Obama. He could have made the case against Qhadhaffi with resolve and urgency. He could have convinced a goodly portion of Americans who were willing to be convinced that assisting those yearning to escape from under the boot of that tyrant was a good and noble thing to do. He could have gotten resolutions passed in Congress, thus adding the voices of representatives and senators of both parties to the chorus in support of the cause. But he didn’t. He dithered and muttered, then hopped a flight to Brazil and said “fire,” failing utterly at being presidential.

And thus it is another disaster at this administration’s incompetent hands. This guy would fail as the senior patrol leader of a Boy Scout troop.

So while I can’t really argue with Brad’s legal assessment of the Constitutionality of this action and the technical merit of articles of impeachment, and while I would love to see the Congress actually do something to clip Obama’s wings, I don’t see impeachment actually happening.

So then, what to do?

Well, since it is an undefined military action with no established goals, no established rationale, no established public support (and even less than it had before among the chattering class), and no leadership from the commander-in-chief, I think we should pull the plug on it. If we don’t, we may soon commit ground troops “to protect civilians,” and then will likely fail to give them the armor that they request lest it project too much strength or kill too many civilians, and then we’ll send a bunch on a mission into a hostile city ill-equipped so as not to scare anyone, and end up with a bunch of our boys getting dragged naked through the streets.

Too bad, really. With a proper leader, this could possibly have gone well.



  • Brad Birzer

    Thanks for this, Tom. Wonderfully argued.

  • debrr

    Isn’t this the same person that when he was running for president constantly slammed Bush for not having “an exit plan” for Iraq??? I guess that being president isn’t so easy after all is it? I think that President Obama is in over his head and no amount of charm or teleprompters will get him, or the United States out of this one without the loss of American soldiers. St. Michael pray for us and protect us from evil.

  • Bill

    A very gracious post, Tom.

    Thank you.

    • Tom Crowe

      Thank you, Bill — My previous post on the topic was, admittedly, not careful enough.

  • Joe

    You make a great point.

    In my view, the time is right to confront and remove Gadaffi. But, it has been mangled so badly, already, that it may be too dangerous to support this leadership with this task.



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