The Corner

What’s at Stake in Libya

As the House of Representatives debates NATO’s intervention in Libya this week, it is important to keep in mind a key point that is being overlooked in the debate about the War Powers Act and the president’s constitutional responsibility to consult Congress:

Ending Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rule is in America’s interest. 

Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to make this point persuasively to Congress and the American people.

The House of Representatives has rightly expressed concern about the president’s lack of clear and decisive leadership on this issue, passing Speaker John Boehner’s resolution on June 3 that required the president to address, within 14 days, a series of questions about U.S. strategy in Libya and the constitutionality of the operation. 

In response to the Boehner resolution, the Obama administration sent a report on Libya to Congress on June 15.  However, that report made the curious claim that the United States is not engaged in “hostilities” with Libya.  Unsurprisingly, this was met with a mixture of disbelief and even contempt by many on Capitol Hill.

This is the context in which members of Congress this week will decide how to respond to the president and whether to attempt to cut off funding or limit American participation in the operation. 

Despite the valid concerns expressed by many Republicans, taking such drastic action would send the wrong message to our NATO allies.  For many in Europe, instability in Libya represents a direct threat to their national security.  Reducing the U.S. involvement in Libya just as President Obama announces the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, could also cause NATO allies who have devoted forces to that theater to question why they should remain committed to success in Afghanistan if the United States can’t even play a supporting role in Libya.

But even more importantly, congressional action to restrict the mission will send the wrong message to Qaddafi and his fellow despots elsewhere in the world about America’s willingness to lead and to stand for freedom.  As others in the region, such as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad use force to maintain their grip on power, it is doubly important that the United States ensure that the Libyan people have the opportunity to gain the freedom that they seek.

Congress can assist in this despite its concerns about the merits of the president’s Libya policy, by ensuring that the Obama administration takes stronger action to support the Libyan opposition, represented by the Transitional National Council.  They should be pressuring the administration to recognize the Council as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.  The House should also press the President to allow the Council to access Qaddafi regime funds that have been frozen by the U.S. government.

There is much to criticize about how we got to this point, but as they debate the Libya intervention this week, it is in the country’s interest for members of Congress to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and realize that there is more at stake than a constitutional debate about the War Powers Act.

—  Jamie Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Jamie M. Fly — Mr. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative. He served in the office of the secretary of defense and on the National Security Council staff from 2005 to 2009.


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