Kerry Goes To Senate Floor To Announce Bipartisan Resolution On Libya

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Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) went to the floor of the United States Senate to announce the introduction of a bipartisan joint resolution authorizing the limited use of United States Armed Forces in Libya.

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s speech, as prepared, is below:

Today I join my friend Senator McCain and several other senators in introducing a resolution that will authorize President Obama to continue the limited use of U.S. Armed Forces in Libya as part of the NATO mission to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

Make no mistake, neither the U.N. nor any nation should be drawn into military intervention lightly. But there were legitimate reasons for establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and forcing Gadhafi to keep his most potent weapons out of the fight. If you slice through the fog of misinformation and weigh the risks and benefits alongside our values and interests, the justification is clear and compelling.

What is happening in the Middle East could be the most important geostrategic shift since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Absent U.N./NATO resolve, the promise that the pro-democracy movement holds for transforming the Arab world could have been crushed.

Other dictators would have seen the world's failure to challenge Gadhafi as a license to act with impunity against their own people. The vast majority of the protesters in these countries are crying out for the opportunity to live a decent life, get a real job, and provide for a family. Abandoning them would have betrayed not only the people seeking democratic freedoms but the core values of the U.S. and other democratic nations. It would have reinforced the all-too-common misperception on the Arab street that America says one thing and does another.

We are already spending billions of dollars to fight increasing extremism in many parts of the world. We didn't choose this fight; it was forced on us, starting with 9/11. To fail to see the opportunity of affirming the courageous demand of millions of disenfranchised young people for jobs, respect and democracy would be ignorant, irresponsible and short-sighted. It would ignore our real national security interests and help extend the narrative of resentment toward the U.S. and much of the West that is rooted in colonialism and furthered by our own invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Remember, the pleas for help came not just from the Libyan rebels, but from the Arab League and the Gulf states. Silently accepting the deaths of Muslims, even at the hand of their own leader, could have set back relations for decades. Instead, by responding and giving the popular uprising a chance to take power, the U.S. and our allies sent a message of solidarity with the aspirations of people everywhere that will be remembered for generations.

The particular nature of the mad man who was vowing to "show no mercy" to the "dogs" who dared challenge his rule demanded that his threats be taken seriously. Our colleagues from New Jersey in particular need no reminder that Gadhafi is after all the man behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, which claimed the lives of 189 Americans.

The intervention in Libya sends a critical signal to other leaders in the region: They cannot automatically assume they can resort to large-scale violence to put down legitimate demands for reform without consequences. U.N. resolve in Libya can have an impact on future calculations. Indeed, the leaders of Iran should pay close attention to the resolve exhibited by the international community.

This is not a blank check for the President. This resolution authorizes the limited use of American forces in a supporting role. It says specifically that the Senate does not support the use of ground troops in Libya. And it authorizes this limited use of American forces for a limited duration – it would expire in a year.

This resolution envisions action consistent with the letter sent by the President to congressional leaders on May 20 in which he specified that U.S. participation in Libya has consisted of non-kinetic support of the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support and search and rescue assistance, the initial suppression and destruction of air defenses, and precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against clearly defined targets.

As you know, the administration informed Congress last week that it does not consider the current use of U.S. forces in Libya to rise to the level of “hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution. Based on that position, the administration takes the view that there is no need for congressional authorization for this engagement.

Frankly, that has been my view as well. I do not think our limited involvement rises to the level of hostilities defined by the war powers resolution. This is true especially since March 31 when NATO took the lead in the Libyan operation and U.S. forces assumed the clearly defined support role the President outlined. Now, I understand that reasonable people can disagree on whether and how the War Powers Resolution applies to the situation in Libya – there was, I understand, some disagreement within the administration itself.

There is an important constitutional question here, but it is not a new question. The truth is, presidents – both Democratic and Republican – have under taken limited military action in the last three decades without congressional authorization in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo.  This has long been an issue – even a divisive one – a struggle between the legislative and executive branch. Some Presidents have dismissed the War Powers Act and argued they weren’t constrained by it. Some even argued it was simply unconstitutional. This President at least – to his credit – accepts its constitutionality and has tried to strike a balance.   

Debate is healthy. But the words we use about it do have consequences. They do send a message. And none of us should send any message to Colonel Gadhafi lightly. The last message any United States Senator wants to send is that this mad man need only wait us out because we are divided at home. Passage of this resolution will be an important step in showing the country, the rest of the world and particularly Moammar Gadhafi that the Congress of the United States and the President of the United States are committed to this critical endeavor. I firmly believe the country is on the strongest footing when the President and the Congress speak with one voice on foreign policy matters. So I urge all of you to support this bipartisan resolution.

And I know that it will send the world a critical message that we are determined to protect the people of Libya from the wanton violence of a dictator who has lost any credible claim to legitimacy.

Let me explain to you why I believe the Libyan mission is in our national interest. I am not talking here about defending the lives of tens of thousands of Libyans, though that is a worthy effort. I am talking about defending the core national security interests of the United States.

In my view, those interests can be divided into two equally important spheres.

First, for more than 60 years we have worked to build a cohesive and consistent alliance with our partners in NATO. Many times our military and political leaders have complained that our European allies have not carried their share of the burden, that Americans have paid too high a price in blood and treasure, that we have led while others followed.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Bob Gates warned that the NATO alliance is at risk because of European penny-pinching and distaste for front-line combat. He said the United States won't carry the alliance as a charity case.

Well, we should see the Libyan operation as genuine progress. Our partners in NATO, led by France and Great Britain, have not only taken up their share of the burden. They have taken the lead in an important military action. If we pull the plug on our participation, if we take the radical steps that some members of the House are advocating, we will not only doom the Libyan operation, we will undermine the very core of NATO. And that puts us in danger.

The second element is equally significant. We’ve all spoken of the virtues of democracy and freedom? We have all urged that other countries and other leaders grant their people the kinds of human rights, economic opportunities and political choices that Americans enjoy. All of us have done that, and all of us will continue to hold out our core values as a shining example to those who are not as fortunate.

Here we are acting on our words, with little risk to our troops and with the potential for enormous benefit to our national security for generations to come. Here we have an opportunity to continue to help the Libyan people as they struggle to break the bounds imposed by a despot who has promised to slaughter the very people who are seeking these universal freedoms. When he was on the verge of massacring his own people in Benghazi, when his tanks and warplanes were ready to launch a merciless attack, how could we face ourselves if we had refused to act to prevent such a slaughter of if we pull the plug now? What kind of message would we send to the Arab world if we had failed to protect the Libyan people in their aspirations? What debate would we be having today if we had not acted – instead, because we did act, because we did join the NATO effort, rather than debating "who lost Libya?" the free world is poised to say "remember Tripoli" every time demagogues question our motives.

This is about what America stands for. Are we willing to stand up for our values and protect our interests? Are we willing to support the legitimate aspirations of the people of Libya? And if not, who could trust us again. And that doubt could cripple the democratic aspirations of a generation of Arabs who are now struggling in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere to secure the very rights that we hold out as sacred.

By supporting this resolution, we tell Arabs young and old that the United States is willing to make tough decisions and spend our tax dollars to help ensure your freedom. Our own security will be strengthened immeasurably if we can play midwife to these budding democracies. And the cost now will be far less than the cost in the future if we lose our resolve now.

Let me close by saying again that I strongly support the President’s action in Libya and that I am convinced, as is my friend Senator McCain, that this resolution represents a viable and practical way forward that allows all of us to support that limited action while protecting the constitutional prerogatives of Congress over the power to wage war.