Lugar Amendment Rejecting Obama Libyan War Justification Passes, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Asserts War Powers Act

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President Obama’s assertion that U.S. military engagement in the Libyan civil war did not amount to “hostilities” under the War Powers Act was soundly rejected today by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The committee adopted an amendment proposed by its Republican leader, Senator Richard G. Lugar, that repudiated the legal arguments made earlier in the day by State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh.  The amendment establishes that current U.S. military operations in Libya do constitute hostilities under the War Powers Resolution and are subject to that resolution’s provisions that require authorization by Congress.

The committee then voted 14-5 in favor of a binding resolution giving Obama the authority to continue military engagement in the Libyan war. Lugar voted against the resolution, but supported his amendments and others that place restrictions on American involvement in the conflict.

Lugar voted against the resolution intervening in the Libyan civil war because “the United States is still engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and our national debt exceeds $14 trillion.”   

“American intervention in Libya did not come as a result of a disciplined assessment of our vital interests or an authorization debate in Congress,” Lugar said at the beginning of the committee meeting.  “Given all that is at stake in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Islamic world, a rational strategic assessment would not devote sizable American military and economic resources to a civil war in Libya.  It is an expensive diversion that leaves the United States and our European allies with fewer assets to respond to other contingencies.”

Since President Obama proposed joining several NATO allies to provide “air cover’ to protect rebels fighting Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi, Lugar has strongly argued that the President must consult and receive authority for Congress. Lugar argued repeatedly that the Constitution required such authority, and the War Powers Resolution detailed a process for doing so.

President Obama argued the conflict would be over quickly, but when it dragged on Democrats in the Senate proposed passing a non-binding resolution in support of U.S. engagement. Lugar rejected such an approach, and many Senators agreed.

Committee Chairman John Kerry proposed S.J. Res. 20 to give President Obama the authority to engage in the conflict for a year. The Obama Administration continued to argue at a morning hearing of the committee that missile and unmanned drone attacks did not constitute their definition of “hostilities” under the War Powers Act. Lugar’s amendment  rejected that reasoning out of hand.

The committee also adopted other Lugar amendments restricting the use of American ground troops and private security contractors in Libya. A Lugar amendment to limit the scope of U.S. military operations to prevent escalation was rejected 14-5.

For all of Lugar’s statements and interviews regarding President Obama’s lack of leadership on the Libyan civil war, please visit http://lugar.senate.gov/issues/foreign/libya/index.html.

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