Two of the Senate’s leading voices on foreign policy said Tuesday morning that they plan to introduce a resolution authorizing the limited use of military force in Libya.
The resolution “would authorize the president to employ the U.S. Armed Forces to advance U.S. national security interests in Libya, as part of the international coalition that is enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolutions in Libya,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced on the Senate floor. He is joined in the effort by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he has had conversations with McCain and Kerry but that it wasn’t clear yet whether they would try to pass the resolution out of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee or whether Reid himself would try to move the measure to the Senate floor.
“I support what they’ve done,” Reid said of the McCain-Kerry resolution. “It’s bipartisan. I think it’s really well done and well thought-out.”
Among the co-sponsors of the resolution are Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
“It would limit this authority to one year, which is more than enough time to finish the job,” McCain said. “And it makes clear that the Senate agrees with the president that there is no need, and no desire, to commit U.S. conventional ground forces in Libya.”
The proposal comes as House leaders have suggested that the House may consider a resolution this week defunding the U.S. involvement in Libya, which is in its 94th day. The Libyan conflict has brought divisions among both parties. Some unconditionally back President Obama’s decision to commit U.S. forces to the conflict without first seeking authorization from Congress. Others support the goals of the mission but feel that Obama acted without properly consulting with the legislative branch. And others want the administration to better explain the goals of the intervention and argue that U.S. forces should not be committed to yet another conflict when they are being stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday, McCain and Kerry spoke out forcefully on their resolution. Kerry criticized the resolution to defund the mission, saying that such a vote would represent a “moment of infamy” for the lower chamber.
“It would reinforce the all-too-common perception on the Arab street that America says one thing and does another,” Kerry said.
McCain acknowledged lawmakers’ concerns over the Obama administration’s handling of the Libyan mission and agreed that the White House had made missteps. Yet he argued that “the president did the right thing by intervening to stop a looming humanitarian disaster in Libya.”
The two senators also said that the question of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s fall is a matter of when, not if.
“We are all entitled to our opinions about Libya policy, but here are the facts,” McCain said. “Gaddafi is going to fall. It’s just a matter of time. So, I would ask my colleagues, is this the time for Congress to turn from this policy? Is this the time to ride to the rescue of a failing tyrant when the writing is on the wall that he will collapse? Is this time for Congress to declare to the rest of the world ... that our heart is not in this, that we have neither the will nor the capability to see this mission through, that we will abandon our closest friends and allies on a whim?”
On one of the biggest questions looming over the Libya debate – whether the United States is involved in “hostilities” in the region – Kerry said that the current American involvement does not amount to hostilities.
“No American is being shot at,” Kerry said. “No American troop is on the ground or contemplated being put on the ground. So the mere fact that others are engaged in hostilities and we are supporting them, I don’t believe” amounts to hostilities.
The senators also said that their resolution is not a “blank check” for the president in Libya.
“It says specifically that the Senate does not support the use of ground troops in Libya,” Kerry said, “and the president has stated that that is his policy, but we adopt that policy in this resolution.”
McCain said that a date had not been set for a floor vote on the resolution.
Several senators, including Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), had been planning to introduce a resolution rebuking the administration for failing to seek authorization from Congress for the mission. It’s unclear whether that resolution may be taken up by the full Senate.
Asked at his weekly roundtable Tuesday whether he agreed with Kerry’s statement that a House resolution defunding the Libyan mission would be “a moment of infamy,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) responded, “I would share that view.”
“It certainly would undermine the confidence of NATO in the ability of the president of the United States to participate in the support of an effort that NATO had agreed to, the United Nations had agreed to and the Arab League had agreed to,” Hoyer said of a potential resolution to defund the Libyan mission. “And it is inconceivable to me that we would at this point in time defund that effort.”
He added that he welcomed the Kerry-McCain resolution authorizing the U.S. mission.
“Whether you agree or disagree with the War Powers Act, the fact is that in Iraq I and Iraq II, both President Bushes did seek and receive authorization for their actions,” Hoyer said.
Following is the full text of the resolution.
Joint Resolution Authorizing the Limited Use of the United States Armed Forces in Support of the NATO Mission in Libya
Whereas peaceful demonstrations that began in Libya, inspired by similar movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East, quickly spread to cities around the country, calling for greater political reform, opportunity, justice, and the rule of law.
Whereas Muammar Qaddafi, his sons, and forces loyal to them responded to the peaceful demonstrations by authorizing and initiating violence against civilian non-combatants in Libya, including the use of airpower and foreign mercenaries;
Whereas, on February 25, 2011, President Barack Obama imposed unilateral economic sanctions on, and froze the assets of, Muammar Qaddafi and his family, as well as the Government of Libya and its agencies to hold the Qaddafi regime accountable for its continued use of violence against unarmed civilians and its human rights abuses and to safeguard the assets of the people of Libya;
Whereas, on February 26, 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1970, which mandates international economic sanctions and an arms embargo;
Whereas, in response to Qaddafi’s assault on civilians in Libya, a “no-fly zone” in Libya was called for by the Gulf Cooperation Council on March 7, 2011; by the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on March 8, 2011; and by the Arab League on March 12, 2011;
Whereas Qaddafi’s advancing forces, after recapturing cities in eastern Libya that had been liberated by the Libyan opposition, were preparing to attack Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people and the seat of the opposition government in Libya, the Interim Transitional National Council;
Whereas Qaddafi stated that he would show “no mercy” to his opponents in Benghazi, and that his forces would go “door to door” to find and kill dissidents;
Whereas, on March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which mandates “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya, implement a “no-fly zone”, and enforce an arms embargo against the Qaddafi regime;
Whereas President Obama notified key congressional leaders in a meeting at the White House on March 18, 2011, of his intent to begin targeted military operations in Libya and made clear that the United States “is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya”;
Whereas the United States Armed Forces, together with coalition partners, launched Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya on March 19, 2011, to protect civilians in Libya from immediate danger and enforce an arms embargo and a “no-fly zone”;
Whereas, on March 28, 2011, President Obama stated, “America has an important strategic interest in preventing Qaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful—yet fragile—transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power...So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.”;
Whereas, on March 31, 2011, the United States transferred authority for Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya to NATO command, with the mission continuing as Operation Unified Protector;
Whereas, in a letter to joint bipartisan congressional leaders on May 20, 2011, President Obama expressed support for a Senate resolution on the use of force in Libya and stated that, “Since April 4, U.S. participation has consisted of: (1) non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance (2) aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone and (3) since April 23, precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets in support of the NATO-led coalition’s efforts.”; and
Whereas, on June 9, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized the Transitional National Council “as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people during this interim period.”: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SENSE OF CONGRESS.
It is the sense of Congress that—
(1) the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and coalition partners who are engaged in military operations to protect the people of Libya have demonstrated extraordinary bravery and should be commended;
(2) the United States Government should continue to support the aspirations of the people of Libya for political reform and self-government based on democratic and human rights;
(3) the goal of United States policy in Libya, as stated by the President, is to achieve the departure from power of Muammar Qaddafi and his family, including through the use of diplomatic and economic pressure, so that a peaceful transition can begin to an inclusive government that ensures freedom, opportunity, and justice for the people of Libya; and
(4) the funds of the Qaddafi regime that have been frozen by the United States should be returned to the people of Libya for their benefit, including humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, and the President should explore the possibility with the Transitional National Council of using some of such funds to reimburse NATO countries for expenses incurred in Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Unified Protector.
SEC. 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR THE LIMITED USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES IN LIBYA.
(a) Authority.—The President is authorized to continue the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in Libya, in support of United States national security policy interests, as part of the NATO mission to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) as requested by the Transitional National Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Arab League.
(b) Expiration of Authority.—The authorization for such limited use of United States Armed Forces in Libya expires one year after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution.
SEC. 3. OPPOSITION TO THE USE OF UNITED STATES GROUND TROOPS.
Consistent with the policy and statements of the President, Congress does not support deploying, establishing, or maintaining the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya unless the purpose of the presence is limited to the immediate personal defense of United States Government officials (including diplomatic representatives) or to rescuing members of NATO forces from imminent danger.
SEC. 4. REPORTS TO CONGRESS.
The President shall consult frequently with Congress regarding United States efforts in Libya, including by providing regular briefings and reports as requested, and responding to inquiries promptly. Such briefings and reports shall include the following elements:
(1) An updated description of United States national security interests in Libya.
(2) An updated statement of United States policy objectives in Libya, both during and after Qaddafi’s rule, and a detailed plan to achieve them.
(3) An updated and comprehensive list of the activities of the United States Armed Forces in Libya.
(4) An updated and detailed assessment of the groups in Libya that are opposed to the Qaddafi regime, including potential successor governments.
(5) A full and updated explanation of the President’s legal and constitutional rationale for conducting military operations in Libya consistent with the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.).