The Corner

Obama Sets Bad Precedents

With American troops in harm’s way — at the order of the president of the United States — we can only pray for their safety and wish them godspeed in fulfilling their mission.

The commander-in-chief, however, created more confusion in a situation that calls for clarity. He left open the door for Qaddafi to remain in power after stating in the clearest possible language — even for Obama — that this brutal dictator had to go. Any military action that leaves him in power will be interpreted as nothing less than a diplomatic and military defeat for the United States. Now that Obama has cited saving civilians as the primary rational for the use of force, Qaddafi is sure to hide behind human shields and to call upon tribes loyal to him to resist those he calls “invaders.” He knows that, should outsiders use force against either, Obama will look like a hypocrite to the world.

Obama set three bad precedents tonight. First, he has all but told Iran that he will take no action to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power, unless it takes to abusing its own people, and that the U.S. will not act unilaterally against the regime in Tehran. Second, he has for the first time in American history suggested that American troops will be put under a foreign command. (Given that all prior NATO military actions were led by an American command, he can, of course follow in this tradition. If he does, however, what will have been the point of tasking this mission off to NATO?) Third, Obama substituted the hope of “multinationalism” for the reality of the constitutional requirement that Congress lend its approval in some way to this military engagement on behalf of the people in whose name they serve. The “briefing” his administration gave Congress was anything but true “consultation.” Moreover, Obama gave other nations a greater say over where U.S. forces are engaged than he gave Congress.

Obama took several liberties with the facts. No one doubted the capability of the United States (through its armed forces) to carry out any task it takes on. Many doubted the wisdom of this particular policy. More importantly, “regime change” in Iraq did not take eight years, as the president said. Taking out Saddam Hussein proved relatively easy. It was defeating the unanticipated insurgency that took eight years.

Congress has been derelict of its duty. It should go into emergency session and pass a binding joint resolution that forbids the president from placing American troops under any foreign command. It should also forbid the use of American ground troops in Libya under any command.

Alvin S. Felzenberg — Mr. Felzenberg is the author of A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. and The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.

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