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Obama forgetting the lessons of Iraq

By Jason Chaffetz, Special to CNN
  • Jason Chaffetz: U.S. shouldn't play global police in a bad economy, with military stretched
  • U.S. should get out of Afghanistan, not enter unclear battle with Libya, Chaffetz says
  • President did not get full and proper congressional consent for strikes on Libya, he writes
  • Chaffetz: We need to know rationale for military action and who the rebels are

Editor's note: Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz represents Utah's 3rd Congressional District.

(CNN) -- "History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch." -- Barack Obama, December 20, 2007, in a Boston Globe interview.

Skipping any attempt to seek congressional authorization, President Obama instead went to the United Nations last week for approval to participate in a military action in Libya.

After weeks of internal unrest and violence in Libya, Obama went with the French and British into another potential quagmire.

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With no clear objective, no constitutional authority and no indication that a new regime will further U.S. interests, Operation Odyssey Dawn blew through more than $100 million in missiles on Day One alone.

We do not have the luxury of playing global policeman during a time when military resources are stretched thin, the American economy is reeling, and Congress struggles to cut even $100 million in spending.

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  • Barack Obama
  • Libya
  • Middle East
  • Afghanistan War
  • Iraq

The United States should be disengaging from Afghanistan, not jumping into a battle with Libya. With nary a threat of imaginary weapons of mass destruction, Libya poses no clear and present danger to U.S. national security. Our nation cannot afford the potential long-term occupation military action may portend.

As a candidate in 2007, Obama agreed. "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."

Where is the actual or imminent threat driving this attack? What is the rationale for initiating military action? Who are these rebels we're empowering? These are questions this administration failed to answer before drawing U.S. forces into a third theater of battle.

Most alarming, the president has once again failed to define success in the region. In an action former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim estimates will quickly top $1 billion, according to the National Journal, there is no endgame in sight. Like the Afghan war, the Libyan action threatens to become what Obama in 2002 called "a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

Did we learn nothing from our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Obama's 2002 references to Iraq eerily foreshadow today's events in Libya. "I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East," Obama said at the time.

Despite the assurance of support from the Arab League, this organization of 22 governments is wavering in its support of a broad bombing campaign and is reconsidering its approval of the intervention. So much for being greeted as liberators.

While I have no doubt that our military forces can win a war, the real costs come from trying to win the peace. Limited U.S. resources should not be squandered on unprovoked attacks in unstable nations with unclear objectives. If there's one thing we've learned over the last decade, it is that getting into war is far easier than getting out.

The decision to obligate the United States in a third conflict should not be taken lightly. Authorization for military intervention does not come from the United Nations. It comes from the American people, through their representatives. The American people have no representation at the United Nations. Their representatives sit in the U.S. Congress.

That is where the president should make his case, rather than trying to appease countries whose interests may or may not align with our own.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jason Chaffetz.

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