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Lugar Calls on President Obama to Define End Game and Costs in Libyan War

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will deliver the following statement at today’s hearing on the Obama Administration’s war in Libya:


I thank the Chairman for holding this important hearing and join him in welcoming Deputy Secretary Steinberg. 

Over Libya, we have once again witnessed the skill and courage of the men and women of our armed forces.  The war fighting prowess of the American military is extraordinary in its capability and execution.  But success in war depends on much more than the abilities of our fighting men and women and the quality of their weapons and equipment. 

Any member who has been here to witness the last ten years should understand that wars are accompanied by mistakes and unintended consequences.  War is an inherently precarious enterprise that is conducive to accidents and failures of leadership. 

In the last decade alone, we have witnessed mission creep, intelligence failures, debilitating conflicts between civil and military leaders, withdrawal of coalition partners, tribal feuding, corruption by allied governments, unintended civilian casualties, and many other circumstances that have complicated our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and raised their cost in lives and treasure.   The last ten years also have illuminated clearly that initiating wars and killing the enemy is far easier than achieving political stability and reconstructing a country when the fighting is over.

This is why going to war should be based on U.S. vital interests.  It is also why Congress has an essential role to play in scrutinizing executive branch rationalizations of wars and their ongoing management.  This holds true no matter who is President or what war is being fought.  Congressional oversight is far from perfect.  But it is the best tool we have for ensuring executive branch accountability in wartime and subjecting administration plans and assumptions to rigorous review. 

I offer these thoughts at the beginning of this hearing, because I believe Congress has its work cut out for it with regard to Libya.  On March 7, twelve days before the United States began hostilities, I called on the President to seek a declaration of war from the Congress if he decided to initiate hostilities.  He declined to do that.   As a result, the United States entered the civil war in Libya with little official scrutiny or debate.  I continue to advocate for a debate and vote on President Obama’s decision to go to war in Libya.  I do not believe that the President has made a convincing case for American military involvement in that country.

Declarations of war are not anachronistic exercises.   They force the President to submit his case for war to Congress and the American public.  They allow for a robust debate to examine that case, and they help gauge if there is sufficiently broad political support to commit American blood and treasure.  And they define the role and strategy of the United States.  Neither U.N. Security Council Resolutions nor Administration briefings are a substitute for a declaration of war or other deliberate authorizations of major military operations.

Actions leading up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at least acknowledged that Congressional authorization was vital to initiating and conducting war.  Despite deep flaws in the process of authorizing those wars, there was a recognition that both required a deliberate, affirmative vote by Congress.  There also was broad agreement that both conflicts required extensive debate and ongoing hearings in Congressional committees.

President Obama’s intervention in Libya represents a serious setback to the Constitutional limits on the President’s war powers.   Historians will point out that this is not the first time that a President has gone to war on his own authority.   But the Libya case is the one most likely to be cited the next time President Obama or a future President chooses to take the country to war without Congressional approval.  That future war may have far graver consequences for American national security than the war in Libya. 

With or without a debate in the Congress, the United States is involved in a military intervention in a third Middle Eastern country.  This is a jarring prospect, given the enormous U.S. budget deficit, the strains on our military from long deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the certainty that this won’t be the last contingency in the Middle East to impact our interests.  In fact, even as the coalition drops bombs in Libya, the Syrian regime has been shooting citizens in an attempt to repress peaceful protests.  Our commitments in Libya and those of our allies leave less military, diplomatic, and economic capacity for responding to other contingencies.  We need to know, for example, whether the Libyan intervention will make it even harder to sustain allied commitments to operations in Afghanistan.

The President clearly was motivated by humanitarian concerns about what could happen if Qadhafi’s forces were left unchecked.  But as many have observed, there is no end to the global humanitarian emergencies to which U.S. military and economic power might be devoted.  The question now is when is that humanitarian mission accomplished, and has humanitarianism evolved into supporting one side in a lengthy civil war.

In his March 28th speech, the President expressed hopefulness that our intervention in Libya would have a positive effect on democratic movements and regime behavior elsewhere in the Middle East.  Perhaps it will, but the President is guessing.  Nowhere in the world have we had more experience with unintended consequences than in the Middle East.  A war rationale based on hopes about how U.S. military intervention will be perceived in the Middle East is deficient on its face.   It is also uncertain whether pro-Western governments can result from popular upheaval, especially in Libya where we know little about the opposition.  We also don’t know what this will mean for our efforts to stop terrorism and defeat al-Qaeda, particularly since Middle Eastern governments that are helping us with this problem are among those who are repressing their people.

President Obama has not provided estimates for the cost of our military intervention.  Nor has he discussed whether the United States would incur the enormous potential costs of reconstruction and rehabilitation of Libya in the aftermath of war.  By some estimates, American military operations in Libya may already have expended close to a billion dollars.  The President has not set these costs in the context of a national debt exceeding $14 trillion, or indicated whether he is seeking contributions from the Arab League to offset costs of the war, as I have suggested.  We find ourselves in a situation where Congress is debating cuts in domestic programs to make essential progress on the deficit, even as President Obama has initiated an expensive, open-ended military commitment in a country that his Defense Secretary says is not a vital interest. 

The President must establish with much greater clarity what would constitute success.  He has not stated whether the United States would accept a stalemate in the civil war.  If we do not accept a long-term stalemate, what is our strategy for ending Qadhafi’s rule?  Without a defined endgame, Congress and the American people must assume U.S. participation in the coalition may continue indefinitely, with all the costs and risks of escalation that come with such a commitment.

These questions require the type of scrutiny that Foreign Relations Committee hearings have provided for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I know the Chairman intends a new series of hearings in the coming weeks on Afghanistan, and I support such an inquiry based on principles that I have just cited.  I believe that the Foreign Relations Committee should also take on the burden of detailed oversight of U.S. involvement in Libya.