President Barack Obama’s defense of limited U.S. military engagement in Libya appears not to have won over many congressional critics of his administration’s handling of developments in the northern African nation. The U.S. mission in Libya remains a contentious issue on Capitol Hill.
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona, says President Obama made a strong case for U.S. intervention in Libya in his speech to the nation late Monday. But, appearing on CBS’ Early Show, McCain took issue with the president’s assertion that going beyond a no-fly zone in Libya and forcing leader Moammar Gadhafi from power would be a mistake, drawing comparison's with Iraq.
"If Gadhafi remains in power, you will see a stalemate, the same kind of thing we saw with [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein when we established a no-fly zone, sanctions, etc, and it lasted 10 years. Gadhafi in power will continue to commit acts of terror against his own people. And, of course, he is guilty of war crimes," he said.
McCain said the United States should, as he put it, "continue all the way to Tripoli" and help rebel forces remove the Libyan leader as soon as possible.
Other Republicans criticized President Obama less for what he said in his speech than for what they say he left unsaid as far as an endgame in Libya. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said, more than a week after U.S. military intervention began, "Americans still have no answer to the fundamental question: What does success in Libya look like?"
Democratic lawmakers appear divided on the administration’s handling of Libya as well as the president's speech. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Obama laid out a clear vision for Libya's freedom. Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver applauded the president’s announcement that command of the military mission will be transferred to NATO, saying Obama "fully understands" that the United States cannot afford what he termed "another Iraq or Afghanistan."
Other Democrats remain strongly opposed to U.S. military intervention in Libya, especially without congressional consent. Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich put it this way.
"America is now the policeman of the world again, as our executive defines when we have to go in [intervene]. And I think that is a really dangerous position for us to be in," he said.
That theme was echoed by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. "Our brave men and women in uniform are patriotic defenders of our nation," he said. "They should not be asked to be nation-builders or the world's policemen."
"And they should serve in wars authorized and called for by the United States Congress, not the United Nations. At the moment, there are uprisings taking place across the Middle East. The problem with sending U.S. military to help rebels in Libya or anywhere else is that we are taking sides in a conflict and on behalf of a people whom we know nothing about," he added.
Administration officials are expected to testify on Libya in both closed door and public hearings on Capitol Hill this week. Legislators of both parties say they will press for answers on the expected costs of the mission.