Obama Left Libya Questions Unanswered, Critics in Congress Say

Monday, 28 Mar 2011 10:50 PM

 

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President Barack Obama’s defense of the U.S. military mission in Libya failed to allay the concerns of critics in both parties, who said he fell short of explaining the costs, goals and time frame for the operation.

Republicans who favored strong U.S. intervention, antiwar Democrats, and some in between said Obama’s televised speech left them confused about what it would take to bring an end to U.S. involvement in Libya.

A spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who wrote to Obama last week pressing for answers on the operation, said the president’s remarks didn’t provide “much clarity” on costs, objectives or how the operation supports U.S. policy goals.

“Nine days into this military intervention, Americans still have no answer to the fundamental question: What does success in Libya look like?” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

Obama said the U.S. and its allies faced a choice between taking military action in Libya or letting Muammar Qaddafi massacre civilians. The president spoke a day after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreed to take full control of the campaign.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and his party’s 2008 presidential nominee, said Obama failed to articulate a strategy for ousting Qaddafi, leaving open the possibility of a “long and bloody stalemate” in Libya.

Welcome ‘Clarity’

“I welcome the president’s clarity that the U.S. goal is for Qaddafi to leave power. But an equal amount of clarity is still required on how we will accomplish that goal,” McCain said in a statement. “We have chosen a side against Qaddafi, and now we must help the opposition succeed.”

While leaders of his party praised Obama’s speech, Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, a war critic who is seeking to defund the Libya operation, said Obama is taking the nation down a dangerous foreign policy road.

“The president enunciated a new Obama doctrine” that includes “war based on threats,” Kucinich said in an interview. “It’s a doctrine for preemptive war, and this is a dangerous standard -- it’s what took us into Iraq.”

Democratic Representative Bruce Braley of Iowa said he wants answers from administration officials, who are to brief lawmakers on Capitol Hill later this week, about costs and “their strategy for moving forward in Libya.”

Cost to Taxpayers

“I’m concerned, and I know many Americans are concerned, that tonight we didn’t get a clear and accurate accounting from the president on how much this conflict in Libya is going to cost American taxpayers,” Braley said in a statement.

Democratic leaders said Obama laid out a compelling case for intervention.

“Action was taken to stave off a humanitarian crisis saving thousands of lives,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement. “I commend the president for his courage in taking this action and salute our men and women in uniform for their part in saving lives.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Congress will carry out its oversight role as provided in the Constitution.

Stand With Libyans

“America and its allies stand alongside the Libyan people as they determine their future,” Reid said in a statement.

Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama’s critics are trying to have it both ways.

“Many who urged the administration to act are now criticizing the administration for its actions,” Smith said.

While Obama’s team “could have done a better job of working with Congress in the days prior to taking action, it is clear that U.S. leadership prevented this humanitarian crisis from getting worse and saved thousands of lives,” Smith said. “As a nation, that is something we should be proud of.”

Critics said Obama overstepped his constitutional bounds and ignored foreign policy concerns such as whether Libyan rebels had ties to al-Qaeda and who might succeed Qaddafi.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said in a statement that while Obama raised the question of what would happen if the U.S. did nothing, “a better question might be, ‘What if helping Libya’s interest actually hurts America’s interests?’”

Paul said Congress will soon “force President Obama to confront these questions.”

--With assistance from Roxana Tiron in Washington. Editors: Laurie Asseo, Mark McQuillan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at Jdavis159@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva@bloomberg.net

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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