Candidate Obama vs. President Obama On The Use Of Military Force

Four years ago, the Junior Senator from Illinois had this to say about the use of military force:

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

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.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Hey, President Obama, doesn’t that statement mean that your own decision to authorize action against Libya is prohibited by Constitution?

I think it does.

H/T: The Pajama Pundit

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    Another argument that pretends this unilateral attack, and not support of allied action?

    I really would treat unilateral attack differently, but I won’t sink to pretending. …

  2. John,

    It is a unilateral, unprovoked attack. Libya poses no threat to the United States and has not attacked American interests (unless you’re going to point to an incident 20 years ago that someone was already prosecuted for).

    Under Candidate Obama’s own criteria, attacking Libya without Congressional authorization is improper.

  3. john personna says:

    Stupid pundits:

    1) link to an attack?

    2) show it was unilateral?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @john personna

    It’s clear from context that by “unilaterally,” Candidate Obama meant “without authorization from Congress” rather than “without buy-in from the UN and/or American allies.”

    First, nothing else in the statement has anything to do with the international community.

    Second, Bush had NATO behind him in Afghanistan and a coalition of the willing in Iraq. Then again, he also had Congressional Use of Forth Authorization.

    Third, read the question: “In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)”

  5. john personna says:

    It’s funny, but sad, to debate a man with no shame.

  6. Jack says:

    Ummm… when did we attack?

    Has there been an attack while I wasn’t watching?

    So far, all I’ve seen is diplomatic moves.

    So, when did we attack? Explain please.

  7. Ross says:

    All the sudden everything he said three or four years ago is absolute Gospel truth?

    It’s quite probably that he could have been wrong about it in 2007 and learned more about the deal once he became President. C’mon, is this the best you can do?

  8. Darrell says:

    Ross says: “All the sudden everything he said three or four years ago is absolute gospel truth?”…..

    BHO it was touted by kool-aid drinkers like yourself to be a constitutional professor. The constitution is NOT whatever BHO wants it to be at a given moment. Ross, you need to quite faking reality. BHO lies!

  9. Vera Siegert says:

    Barack Obama did not even announce the start to the third U.S. war in the muslim world in a decade. There is an explanation for Obama’s reluctance to swagger into war like his predecessor George Bush.?

  10. Francis says:

    2007 was still when the candate spoke of the US as we consider her, now he’s just following his orders from UN and has forsaken our sovreignty.

  11. Dave Paul says:

    James Joyner is exactly right – he’s not talking about buy in from the international community, as remarkable as that is.

    He’s a hypocrite.

  12. Peter says:

    You do realize that the U.S.’s involvement with Libya is a UN sanctioned operation rather than a unilateral engagement, right?

  13. Bill says:

    Senator Obama would have voted to convict President Obama in an impeachment trial!

  14. ThaiKev says:

    @Peter: You do realize that U.S. military action should not be dictated by the U.N., right? I don’t remember where in history we handed that power over to the international body…

    Plus, if it’s unilateral operations that Obama was opposed to back in 2007, then he wasn’t talking about the Iraq War or Afghanistan. Other countries were involved there as well (Britain, Poland , Denmark, Spain, Thailand……..)

  15. Walker Geist says:

    The digressions are the most amusing part of this thread. At the end of the day, this guy is by his actions and words, directly and clearly using the Office of the Presidency to do exactly what he had previously vociferously protested as being outside the authority of the office he now holds.

    There are only two possibilities; either he is a power-mad megalomaniacal sociopath or, he’s a liar trying to sell the old, “Oh, my bad. I meant it’s only a bad thing when “they” do it”.

    From my perspective, this guy is no different than Geo. jr., who was no different than Billy (although he does get points for being the most entertaining recent President.) who was/is no different than DaDa Bush. How you can tell? Ask yourself: What terrible bad awful things their predecessors had done and they campaigned against, that any of them “un-did”? Zip. Each of them just added their own rocks in the Citizen’s backpack–none of them has taken any out. (example: Obama hasn’t curtailed Bushs’ folly (war mongering)–he’s expanded it.)

    Go ahead, apply this test to any of them it’s fun–and a great party game. That’s because it’s really ‘them’ (those who seek power over others) versus ‘us’ (Just people, who want to be left alone, and thought they hired government to be their janitor, not their jailer). It’s not the Republicans-vs-the Democrats, it’s the principles of freedom and the People-vs-the Republican/Democrats. They’re both the same thing, separated only by percentages and degrees.

    One says “I’ll only steal a nickel, while pointing out the ‘other’ guy wants to steal a dime (from you)”. Those who ascribe to the libertarian philosophy (as distinct from the Political Party) espoused in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights–and most of the Constitution (national charter) itself. Incidentally, only the l/Libertarian would interject in the conversation above–“I won’t steal–at all”.

  16. robertl says:

    Please let’s not ignore the famous Steve Martin “I Forgot!” defense…..

  17. John Allen says:

    Obama is learning that being the president is not as easy and clear-cut as he thought it would be. He is a man who was clearly unprepared for the office and is learning to his regret that the job is difficult with a lot of gray areas.

  18. Smaug says:

    To hear tell in some other stories, BHO actually did not want to get involved here either, but Hillary harangued him into it. He would have rather stood on the side sniping for Khadafy Duck to behave and step down.

  19. Dan says:

    The War Powers Resolution 1973 does allow the President to wage war without Congressional approval in this limited circumstance pursuant to section 1547:

    “(b) Joint headquarters operations of high-level military commands

    Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require any further
    specific statutory authorization to permit members of United States
    Armed Forces to participate jointly with members of the armed
    forces of one or more foreign countries in the headquarters
    operations of high-level military commands which were established
    prior to November 7, 1973, and pursuant to the United Nations
    Charter or any treaty ratified by the United States prior to such

    Therefore since Obama is complying with UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which authorizes a no fly zone, he does not require Congressional approval since Congress has abdicated their power in this narrow instance it appears.