The best part of having elected as President a man who pandered to the anti-war Left during his campaign are all of the little video nuggets that campaign left behind as markers for hypocrisy. Weasel Zippers finds this doozy from the August 2007 AFL-CIO debate broadcast live on MSNBC, in which candidate Barack Obama passionately argues that decisions of foreign policy and military action cannot just take place between “Washington insiders,” but must involve the American public as well, calling this point a “seminal question”:
But the fact of the matter is that when we don’t talk to the American people — we’re debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have a right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that — are part of the debate that has to take place with respect to how we’re going to shift our foreign policy. This is a seminal question. — Barack Obama, August 8, 2007
Actually, this is more interesting than even this small clip does justice. If you’re wondering why Obama’s practically yelling in this clip, it’s because he’s responding to a criticism from Chris Dodd over Obama’s earlier suggestion that he would unilaterally invade Pakistan if then-dictator Pervez Musharraf stopped cooperating against al-Qaeda. Dodd called that statement “dangerous,” and here’s Obama’s response in full:
SEN. OBAMA: I did not say that we would immediately go in unilaterally. What I said was that we have to work with Musharraf, because the biggest threat to American security right now are in the northwest provinces of Pakistan and that we should continue to give him military aid contingent on him doing something about that.
But the fact of the matter is that when we don’t talk to the American people — we’re debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have a right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that — (cheers, applause) — are part of the debate that has to take place with respect to how we’re going to shift our foreign policy. This is a seminal question.
MR. OLBERMANN: Gentlemen, I have to end this segment here because we are —
SEN. OBAMA: It’s a fundamental question.
Actually, he did say we would go in unilaterally, and “working with Musharraf” was the problem in his statement:
“I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges,” Obama will say, according to speech excerpts provided to ABC News by his campaign, “but let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”
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?)
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.
Obama will speak to the nation on Monday, ten days after he consulted with only a few “Washington insiders” and then launched a war that the Constitutional scholar argued was illegal when he was just a candidate for the presidency. Think Obama will try to explain these earlier statements and square them with his own actions this month? Neither do I.