U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congressmen Libyan rebel factions fighting Muammar Gadhafi’s government oppose outside military intervention on their behalf. The United States and allies have moved forces closer to Libya in the face of unrest there and say enforcing a “no fly zone” there is an option.
Clinton reiterated the Obama administration takes no options off the table, including military ones, as long as Libya's Gadafi government continues to turn its guns on its own people.
But her comments, in budget testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reflected U.S. caution about direct intervention.
The Obama administration has opened contacts with disparate elements of the emerging Libyan opposition.
In an exchange with Republican committee chairwoman Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who urged a tough approach on Libya, Clinton said the opposition does not want outside military support.
“We are also very conscious of the desire by the Libyan opposition forces that they be seen as doing this by themselves on behalf of the Libyan people, that there not be outside intervention by any external force. Because they want this to have been their accomplishment. We respect that,” she said.
Clinton said the stakes for the United States are high in Libya, which she said could become a peaceful democracy, or descend into protracted civil war and chaos.
Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen criticized what she described as past U.S. coddling of the Gadhafi government, despite its “deplorable” human-rights record, while Ohio Republican Steve Chabot said the U.S. response to the beginning of the popular uprising against Mr. Gadhafi was weak.
“It is difficult to look at the initial U.S. response to the unrest in Libya and think of any word other than tepid. Although the administration has suggested that its initial reaction was tempered in order to avoid provoking a hostage situation, such fears did not seem to hinder other nations,” he said.
Clinton said unlike other countries, the United States was reluctant to use military assets to evacuate its citizens from Libya out of concern it might be seen as a prelude to seizing the country’s oil assets.
“If you follow, as we follow, all the websites that are looking at what’s happening in the Middle East, you see a constant drumbeat that the United States is going to invade Libya to take over the oil. Well, we are not going to do that, and we are going to side with the Libyan people and their aspirations. But the last thing in the world we wanted was to start off with military assets when we very effectively got our people out,” she said.
The hearing was otherwise dominated by debate over Republican proposals to reduce foreign affairs funding, including a proposed 16 percent cut in the State Department budget for the remaining seven months of the current 2011 fiscal year.
Clinton said a cut of that magnitude would be “devastating” to U.S. national security interests and said its 2012 budget plan, the nominal subject of the hearing, is “a lean budget for lean times.”
The $47-billion package is one percent larger than the 2010 budget and Clinton warned the panel of retreating from responsibilities, as she said the United States did in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
But Ros-Lehtinen said those complaining about reduced foreign affairs funding should consider how much less an “insolvent” U.S. government would be able to do.