If you were asked which American president had attacked more Middle Eastern, WMD-happy dictators, Barack Obama or George W. Bush, what would you say? Bush right? It’s the natural choice. He did invade Iraq to rid then-dictator Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction after all.
It’s a good instinct, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually Barack Obama, or at least it will be soon. Obama toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi last year and is poised to carry out strikes against Syria’s Bashar Assad any moment now. Both Assad and Qaddafi are big WMD fans. Qaddafi had a budding nuclear program until he got scared of Bush and turned it over to the U.S. and Assad just gassed his own people for the second time after Obama warned him not to.
Ok, but how about if you were asked which one said that attacking these dictators was necessary for humanitarian reasons, to save the lives of untold innocents from their monstrous rulers? That attacking them was necessary or they might think they could get away with their evil deeds, and that that impunity might inspire others. You’d probably guess Obama this time right? He is the nicer one after all and he’s given all those speeches about how much the global community matters.
Wrong again! Both Bush and Obama premised their attacks on humanitarian grounds. Obama’s going to attack Syria because Assad used chemical weapons against rebels twice after we said doing it once would be a red line. Obama also killed Qaddafi on the mere assumption that the Libyan goon was going to slaughter a bunch of rebels fighting against him. Pretty rough, right?
Bush said that Hussein was a threat to his neighbors and that his past use of poison gas and continued attempts to develop more WMDs was proof he couldn’t be contained. Bush also pointed out that Saddam was a horrible thug who had murdered thousands of his own people, oppressed millions more, and was providing an example for other rogue states on how to act with impunity.
That’s the second reason Obama is going to attack Assad. If Syria faces no penalty for using chemical weapons, then other states might follow suit. Plus, using poison gas on your own citizens is just awful, and there’s no way America can have moral authority in the world if we let thugs like Assad abuse their own people.
Alright, that one was a bit of a trick question. In the interest of fairness, let’s ask one more that should be pretty easy.
Which president launched his attack illegally? Bush, duh. Right? Everyone knows he flouted the will of the international community. The whole world was really angry at us. France was super grumpy.
If you said Bush you’re 0-3 on this quiz. It was Obama.
See, before invading Iraq, Bush got Congress to authorize the use of military force in a bipartisan vote. Every top Democrat in Congress voted to topple Saddam Hussein. Obama didn’t even try. Instead, Obama simply started attacking Qaddafi without even asking Congress for permission.
But Obama’s commander in chief right, he can tell the military to do whatever he wants? Yes and no. When we’re at war, the president is the commander in chief of all the armed forces and has total authority over them. However, unless we’re acting in self-defense, only Congress can send us to war.
Congress doesn’t need to utter any magic words or say “we declare war” or anything, all they have to do is pass a bill giving the president permission to use military force. It’s pretty simple actually, yet Obama refuses to do it.
With Libya, he just started shooting at Qaddafi and tried to justify it by saying he had briefed a few senior members of Congress. Sorry, that’s not what the law says. What does it say?
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution spells out clearly that one of Congress’ power is to “declare war,” and the War Powers Act itself states that “The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
All of which makes it pretty clear that if any president wants to go to war, he has to ask Congress first. Period.
Obama didn’t do that in Libya though, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to do it in Syria either, which means Obama has launched two illegal wars to Bush’s zero.
Matt Cover is Content Editor at Rare. Follow him on Twitter @MattCover
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