Top Republicans in Congress questioned the purpose and goals of U.S. military intervention in Libya and complained that lawmakers weren’t consulted before President Barack Obama decided that America would join the international combat mission.
House Speaker John Boehner sought an explanation of what he termed a “contradiction” between Obama’s stated goal of regime change in Libya and the limitation of the United Nations- sanctioned attack to curbing the ability of Muammar Qaddafi’s forces to attack civilians.
Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday called for congressional hearings on the mission as U.S. and allied warplanes continued to strike Qaddafi’s ground forces.
“The administration has not adequately defined the U.S. strategic interest in Libya or adequately articulated how the conflict ends,” Lugar said in a letter to the panel’s chairman, Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
The panel intends to conduct hearings on the Libya situation “in the near future,” a committee aide said today. Kerry “has been been traveling in the region” during this week’s congressional recess “to get information firsthand from our allies,” panel spokesman Frederick Jones said in a statement.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, in a separate letter yesterday asked Obama how the Libyan leader would be removed from power, since the UN resolution authorizing force against Qaddafi “makes clear that regime change is not part of” the international effort.
The “conflicting messages from the administration” and coalition nations have produced “a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission,” Boehner wrote.
He said in his letter that the U.S. public needs to know “what our national security interests are” in the mission “and how it fits into our overarching policy in the Middle East.” These concerns, he said, “point to a fundamental question: What is your hallmark for success in Libya?”
Questioned about Boehner’s letter today, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that “we have answered a lot of those questions and will continue to answer them.”
Lugar, in his letter yesterday, said that “it is not clear that the Obama administration has thought through the consequences of this action for regional stability, the fight against terrorism, the impact on oil markets, and other factors.”
He said hearings were “especially vital because the Obama administration did not consult meaningfully with Congress.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee scheduled a March 31 hearing to question Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg on Libya’s importance to U.S. security,, according to a notice on the panel’s Web site. The committee had invited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify a day earlier.
Boehner’s letter told Obama that it was “regrettable that no opportunity was afforded to consult with congressional leaders” before the decision to attack Libya was made.
The Republican complaint of inadequate consultation drew support from the No. 2 House Democrat, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland. He said “in some sense the criticism is apt” because “I don’t think there was a lot of consultation.”
Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, said in an interview that “there was certainly no consultation” at a March 18 briefing of congressional leaders by Obama. He said lawmakers were “informed of an action the president was going to take within, frankly, minutes of the ending of the meeting.”
White House aides defended the decision to participate in the attacks on Libya and the consultation process with Congress.
“This intervention is taking place to prevent an international humanitarian catastrophe, the potential massacre of thousands, tens of thousands of people in major population centers like Benghazi,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters on Air Force One as the president returned to Washington yesterday from a trip to Latin America.
“We consulted with Congress before we took military action,” Rhodes said. “We continued to brief Congress” after the campaign began.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California urged more consultations with lawmakers. “U.S. participation is strengthened by the president’s continued consultation with Congress,” she said in a statement.
Boehner requested from Obama details about the “engagement strategy” with Libyan forces opposing Qaddafi.
“If the strife in Libya becomes a protracted conflict, what are your administration’s objectives for engaging with opposition forces, and what standards must a new regime meet to be recognized” by the U.S., Boehner asked.
Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicted that the Democratic- controlled chamber wouldn’t constrain Obama’s direction of the attack on Qaddafi’s forces.
Opponents of Obama’s decision to support the mission won’t come “anywhere near success” getting the votes needed to curtail it, Durbin told reporters on a conference call.
War Powers Act
When Congress returns from its recess next week, opponents of the U.S.-led operation may try to cut off funding or force a vote on congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which requires the president to seek approval from Congress for military actions.
Obama said March 22 that the U.S. goal is to transfer command of the operation to an international coalition that will be orchestrated by North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.
The U.S. and its coalition partners are trying to resolve a disagreement over the role of NATO in the command structure of the operation.
In his letter, Boehner pressed Obama for details on which nations “will be taking the lead” and whether there are “clear lines of authority and responsibility and a chain of command.”
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