Last year, many libertarians and conservatives criticized President Barack Obama for involving the United States in air campaigns in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi, the country’s dictator, without congressional approval. The Obama Administration claimed the authority to bomb Libya through an alarming interpretation of executive power that they said derived the War Powers Resolution and, thus, did not need approval from Congress. Interestingly enough, two of Obama’s top advisers warned that involving the United States in Libya would require congressional approval. Their advice was ignored.
It appears now that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, has taken a page out of Obama’s book by claiming in an interview on Face the Nation that he could go to war with Iran, a frequent target of neo-conservatives, without congressional approval. Here is the revelant quote (emphasis mine):
I can assure you if I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now. I understand that some in the Senate for instance have written letters to the president indicating you should know that a containment strategy is unacceptable. We cannot survive a course of action which would include a nuclear Iran we must be willing to take any and all actions.
All those actions must be on the table.
That’s pretty bad, perhaps even worse than Obama’s broad interpretation of the War Powers Resolution. While I believe that his action in Libya was both unjustified and illegal through our own laws, Obama only participated when the United Nations authorized the attack in coordination with the French and British governments.
Romney is saying here that he can lead the United States into what would be a very bloody conflict without any say from Congress whatsoever. That is very troubling from all perspectives, as Doug Mataconis explains:
What Romney is saying is that he, as President, to decide on his own to commit and act of war on behalf of the United States that nearly every analyst who has looked at the issue concludes poses an extremely high risk of exploding into a wider regional war and/or inspiring acts of terrorism against the United States, Israel, and American interests abroad. Economically, the consequences of such a decision could be catastrophic if it results in the explosion in oil prices that most experts in that field expect would come out of any attack against Iran. And Romney believes that, under the Constitution, he would be perfectly free to make the decision to take that down that road all by himself.
And yet you’re unlikely to hear much criticism of Romney for this brazenly unconstitutional position from Republicans, and not a word from them if he indeed becomes President and starts pushing the nation down the road to a war with the Islamic Republic. Given the domestic politics of the Iran issue, you’re not even that likely to hear many Democrats criticize a President Romney under those circumstances.
The ironic thing about this, of course, is that Romney spoke these words on the same weekend that other Republicans are asserting that the President is abusing Executive Branch powers by enacting a change in immigration policy that, in the end, isn’t nearly that revolutionary. I don’t know about you, but I have fewer concerns about a few illegal immigrants than I do about a President who believes he can unilaterally take the nation to war. Even George W. Bush didn’t believe that, and the fact that Mitt Romney can talk about it so casually makes me think that my earlier evaluations of his foreign policy positions were mistaken.
It’s an election year, which means that nothing that has been said or done in the previous few years really matters. Nevermind that Republicans rightfully criticized Obama’s intervention in Libya to the point that they declined to authorize it and threatened to cut off funding for it. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney, now the face of the GOP, has given a view of executive power that goes beyond the expansive view taken by Obama.