Friday, June 24, 2011

US War Against Libya to Continue Despite House Vote Against Authorization

June 24, 2011

House Spurns Obama on Libya, but Does Not Cut Funds

New York Times

WASHINGTON — The House dealt a symbolic blow to President Obama on Friday by resoundingly rejecting a bill that would authorize the contentious operations in Libya. But it muddled the message somewhat by also turning back a measure that would have limited funds for the effort there.

The resolution to support the mission failed 295 to 123, with 70 Democrats joining Republicans in a pointed show of defiance to Mr. Obama, who has said he does not need Congressional authorization for the Libyan operations. Only eight Republicans supported the measure, which was based on a Senate measure introduced Tuesday by Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

The Senate has yet to take up the McCain-Kerry measure.

The second measure the House rejected would have essentially prohibited money for direct combat activity, financing only support operations like search and rescue, aerial refueling, operational planning, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Only 180 House members supported the measure, while 238, including 89 Republicans, voted against it.

“We are disappointed by that vote,” said Jay Carney, a White House spokesman. “We think now is not the time to send the kind of mixed message that it sends when we are working with our allies to achieve the goals that we believe that are widely shared in Congress.” He said these included “protecting civilians in Libya, enforcing a no-fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and further putting pressure” on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader.

Mr. Carney added, “And the writing is on the wall for Colonel Qaddafi, and now is not the time to let up.”

The votes on Friday leave unclear the prospects for an amendment that a bipartisan group of House members plans to offer for a Pentagon appropriations bill next week, which would cut financing for intelligence and operational support in Libya as well, and end all activities by October. Other Libya-related amendments to that bill could also surface.

Under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, presidents must terminate unauthorized deployments into hostilities 60 days after notifying Congress that they have begun. If what the United States military is doing in Libya constitutes “hostilities” — the administration argues that it does not — then that deadline passed on May 20. Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly warned President Obama that his members believe the executive branch is usurping their authority by pursuing the Libyan operations without Congressional approval.

Since early April, when the United States turned leadership of the air war in Libya over to NATO, it has primarily played a supporting role — like aerial refueling, surveillance, and signal jamming — while most of the strikes have been conducted by allies’ warplanes.

Still the United States has also conducted about 90 missile strikes from piloted aircraft and remotely-operated drones at Libyan air defenses and ground forces, and United States aircraft have flown more than a quarter of the total sorties. As of early June, the United States military had spent more than $700 million on the operation, a cost that is expected to top $1 billion by the end of September.

In an effort to obviate a vote that embarrassed those involved in the operation, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with scores of House Democrats on Thursday afternoon to urge them to vote against the resolution limiting funds, insisting that the collective effort in Libya was close to ousting Colonel Qaddafi.

Mr. Boehner spoke on the House floor in support of the measure to reduce funding. Although the commander in chief controls the armed forces, that authority it “does not free the president from accountability to the American people from the Congress or the rule of the law,” he said. “I believe this is a sensible approach.”

The votes on Friday followed two hours of fascinating and sometimes fierce debate that was unlike any other in this 112th Congress.

While the vast majority of floor fights this year have cut almost exclusively along party lines, the debate over how to handle the mission in Libya has created alliances among staunchly liberal antiwar Democrats; hard right, constitutionalist Republicans; moderate and Obama-loyal Democrats; hawkish members from the other side who discouraged abandoning NATO; and a small subset of members from both parties who simply believe the measure did not go far enough.

“We don’t have enough wars going on?” asked Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio. “We have to wage war against another nation which did not attack us?”

Mr. Kucinich’s remarks were echoed in part by Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, a Republican member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who said, “We’re adding to the debt by going into a war we shouldn’t be in.”

He added: “My big concern is not just Libya. My big concern is this president, unless we send a very strong message to him, may take us into Syria. There are a lot of wars of opportunity.”

But Democrats and some Republicans also chastised members for deserting a NATO-led mission right in the middle of operations. “Now is the time to stand together against a murderous dictator,” said Representative James P. Moran, a liberal Democrat from Virginia.

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