When I indulged in an infuriated rant against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week because her reaction to questions about the legality of our Libyan bombing campaign was a Rovian "whose side are you on," some people suggested that I had taken her out of context. They say that the Obama Administration does not really mean to create a with-us-or-against-us dichotomy to discredit people who have concerned about compliance with the War Powers Act or limits on executive power.
Fair enough. Let's ask the Big Guy himself:
I’m not a Supreme Court justice so I’m not going to — putting my constitutional law professor hat on here. Let me focus on, initially, the issue of Libya. I want to talk about the substance of Libya because there’s been all kinds of noise about process and congressional consultation and so forth. Let’s talk about concretely what’s happened.
Muammar Qaddafi, who, prior to Osama bin Laden, was responsible for more American deaths than just about anybody on the planet, was threatening to massacre his people. And as part of an international coalition, under a U.N. mandate that is almost unprecedented, we went in and took out air defense systems so that an international coalition could provide a no-fly zone, could protect — provide humanitarian protection to the people on the ground.
I spoke to the American people about what we would do. I said there would be no troops on the ground. I said that we would not be carrying the lion’s share of this operation, but as members of NATO, we would be supportive of it because it’s in our national security interest and also because it’s the right thing to do.
We have done exactly what I said we would do. We have not put any boots on the ground. And our allies — who, historically, we’ve complained aren’t willing to carry enough of the load when it comes to NATO operations — have carried a big load when it comes to these NATO operations. And as a consequence, we’ve protected thousands of people in Libya; we have not seen a single U.S. casualty; there’s no risks of additional escalation. This operation is limited in time and in scope.
So I said to the American people, here’s our narrow mission. We have carried out that narrow mission in exemplary fashion. And throughout this process we consulted with Congress. We’ve had 10 hearings on it. We’ve sent reams of information about what the operations are. I’ve had all the members of Congress over to talk about it. So a lot of this fuss is politics.
And if you look substantively at what we’ve done, we have done exactly what we said to do, under a U.N. mandate, and we have protected thousands of lives in the process. And as a consequence, a guy who was a state sponsor of terrorist operations against the United States of America is pinned down and the noose is tightening around him.
Now, when you look at the history of the War Powers resolution, it came up after the Vietnam War in which we had half-a-million soldiers there, tens of thousands of lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars spent — and Congress said, you know what, we don’t want something like that happening again. So if you’re going to start getting us into those kinds of commitments you’ve got to consult with Congress beforehand.
And I think that such consultation is entirely appropriate. But do I think that our actions in any way violate the War Powers resolution? The answer is no. So I don’t even have to get to the constitutional question. There may be a time in which there was a serious question as to whether or not the War Powers resolution — act was constitutional. I don’t have to get to the question.
We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world — somebody who nobody should want to defend — and we should be sending a unified message to this guy that he should step down and give his people a fair chance to live their lives without fear. And this suddenly becomes the cause célèbre for some folks in Congress? Come on..
Give this to President Obama: he has a lighter touch than his Secretary of State. He's not only employed a bit of subtlety, he's also give us a change-up, moving from the Rovian "you're objectively pro-enemy" trope to the Rovian "concern about the President blowing shit up is all about politics, not about sincere concerns about war powers or limits on executive power" trope.
But it's still part of the same core message: people who question the extent of my power are insincere and/or disloyal.
Fortunately for Obama, we're much more likely to focus on whether it's civil to call him a dick on the teevee than we are to focus on whether he's adopted the rhetoric he once criticized to defend discretionary expansions of executive power.
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