Obama, once the anti-war candidate, now fully embraces the Bush doctrine of preemptive unilateral war


Democrats swept into control of both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections on a wave of discontent with the Iraq war and then-President Bush’s foreign adventurism. President Obama campaigned over the next two years as the explicitly anti-war candidate. He was the only Democrat running who had opposed the war in Iraq, though he wasn’t in Congress to have to vote for it at the time. Now President Obama is explicitly embracing the Bush doctrine of preemptive war to pretend he has authority to unilaterally attack the ISIS forces in Iraq.

On Wednesday evening, Obama made a primetime address to the nation to explain the strategy against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which he said he didn’t have last week. In the address and an interview on Meet the Press the Sunday before, he said he already has the authority to pursue that strategy, which John Yoo, a former Bush administration official who literally wrote the memo on Bush’s war powers, says is exactly the same as Bush’s.

Yoo, Bush, and now Obama argue that the president has the power under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution to use military force to protect the American people from vague foreign threats, even though he said exactly the opposite in 2007.

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.

However, Obama himself in the same Meet the Press interview reassured Americans that ISIS was not a threat to them. This isn’t a case of rhetorical and legal gymnastics; they’re simply making up the law as they go along.

The truly ironic thing is that Bush didn’t act unilaterally in either Afghanistan or Iraq. He sought and received specific authorization for each military campaign from Congress. On 9/18/01, Congress authorized him to use force “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” The Taliban in Afghanistan was first on that list. On 10/11/02, Congress authorized him to use force against the Hussein regime in Iraq, regardless of how unwise it was or turned out to be.

Obama has never sought or received authorization from Congress to pursue military action for the entirety of his term so far. He joined European airstrikes against Libya (1), leading to the removal of the Qaddafi regime there. He has conducted drone operations against suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan (2) and Yemen (3), in which American citizens have been killed. He wanted to pursue airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria (4) on evidence it gassed its own rebelling people, but backed off when it was clear the public and Congress were overwhelmingly opposed. Now he has conducted airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq (5) and wants to expand that campaign into Syria (6).

Not one of these six separate campaigns was pursued to prevent or retaliate for a threat to the United States. Neither the Constitution nor the War Powers Act give the president this kind of authority. Public support and internal legal memos are not sufficient.

I and many others have expressed our support for the total elimination of ISIS after their brutal killings of Americans. However, President Obama must seek proper constitutional authority to conduct this assault or risk losing what little public confidence remains in his leadership.

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