War Weariness Fuels Libya Debate in U.S. House, Lawmakers Say

Weariness with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan helped fuel an unsuccessful effort by House Republicans to restrict U.S. military involvement in Libya’s civil war.

The House refused yesterday on a 295-123 vote to approve a resolution authorizing U.S. support for allied bombardment of dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s forces. Then, on a 238-180 vote, it defeated legislation to bar U.S. forces from engaging in hostilities.

House Republican leaders scheduled the votes to address rising frustration among members in both parties with President Barack Obama’s assertion he didn’t need congressional approval for the Libya mission. Lawmakers said war weariness also spurred the debate.

“Military involvement and engagement is really losing support fairly rapidly in Congress,” Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly told reporters after the votes. “People are just tired, they are tired of the cost, they are tired of the deaths.”

The defeat of the war-powers resolution marked the first time in 12 years that the House refused to grant authority for a U.S. military mission. In 1999, the Republican-controlled House defeated a resolution to authorize Democratic President Bill Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslav troops in Kosovo.

“The war weariness here is real,” and “the skepticism about Libya is a byproduct of that war weariness,” said Connolly, who supported authorizing the mission.

Rebuking Obama

Three weeks earlier, the House passed a resolution rebuking Obama for failing to give a full explanation for the Libya mission and demanding a national-security justification.

In a floor speech yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Obama “responded by telling us he didn’t need Congress” to approve the mission.

Boehner also has acknowledged war weariness among his colleagues, saying it reflects concern from their constituents about the cost and duration of U.S. combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Republican Buck McKeon of California said the mission in Libya has become a stalemate between rebel forces and those loyal to Qaddafi.

“We find ourselves past the three-month mark with no end in sight,” said the California lawmaker who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

After Obama gave “the flimsiest legal rationale” for the U.S. role in the conflict, the House shouldn’t “cover his lapse with a blanket authorization,” McKeon said.

Partisan Splits

Seventy Democrats opposed the resolution authorizing U.S. military support in Libya and eight Republicans voted for it. Eighty-nine Republicans joined 149 Democrats to defeat the separate funding restrictions, which were supported by 36 Democrats.

Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said the White House was “disappointed” the House refused to authorize the mission because “we think now is not the time to send a mixed message.”

Democrats accused House Republican leaders of trying to embarrass the president.

U.S. commitments to help allies prevent a humanitarian crisis in Libya “are too important to be exploited for cynical political purposes,” said California Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

‘Breaking the Law’

Florida Republican Tom Rooney, sponsor of the House measure to restrict funding to non-hostile military activity, said it was needed because the president “is breaking the law” by conducting the military operations without the approval of Congress.

Without an assertion of Congress’s “power of the purse,” Obama is “able to continue unfettered,” Rooney said.

The measure would have barred funds for U.S. military involvement in Libya except for the specified air-support missions and operational planning. Aerial refueling missions and intelligence and surveillance flights would also have been allowed.

The discontent over Libya is not as widespread in the Senate. The resolution backing the mission was initially drafted by a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican John McCain of Arizona.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Kerry, is scheduled to debate the resolution next week, and leaders of both parties predict the full Senate will approve it.

218 Bombing Missions

U.S. aircraft have flown 218 bombing missions in the last 30 days against Libyan ground anti-aircraft defenses or loyalist troops attacking civilians in the effort to quell Qaddafi, according to Defense Department figures.

The Libya mission began in March to protect rebels by enforcing a no-fly zone over the country. U.S. and allied planes bombarded Qaddafi’s anti-aircraft defenses.

Democrats who support the Libya mission said that passing Rooney’s measure would hobble U.S. military support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s bombing campaign.

The spending restrictions “would end our mission in Libya” by barring the military from doing anything to “suppress enemy fire,” said Washington representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole, one of the 89 Republicans who opposed Rooney’s measure, said it “gets us into a situation where we effectively micromanage the military by literally listing what missions they should take.”

The debate capped a week in which Boehner sought to address the frustration of Republican House members, and some Democrats, with Obama’s argument that he didn’t need congressional authorization under the 1973 War Powers Resolution because U.S. forces aren’t engaged in hostilities.

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