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Lugar Continues to Challenge Obama’s Libyan War Efforts Pentagon Refuses to Send a Witness to Defend Strategy

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today issued the following opening statement at a committee hearing on Libya: 

I thank the Chairman for holding this important hearing and join him in welcoming back Deputy Secretary Steinberg.  The Committee sought a witness from the Defense Department to join Secretary Steinberg at this hearing.  The Administration chose not to provide such a witness.  This is an inexplicable decision given Administration pledges to fully consult with Congress and the central role the U.S. military has played in the Libyan operation.  I am hopeful that Defense Department witnesses will be provided at subsequent hearings on Libya when requested. 

Since our last Libya hearing more than a month ago, fighting between opposition forces and troops loyal to Muammar Qadhafi has continued unabated.  The United States is participating in the coalition of nations under NATO leadership that is opposing the Qadhafi regime with military force.  Among other steps, the Obama Administration has initiated the process of providing at least $25 million dollars in non-lethal assistance to the Libyan opposition and it has dedicated Predator drones to Libyan airspace.

One can envision fortunate scenarios under which the fighting might come to an end, but a quick resolution of the war is not likely.  Accordingly, under the War Powers Act, Congress could render a judgment on whether to continue U.S. participation in the war.  At this stage, Congressional leaders have not committed to a debate, and it is uncertain whether majorities could be assembled for any particular resolution. 

The President should have come to Congress seeking authority to wage war in Libya, and I believe that Congress and the American people would still benefit from a debate on this matter. 

Irrespective of any debate, however, the Congress and the American people should have answers to some very basic questions that the President has not addressed sufficiently.  First, can other NATO nations fulfill the primary combat mission in Libya over an indefinite period, and how will the Administration respond if allies request greater military involvement by the United States?   Second, what scenarios or emergencies would cause the United States to re-escalate its military involvement in Libya, and would the Administration seek a Congressional authorization if it expands its military role?  Third, what are the Administration’s plans for aiding the Libyan opposition economically and militarily, and do we have confidence in the people to whom we are providing assistance?  Fourth, what are civilian and military operations related to Libya costing the United States, and how much is the Administration prepared to spend over time?  Fifth, in the aftermath of the current civil war, what responsibility will the U.S. assume for reconstructing the country? 

There are many other questions that require an answer, but this set illustrates the degree to which U.S. goals, resources, and strategies related to Libya remain open-ended and undefined. 

In addition, Libya operations have not been adequately placed in a broader strategic context.  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 never devote sizable military, diplomatic, economic, and alliance resources to a civil war in Libya. When measured against other regional problems, Libya appears as a military conflict in which we have let events determine our involvement, instead of our vital interests.  It is an expensive diversion that leaves the United States and our European allies with fewer assets to respond to other contingencies in the region.