March 17, 2011

Lugar Says War Spending Must be Considered in Libya Debate

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at a committee hearing today on developments in the Middle East:

I join the Chairman in welcoming Secretary Burns.  I am pleased that the Foreign Relations Committee is meeting to discuss the challenges stemming from the upheaval that has swept the Middle East over the past three months.  There has been dramatic change, but we are only at the very beginning of a long process.  How these movements develop and coalesce into organized political parties and how the governments of the region respond to their citizens’ demands, will impact U.S. interests for decades.

There is a long-term opportunity for a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous Middle East as a result of this popular movement.   We have been encouraging more representative and tolerant governance throughout the region for many years.  As Americans, we should honor those in the region who are speaking out in defense of values that we hold dear.

At the same time we should acknowledge that the movements are not about us.  Our response needs to reflect this reality, and should encompass a broader public debate about the goals and limits of the U.S. role in the Middle East, especially as it pertains to potential military intervention.

During the last two weeks, I have expressed my deep concern that discussion of U.S. policy options in the Middle East has focused on a no-fly zone or other military intervention in Libya.   Clearly, the United States should be engaged with Allies on how to oppose the Qadhafi regime and support the aspirations of the Libyan people.

But given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame in a civil war, the strains on our military, and other factors, I am doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

With roughly 145,000 American troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan and with a budget that, according to the President’s own proposal, will carry a deficit of approximately $1.5 trillion this year, we have to recognize that war spending is especially difficult to control. 

In this broad context, if the Obama Administration decides to impose a no-fly zone or take other significant military action in Libya, I believe it should first seek a Congressional debate on a declaration of war under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

I also have made the point that if American forces go to war in Libya, we should ask Arab League governments and other governments advocating for American military action to pledge resources necessary to pay for it.  This is not unprecedented.  More than $50 billion in foreign contributions were received to offset U.S. costs in association with the first Gulf War in 1991.

Beyond the civil war in Libya, it is important for our country to focus on the transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, security in the Persian Gulf, and the potential impact the instability is having on our efforts to counter terrorist threats, particularly emanating from Yemen.

I am concerned that there has not been sufficient discussion and debate about the constitutional reforms needed in Egypt, and that reports indicate only the former ruling party and the Muslim Brotherhood have come out in favor of the proposed referendum, to be held in less than 48 hours.  Elections are difficult to organize.  They require planning and technical expertise.  From my own experience monitoring democratic transitions, as far back as the Philippine People Power movement of the 1980s, I can attest to the importance of getting elections right.  Egyptians will make their own decisions, but I hope we are doing everything possible to give them the tools to be successful.

Similarly, it is important for us to support Tunisia’s transition.  We must not forget that the wave of popular movements was sparked by a Tunisian example, and the establishment of a stable, democratic Tunisia would similarly reinforce the power of peaceful protest.  In the midst of their own political challenges, the Tunisians have made remarkable contributions to the safety and well-being of refugees fleeing the violence in Libya, and they deserve our support.

Developments this week in Bahrain are a cause of concern.  The deployment of Saudi forces to Bahrain is reportedly designed to secure vital infrastructure.  What are the prospects for meaningful dialogue between the government and the opposition?  Not only will events in Bahrain affect the wider Persian Gulf region, but that country hosts a critical U.S. naval presence, vital to ensuring freedom of navigation.

We must remain vigilant in the fight against terrorists who seek to kill Americans.  The most recent attempted terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have come not from Pakistan or Afghanistan, but from Yemen.  How is the Administration reacting to continuing instability in Yemen?    What are the implications for our fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?

I appreciate the insights of Secretary Burns on these difficult issues and look forward to our discussion.


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