President Obama has now involved the United States in a third war in the Muslim world. Let's be clear: He did so illegally. He did so hypocritically. He did so foolishly.
Before Congress held even a single hearing on the Libyan crisis, Obama sent a letter to the House and Senate that said:
"I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive."
But actually, his constitutional authority does not extend to waging war, as Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution makes clear. That's the article that gives Congress the sole power to declare war.
James Madison was adamant about this. He said giving war-making powers would be "too much temptation for a man."
There's another reason why the founders left warmaking powers in the hands of Congress: Senators and Representatives are closer to their constituents than the President is, and it's those constituents who will have to sacrifice life and treasure in wartime.
Kudos to Representative Dennis Kucinich for calling out Obama for violating the Constitution with his war on Libya -- and for recommending that Obama be impeached for it. Finally, a Democrat with principle and spine.
Obama used to recognize the limits on Presidential war-making, back in 2007. Then he said, "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
Libya does not pose "an actual or imminent threat."
But now that he's in the Oval Office and has the power, temptation has gotten the better of him.
In his speech to the nation on March 28, Obama stressed the humanitarian justification for the action, using the word "massacre" four times and other lurid language.
To be sure, this justification cannot be dismissed out of hand because there was a genuine risk that Qaddafi would engage in more brutality. But the United States was not motivated by humanitarian impulses, a fact that is not hard to demonstrate.
The Obama Administration escalated the war well past the time that it had secured the no-fly zone. It bombed Qaddafi's personal compound. And it sent the CIA to go in and arm the rebels, contrary to the arms embargo that the U.N. Security Council resolution had imposed. (In a speech on the House floor on March 31, Kucinich suggested that the CIA may have been behind the armed rebellion in the first place.)
These aren't the actions of a country that wants to save civilian lives. These are the actions of a country that wants to topple a government and install one that is more to its liking.
Obama's hypocrisy was stunning. When he announced that the United States was already bombing Libya with cruise missiles, he said, "Innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government."
But that was true, at the very same time, of the people of Yemen, whose leader (our ally) had just mowed down dozens of peaceful protesters.
That was also true, at the very same time, of the people of Bahrain, whose king (our ally) had also just mowed down peaceful protesters.
Then there's the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, our chief Arab ally and a profoundly reactionary government, which had just rolled its tanks into Bahrain to further repress the people there.
Simultaneously, the Ivory Coast was all but dissolving into a civil war, and the United States wasn't intervening to help the people who were suffering there.
Obama offered no consistent humanitarian standard for the war against Libya -- none whatsoever -- in his March 28 speech. What he did offer was a sprawling justification for war after war.
I couldn't help but be struck by Obama's odd echo of George W. Bush's and Condoleezza Rice's favorite phraseology.
Whereas they said they couldn't wait for the "smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," Obama said he refused "to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."
Like Bush, Obama spun a justification for preemptive or preventive war, a dangerous doctrine which future Presidents may invoke any time they wish.
As Kucinich noted in a powerful speech on March 31, "In two years, we have moved from President Bush's doctrine of preventive war to President Obama's assertion of the right to go to war without even the pretext of a threat to our nation."
Nor did Obama forswear his predecessor's unilateralism. "I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests," Obama said.
Obama then added other occasions for intervention "when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are." In this secondary tier, he lumped together everything from "preventing genocide" and "responding to natural disasters" to "ensuring regional security" and "maintaining the flow of commerce."
If the Pentagon is going to go on bombing raids every time the flow of commerce is threatened, then we can expect perpetual war.
Obama tried to fob off the obligations such an interventionist doctrine imposes by amending JFK's "pay any price"/ "bear any burden" rhetoric. Now it's not the United States that will do all the paying and bearing; our allies are going to have to "bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs," Obama said.
In the Libya case, Britain and France hastened to recertify their imperial stripes, and the Gulf kingdoms pressed for war to distract attention from their own repression. So Obama's coalition of the willing did pick up some of the load.
But the fact remains that his expansive doctrine will be enormously costly and burdensome to the United States. The Libya escapade cost $550 million just in its first week. The total bill will be exponentially higher than that.
Our government always has money for war, never money for universal health care or for wiping out poverty or for ensuring full employment at decent wages. Obama waved at the "many pressing needs here at home," but then he tried to get around that issue by pandering to the American superiority complex.
"Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries," he said. "The United States is different."
Really? What about the atrocities the United States itself committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, or Vietnam? And where was the United States when Indonesia, an ally, was committing atrocities in East Timor? Or when Israel, an ally, was committing war crimes in Gaza? Where was the United States when atrocities were being committed in the Congo or Sudan or Sierra Leone or Rwanda?
The idea that the United States rides a white horse may be attractive, but it's false. Just as it was false for Obama to say, "Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States." That wasn't true in Egypt for the past three decades. It's not true in Saudi Arabia today. And it's not true in the Occupied Territories, either.
When Obama said, with a straight face, that "we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges," he may have been kidding himself. He certainly was kidding the American public
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Obama, War President."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.