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Fact Check: How Obama's Libya Claims Fit Facts

There may be less than meets the eye to President Barack Obama's statements Monday night that NATO is taking over from the U.S. in Libya and that U.S. action is limited to defending people under attack there by Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

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AP further reports:

OBAMA: Seeking to justify military intervention, the president said the U.S. has "an important strategic interest in preventing Gadhafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful - yet fragile - transitions in Egypt and Tunisia." He added: "I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America."

THE FACTS: Obama did not wait to make that case to Congress, despite his past statements that presidents should get congressional authorization before taking the country to war, absent a threat to the nation that cannot wait.

"The president does not have the 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," he told The Boston Globe in 2007 in his presidential campaign. "History has shown us time and again . . . that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch."

Obama's defense secretary, Robert Gates, said Sunday that the crisis in Libya "was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest."

And:

OBAMA: "Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

THE FACTS: Mass violence against civilians has also been escalating elsewhere, without any U.S. military intervention anticipated.

More than 1 million people have fled the Ivory Coast, where the U.N. says forces loyal to the incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, have used heavy weapons against the population and more than 460 killings have been confirmed of supporters of the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara.

The Obama administration says Gbagbo and Gadhafi have both lost their legitimacy to rule. But only one is under attack from the U.S.

Presidents typically pick their fights according to the crisis and circumstances at hand, not any consistent doctrine about when to use force in one place and not another. They have been criticized for doing so - by Obama himself.

In his pre-presidential book The Audacity of Hope, Obama said the U.S. will lack international legitimacy if it intervenes militarily "without a well-articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands."

He questioned: "Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene in Bosnia and not Darfur?"

Now, such questions are coming at him.

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Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post reports:

"The United States has a moral obligation anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes," [candidate] Obama declared. "When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls . . . We can't say 'never again' and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter."

Stirring rhetoric, yes. But once Obama became president, the Darfur crisis appeared to fade in importance. Rather than confront the Sudanese government, as candidate Obama suggested he would do, the administration's special envoy for Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, attempted to win Khartoum's cooperation by offering incentives. As he memorably put it: "We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries - they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."

And:

No one can expect a presidential candidate to stick to every campaign promise. Circumstances and priorities change. The tragedy in Darfur has been a slow-motion conflict, unlike the rapidly developing civil war in Libya, potentially requiring a different set of tools. But the conflict in Darfur has not gone away, despite Obama's campaign rhetoric that "I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter."

Some day, those words may come back to haunt him.

Maybe today.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on March 29, 2011


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