The Libya Quagmire

Monday, 20 Jun 2011 03:07 PM

By Ernest Istook

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It’s tempting to cut off funds immediately for President Obama’s ill-conceived Libya offensive. But it’s not the right course. For the sake of our allies, Congress needs to be patient in using the power of the purse to correct Obama’s misadventure.

The policy is indeed a mess. Even if the ongoing air attacks chased Moammar Gadhafi from power, he might be replaced by a radical Islamist regime. We have no good intelligence on what the rebels would establish if they took over.

Obama’s ham-handed approach has been an insult to the constitutional role of Congress in defining and punishing offenses against the law of nations, as specified in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. Obama failed to make any meaningful consultation with Congress before he committed American forces, much less obtain any type of actual approval from Congress.

Yes, it’s tempting for Congress to “teach him a lesson” by voting to cut off U.S. funding immediately for Libyan operations. The power of the purse is Congress’ strongest counterbalance to the president’s role as commander in chief.

But the countervailing argument is that our NATO allies — a key component of America’s national security — have been pulled into the Libya fray based on assurances and urgings from the Obama administration. Those may have been improvident, but they are real.

A precipitous exit from America’s role in Operation Unified Protector would pull the rug out from under our allies, making it less likely they would ever be willing to stand with America in the future when we have real need for their help.

Nations conducting the airstrikes have included Great Britain, France, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Belgium while other military support has come from Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey, according to the BBC’s tallies. Others, like Germany, have refused to participate in an unclear mission.

The current NATO operation expires in September; Congress should stick with our allies until then, even as it asserts itself to make sure there is no further extension or expansion of the mission.

Meantime, other efforts such as arms and financial embargoes could be pursued.

It’s an uncomfortable fact that sending a message of solidarity with our NATO allies is more important than sending a message to President Obama.

Already, the House formally rebuked President Obama on June 3 with a 268-145 bipartisan vote on a resolution that included a declaration that, “The President has failed to provide Congress with a compelling rationale based upon United States national security interests for current United States military activities regarding Libya.”

The bipartisan war of words against Obama’s mistaken course will take a toll on him. The lawsuit by some in Congress will be just a sideshow; the courts cannot be expected to be involved in this dispute over the president’s war powers, nor should they be.

It’s sad but true that the president has committed our forces and our funds unwisely. But Congress should resist the temptation to make it worse by abandoning our allies who followed us into the skies over Libya.

Former Congressman Istook served on the House Defense Subcommittee for Appropriations, and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

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