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Carney: Obama's free ride on killer drones and illegal wars

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Photo - President Barack Obama (AP Photo)
President Barack Obama (AP Photo)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

President Obama has killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children, in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia through a drone war aimed at exterminating the suspected terrorists on his unprecedented and ever-expanding "kill list" -- a list that has included U.S. citizens.

In Iraq, Obama tried to perpetuate the U.S. occupation past his promised date for withdrawal, and after Iraqi leaders wanted American troops to leave.

In Libya, Obama illegally intervened in a civil war, sending U.S. fighter jets and missiles to kill a dictator who posed no threat to America. The aftermath of this unauthorized war: a coup in neighboring Mali paired with the rise of al Qaeda in that country, and a terrorist attack in Libya ending in the death of four Americans.

Amid real successes -- such as the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, and ultimately ending the occupation of Iraq -- Obama's foreign policy has been riddled with failures, scandals and mistakes. But if you watched this week's debate or follow this election cycle's media coverage, you would assume Obama has been throwing a perfect game around the planet.

Why does Obama get a free pass on foreign policy? There are three main reasons:

First, there's good old media bias. The major media have given scant attention to Obama's transgressions and have taken his word -- on all sorts of issues.

Second, there's the mysterious disappearance of the U.S. anti-war movement. Liberals are overwhelmingly fine with drone strikes -- 70 percent of self-described "liberal Democrats" supported them in a February Washington Post/ABC News poll.

In 2010, when we had 80,000 troops each in Iraq and Afghanistan, 78 percent of Democrats in one Quinnipiac poll approved of Obama's foreign policy, and you had to look pretty hard to find an anti-war protest. The formerly anti-war Left gave new meaning to that Vietnam-era Phil Ochs song "I Ain't Marching Anymore."

Third, Obama gets a free pass on war matters because the man who would naturally be his main critic -- Republican nominee Mitt Romney -- mostly shares Obama's views.

While some Republican hawks knock Obama for being insufficiently bellicose, Romney has a more nuanced critique. Beneath his occasionally hawkish ideological rhetoric, Romney has laid out a realist course. Monday night, he made it clear he had no interest in war with Iran or Syria.

And Romney certainly won't attack Obama from the dovish side.

So, in the end, Obama gets a free ride on policy because he is a Democrat whose offenses were mostly overreach.

In Monday's foreign-policy debate, Obama got no questions about his kill list. Obama has cultivated a list of suspected terrorists for the United States to target through drone strikes. One U.S. citizen, radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was on that list -- until a drone killed him. Obama was the judge and jury. Obama's drones were the executioners.

Debate moderator Bob Schieffer asked one question about the broader issue of drones. Romney said he supported the drone war. Obama dodged the question entirely. Schieffer moved on.

Obama regularly crows about "ending the war in Iraq." Never does he admit that he only left Iraq kicking and screaming. Obama spent months pursuing a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that would have kept U.S. troops there indefinitely. In Monday's debate, Romney said he agreed with Obama that we should have kept our troops there.

Obama has never been called to account, either, for illegally going to war in Libya. "Today, I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya," Obama said in a recorded statement from Brazil in March 2011.

But constitutionally, the president can't authorize military action - that's Congress' prerogative. The War Powers Act gives temporary exceptions for an "attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."

Candidate Obama knew this. "The President does not have power under the Constitution," he wrote in response to a Boston Globe query in 2007, "to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

The murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens should be understood in the context of a regime change Obama led without legal authority. Our involvement in Libya also appears to have bolstered al Qaeda in neighboring Mali, and led to a military coup, as well.

Kill lists, drones taking out hundreds of civilians, failed attempts to prolong the occupation of Iraq, and an illegal war in Libya -- you would think these things would haunt a president running for re-election. But not Obama.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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