The National Review joins publications on both sides of the aisle nailing President Obama for breaking his promise to avoid undeclared, unilateral wars.
Two problems. First, on the indicated text, candidate Obama made no such promise. Nor would it have been responsible for him to do so. Second, query whether a promise to avoid undeclared, unilateral war is broken by engaging in an undeclared, multilateral enforcement action undertaken with the United Nations’ blessing, and essentially at its request. We liberals should be happy for the following: Obama’s decision to wait for an international consensus partially ratifies our response to the Iraq War. If you make a good faith effort to secure that consensus, sometimes you get it. If you don’t make the effort, well, maybe it’s because you know you don’t deserve it.
Separately, to the extent that the President’s opinions on the use of force have changed, well, shouldn’t we expect them to? It’s a general theme of this presidency, and most presidencies, that the job differs from even your reasonable expectations. Obama walked into the Office to close Guantanamo; but on finding himself bound by Bush’s blood-soaked handcuffs, stayed his hand. He walked into the Office to give Americans the option of a government-run healthcare plan; but a staggering and coordinated overreaction, backed by misinformation the likes of which I’ve never seen, prevented the same. He walked into the Office to avoid committing American arms without Congress’ informed say-so; but, well, it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it?
We should expect our Presidents to learn. Because when they don’t, and walk out of the Office again without having learned a damn thing and without believing themselves to have made a single mistake, we will have suffered for that lack of critical thought. I was under the impression we elected a man we could trust to make informed judgment calls (with some mild preference for “liberal” outcomes), rather than a partisan hack, like the man he replaced. Didn’t we?
As usual, The West Wing handles the problem elegantly. No-one expects war to be what it is.