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Did Obama, Gingrich flip-flop on Libya?

By Louis Jacobson
Published on Thursday, March 31st, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.

United States involvement in establishing a "no-fly" zone over Libya has prompted widespread commentary from politicians and pundits -- not all of it consistent. This week, we’ve tested two politicians who are on opposite sides of many issues -- President Barack Obama and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- on our Flip-O-Meter.

We first looked at whether Obama flip-flopped on a principle for U.S. military interventions that he laid down as a candidate in 2007, when he mobilized U.S. forces to implement a United Nations-backed no-fly zone targeting Libya’s long-serving dictator, Moammar Gadhafi.
   
A reader pointed out to us a comment Obama made during a 2007 interview with Charlie Savage, then a journalist with the Boston Globe. Savage asked Obama, in part, "In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress?"
   
Obama responded in part, "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."

We concluded that the question boils down to whether the actions being taken in Libya "involve stopping an actual or imminent threat" to the United States. Based on our research and discussions with experts, we decided that that description did not apply to the situation in Libya. So we gave Obama a Full Flop.

Meanwhile, we also looked at comments by Gingrich, who may challenge Obama for the presidency in 2012. The seemingly contradictory comments by Gingrich about the wisdom of imposing a no-fly zone prompted a flurry of commentary on the Internet and on cable news shows. It got to the point where Gingrich felt he needed to address his apparent rhetorical contradiction in a Facebook post titled, "My position on Libya."
   
We looked at both interviews as well as Gingrich’s Facebook post and were unconvinced by his justification that they were consistent. So we gave him a Full Flop as well.

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Researchers: Louis Jacobson

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