Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Charlie Savage did the country a great service back in 2007 when he got all major presidential candidates to answer a questionnaire probing their views on executive power.
Asked if the president had the power, without congressional approval, to bomb a country that didn’t represent an imminent threat to the US, Obama answered: "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."
Today, the Wall Street Journal covers the controversy on the Hill over President Obama's unilateral decision to order a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation:
The White House said the president's actions don't contradict his earlier views, noting that the president met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers regarding Libya before any action took place.
A senior administration official said that the 2007 comment envisioned "an invasion like we saw in Iraq. A mission of this kind, which is time-limited, well-defined, and discrete, clearly falls within the President's constitutional authority."
Uh, no. If you look it up, this was the question candidate Obama answered:
2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)
He wasn't asked about "an invasion." He was asked about airstrikes on Iran, in a situation, as framed by Savage, that looks a lot more "time-limited, well-defined, and discrete" than the massively uncertain adventure the president has just unilaterally committed us to--and one that at least involves a hypothetical threat to US interests.
In that case, candidate Obama answered--correctly--that he would not have constitutional authority to launch an attack without congressional authorization. President Obama owes the country a better explanation than the one his advisor offered the Journal. And he'll have to be a heck of a lawyer to come up with one.