Shortly after the first U.S. cruise missiles hit their targets Saturday, the collateral damage became apparent — not in Libya, but on the home front, where liberal credibility was shattered by President Obama’s sudden resort to military action against Moammar Gaddafi’s regime. Those who had hailed Obama’s ascent as the dawn of a new age of peace, an end to the alleged “cowboy” belligerence of the Bush years, exploded with a mixture of outrage, confusion and chagrin as their hero flung the country into war in North Africa.
None was more indignant than Michael Moore. The left-wing filmmaker had spent George W. Bush’s presidency in frothing rage at Republicans whom he accused, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, of practicing “the politics of hate.” That same year Moore released Fahrenheit 9/11, a dubious “documentary” which portrayed Bush as a secret ally of Osama bin Laden. And in April 2008, on the eve of the crucial Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, Moore publicly endorsed Obama because, he said, “the actions and words of Hillary Clinton have gone from being merely disappointing to downright disgusting.”
Evidently, in Moore’s view, Obama’s words and actions have recently gone in the same direction. Saturday afternoon, the director unleashed a torrent of mocking messages on Twitter: “We’re going to keep bombing countries until we get it right.… May I suggest a 50-mile evacuation zone around Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize?… Bombing Libya today was like an Iraq War anniversary present to ourselves!” Indeed, in an irony not lost on Moore, the attacks on Libya by a U.S.-led coalition fell on the eight-year anniversary of the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which liberals had long cited as Exhibit A in their case against the Bush administration.
While Moore’s outbursts were sarcastic — and nearly hysterical — more sober reflections occurred to Josh Marshall of the liberal Talking Points Memo blog. Marshall went on for more than a thousand words Sunday before concluding that the Libyan intervention “strikes me as a mess, poorly conceived, ginned up by folks with their own weird agendas, carried out at a point well past the point that it was going to accomplish anything.”
Less sober, but more personally aggrieved, was the Atlantic Monthly‘s Andrew Sullivan, who during the Bush years went from being an initial supporter of the president’s aggressive anti-terrorism stance to being one of Bush’s most outspoken critics. After Saturday’s first air strikes against Gaddafi, Sullivan recalled Obama’s own words from a December 2007 interview with the Boston Globe: “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 posed no such threat, Sullivan wrote Saturday, saying he had supported Obama in the Democratic primaries against Clinton and in the general election against Republican Sen. John McCain because “both Clinton and McCain were unrepentant fans of presidential war-making powers.… But the president we supported is not, it is now clear, the president that we have.” And in a Sunday TV appearance with Chris Matthews, Sullivan huffed: “I don’t know why anybody voted for Obama in the primaries.”
The sense of being betrayed by Obama wasn’t limited to liberal pundits. Members of Congress on the left wing of the Democratic Party, many of whom had supported Obama against Hillary in the 2008 primary campaign, expressed their outrage in a caucus conference call Saturday. Politico reported the complaint offered by one unnamed Democrat on that call: “They consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress.” Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who had been one of Obama’s rivals for the 2008 nomination, said the attack on Libya “would appear on its face to be an impeachable offense,” because the president hadn’t sought congressional approval.
In an accusation reminiscent of the Bush era — when the president was often accused of invading Iraq to take over that country’s oil resources — Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey alleged similar motives for Obama’s intervention in Libya. “We’re in Libya because of oil,” Markey flatly declared Monday in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I think all Americans know why the president made this strike.”
Conservatives were themselves divided on the wisdom of U.S. intervention in Libya, but the burden of justifying Obama’s policies fell on the president’s liberal supporters, and few seemed eager to defend him. Indeed, the attacks on Gaddafi’s forces were the latest in a long list of liberal grievances about Obama’s failures to reverse Bush-era national security policies. U.S. troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign terror suspects are still being detained at Guantanamo Bay and, during two years when Obama had an overwhelming Democrat majority in Congress, he failed to repeal the PATRIOT Act.
Whether or not U.S. air power will be enough to overthrow Gaddafi, the president’s resort to military action has clearly wounded his liberal supporters — and conservatives were more than happy to apply salt to those wounds. In his Saturday cri de coeur, Sullivan complained of the “stingingly smug words” of conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, mocking liberal discomfiture over the Libyan intervention. Reynolds responded on his Instapundit blog: “You were played. I told you so at the time. The whole hope-and-change thing was an obvious con, and you were among the rubes who fell for it anyway. And yeah, I’m rubbing it in.”