“I think what he did was illegal and unconstitutional.”
That was Jerry Nadler, the liberal Democratic congressman, in an interview this weekend, referring to President Obama and the military intervention in Libya.
Those concerns were also raised on a conference call Saturday, where other liberals, like Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, raised constitutional questions about Mr. Obama’s actions.
The tension is over who has the authority to declare war, the Congress, or the president? Nadler, and his colleagues, say had the president sought congressional approval before taking military action, many of the questions they now have could have been answered.
The split on Libya is also dividing liberal and conservative non-interventionists from liberal and conservative interventionists.
Hence John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, who have been harshly critical of the Obama administration for waiting several days before agreeing to participate in a multilateral military attack on the forces of Mohamar Qaddafi, are on the same side as Hillary Clinton and other Democrats who tend to regard Bill Clinton’s decision to intervene in Bosnia as the height of enlightened humanitarianism.
“We did not lead this,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted saying this Sunday in the New York Times and other outlets. “We did not engage in unilateral actions in any way, but we strongly support the international community taking action against governments and leaders who behave as Qaddafi is unfortunately doing so now.”
Nadler, who is generally a hawk on Israel, but who was also an early proponent of unilateral withdrawal from Iraq, doesn’t buy the argument about multilateralism. “It doesn’t matter that the U.S. is not taking the lead,” said Nalder. “So what. We are still using U.S. military forces” and “the fact that other countries are doing it to are irrelevant. This act was unconstitutional.”
French and British forces led the military assault in support rebel forces in Libya, who seek to depose President Qaddafi, whom President Obama has already said “needs to go.” But Nadler said that the decision to pile in against the rebels could set a precedent for American forces taking action all over the place.
“If we’re intervening for humanitarian reasons, why not the Ivory Coast or Darfur? Why here ?” he asked. “We cannot intervene at every situation.”
“It’s hard to see any vital national interest” in Libya, he said, referring to the constitutional powers a president has for using military force without the requisite consent of the congress beforehand.
Rep. Anthony Weiner, who has been broadly supportive of the steps taken in Libya, has warned of uncertainty about the mission.
“I do believe we must be a country that steps in to protect citizens from despotic leaders of their own country,” Weiner said at a press conference this Sunday. When I asked Weiner why there was intervention in Libya, versus other places facing political unrest, he said, “We haven’t heard the president articulate that. It’s been only a vague articulation from the president’s cabinet.”
He went on to repeat explanations he said came from the president’s administration about why Libya was more suitable for U.S. military action: “that this was an achievable objective, making it different from other places around the world; this is something that there’s a ready-made coalition, making it different than places like the Congo,” he said.
“But that’s a question a lot of members in Congress were asking,” he said.
“Who are these rebels?” Mr. Nadler asked, referring to the soldiers on the ground in Libya. “Are they democratic, with a little d? Look at what we did in Afghanistan. We armed anti-Soviet forces, and we got the Taliban.”
[Note: This item was slightly expanded from an earlier draft.]