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Boehner seeks clarification of goals for Libya mission

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

With some members of Congress already staging a minor rebellion against President Obama's decision to attack Libya, House Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday blasted the administration for "contradictory" statements and told the president to lay out concrete goals for U.S. action.

Some senior Senate Democrats tried to mount a defense of Mr. Obama's efforts and said Congress is unlikely to tie the president's hands or end military action despite the growing discontent on Capitol Hill.

Still, with U.S. forces flying missions over Libya five days into the operation, lawmakers said the number of questions is growing over the chain of command within the international coalition, how far the U.S. is willing to go to unseat Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and whether the country is prepared for a protracted conflict.

"All of these concerns point to a fundamental question: What is your benchmark for success in Libya?" Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in a letter to Mr. Obama. He called the president's decision to attack without seeking full congressional consultation "regrettable."

Mr. Boehner's letter doesn't challenge the president's military decisions so much as question the job he has done explaining them.

Mr. Obama initiated the attack on Saturday while in Brazil, where he was beginning a five-day trip to Latin America. The attack started two days after Congress began a 10-day vacation.

White House officials said they did their best to consult with as many congressional leaders as they could in person or by phone, but also noted conflicting calls from Congress, where some members said Mr. Obama moved too slowly and others said he should have sought approval first.

"What the president did was make a decision based on an imminent threat of a humanitarian nature to a great number of Libyans and he has done that with a great number of consultations with Congress that will continue," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling back from Latin America aboard Air Force One.

The president cut out a sightseeing stop in El Salvador with his family Thursday to return home to oversee the military efforts.

But questions for Mr. Obama continued to mount - not least of which was the cost of the attacks and of maintaining the no-fly zone over Libya.

Top members of Congress said the administration hasn't provided any estimates.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress also say Mr. Obama exceeded his constitutional authority by approving the mission.

Some question the long-term path for victory, though many say his actions have helped stop Col. Gadhafi's forces from carrying out mass killings.

"I have considerable concerns about how we got into that and where we're going, and I think we need greater clarity out of the White House as to what our long-term purpose is," Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told MSNBC. "But in the short term, clearly, our actions did stop the retaking of those towns and the likely slaughter of thousands of people. So I think that was the clear short-term objective, even if larger questions still remain."

Congress' official role at this point is limited. Under the 1973 War Powers Act, Mr. Obama can commit troops for weeks before needing approval by Congress. The law includes provisions that allow Congress to challenge the deployment of troops, but the Senate Democrats said they think they can defeat any such efforts.

Calling Mr. Obama's approach "cautious and thoughtful," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said Wednesday, "There may be some people that will try to end the effort. If they try, I don't think they will come anywhere near success."

Mr. Levin appeared with Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois to offer support for the president.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the U.S. action has helped save lives but that NATO participation is needed going forward and that the U.S. effort "is strengthened by the president's continued consultation with Congress."

Mr. Durbin said that, given the short time frame of the action, Mr. Obama's consultation with Congress has been sufficient. He also said the allied coalition for the Libya mission is reminiscent of the forces assembled when President George H.W. Bush went to war with Iraq in 1991.

Congress voted to authorize that war just days before it began, and Mr. Durbin said that was the right approach then.

"I recall being on the floor of the House at that time and asking for that approval," he said, but he added that the fast-moving events in Libya didn't afford Mr. Obama the same opportunity.

Mr. Durbin, Mr. Levin and Mr. Reed all voted against the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which successfully ousted Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, weighed in Saturday by backing Mr. Obama's decision.

That leaves Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, as the sole top leader still to be heard from publicly on Mr. Obama's handling of the mission.

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