Presidential Character Arcs: Executive Power

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.

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8 comments

  1. “…but a staggering and coordinated overreaction, backed by misinformation the likes of which I’ve never seen, prevented the same.”

    You clearly weren’t watching the 2005 social security debate. But I digress…

    I think the GOP tact on this is poor in that they are dwelling on the legalities of the President’s decision. I would have preferred they focus on asking why in God’s name the US is the only country that could have supplied this assitance to the UN. 10 countries on the security council voted in favor of a no-fly zone. Where are their planes?

    We have taken sides in a civil war that may stretch on for years. The end-game is murky at best. This comes at a time when support for Afghanistan is low and the public is growing increasingly isolationist with regards to foreign policy. The President’s mistake was not the process through which we got here but what it means down the road.

  2. That’s a fair criticism. But I expect it’s not one the GOP is raising, what with the hypocrisy and all. Granted that’s never stopped them in the past…

    1. And the GOP could criticize the Left for several wars under Clinton. It goes round and round. It’s just staggering how quickly we got pulled into this one. The first Libyan protests were 34 days ago.

  3. I would have preferred they focus on asking why in God’s name the US is the only country that could have supplied this assitance to the UN. 10 countries on the security council voted in favor of a no-fly zone. Where are their planes?

    As I’m sure you’re aware, there are actually currently nine other countries involved with combat forces in this intervention, including the UK and France. The US is hardly going alone on this one, although as the world’s only superpower and having a force projection ability orders of magnitude greater than anyone else, it is almost unavoidable that you take a leading role here in the initial phase.

    1. I don’t think it’s ‘unavoidable’. Britain and France both have adequate navies.

    2. They both have excellent navies, but they lack the instant force projection and command & control ability that was needed in the situation – especially supressing the Libyan air defences so that their forces could be stopped before they had the opportunity to enter Benghazi. As I understand, the USS Enterprise and the B1 strategic bombardments were crucial in that phase.

      1. So what does that say about the priorities of other world powers?

      2. It says something about their capacities, and about what it means being the only superpower in the world. Live with it, enjoy the fact that you’ve probably saved Benghazi and Tobruk from going up in flames and that you’re helping your dear European allies – a lesser man than I might add “for a change”, but of course I won’t – with something that’s important for us. (That’s what allies do, remember?) And it looks like NATO will ready to take over soon enough, anyway, so this ordeal won’t be long now.

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