March 28th, 2011
04:49 PM ET

Opinion: It's too easy for presidents to go to war

Julian Zelizer
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter," published by Times Books, and "Arsenal of Democracy." The opinions in this blog are solely those of Julian Zelizer.

Many people across the political spectrum have been unhappy with President Barack Obama's decision to send American fighting forces to attack Libya. They argue that Obama failed to provide an adequate explanation for making this choice.

"Lots of confusion," said Sarah Palin, "What is the mission here in Libya?" A number of prominent Democrats have likewise wondered why the president entered this fight and said they felt Congress was not sufficiently consulted.

Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia, and a Vietnam veteran, warned that "this isn't the way our system is supposed to work." Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, called the attack an "impeachable offense" (though he later said that impeachment was not on the table).

With all the attention that is being paid to Obama's inconsistent rationales, there has been less concern about the ease with which the White House sent U.S. forces into combat. Indeed, the country seems so accustomed to presidents employing military force at their own will that there are few voices demanding democratic consent.

The dynamics surrounding Libya are not unique to the current president. Rather, they are a product of the nature of war in modern America. For decades, U.S. presidents have been willing to send significant numbers of troops and materiel into overseas conflict with great frequency.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Global 360° • Opinion • President Barack Obama
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Andrew

    A soldier jumps a rank to report something that goes wrong and he gets his world rocked. Obama goes to war on an impeachable offense and its all good.Sounds like double standards.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  2. Ellen

    Maybe he did take his time, but if we rushed in there may have been mistakes. After what I am hearing on the 7:00 news, maybe we better arm the oppsition, as Gadhafi has now armed his tribes, and all the people in Tripoli. After the opposition has already suffered so many murders and ground, we should arm them immediately. That's the reason for not seeing the pro gadahi troops, they are planning a massive massacre against the opposition as they head to Tripoli. Please give them every opportunity to save themselves and have no further loss of life. I hope Gadhafi and his sons are charged by the Hague with horrific murder and war crimes and they are sentenced to life in prison and never be let out of their cages, to never see the light of day. The other countries who also are comitting murder against their own people should also suffer the consequences. And the reason the President did not get Congressional Approval, is the simple reason is they would have delayed since they don't work together, as we have seen many times and there would have been more loss of life. I hope that girl who met the reporters is out of the hands of the murderers, and if she was raped, Gadhafi and his sons should also be charged with that horrific crime. Great job Anderson! Keeping them honest. Please, is we can arm the opposition, it can ony protect them.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  3. Art Folden

    @SaraPalin – all you right-wingnuts are always in a perpetual state of confusion – Obama has handled Libya Res.1973 exactly the right way.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm |