A senior U.S. State Department official is warning that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, if he prevails over opposition forces, could return to fomenting terrorism and regional instability. Under-Secretary of State for political Affairs William Burns appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Under-Secretary of State William Burns, speaking as the U.N. Security Council debated possible action to halt the Libyan military advance against rebels, painted a grim picture of what might happen if Moammar Gadhafi manages to hold on to power.
Asked by a committee member if extremist factions might prevail in Libya if Colonel Gadhafi was deposed, the undersecretary suggested there is a greater danger of instability if the Libyan leader retains control.
"There is also a very real danger that if Gadhafi is successful on the ground that you also face a number of other considerable risks as well: the dangers of him returning to terrorism and violent extremism himself, the dangers of the turmoil that he could help create at a very critical moment elsewhere in the region," said Burns.
Burns, the State Department's senior career foreign service officer, said the United States would support a U.N. Security Council resolution that includes and goes beyond a no-fly-zone, but would stop short of what he termed "boots on the ground," or direct intervention by U.S. or other ground troops.
Several members of the committee from both parties were apprehensive about the prospect of a U.N. resolution that might draw the United States into another Middle East conflict.
The committee's ranking Republican, Richard Lugar, said no-fly-zone enforcement could lead to a costly military escalation, and the Obama administration should formally consult Congress before any new commitment.
"If the Obama administration decides to impose a no-fly-zone or other significant military action in Libya, I believe it should first seek a Congressional debate on a declaration of war under Article One," said Lugar. "Section Eight of the [U.S.] Constitution. I have also 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."
Democratic committee member Jim Webb and Republican Bob Corker expressed similar reservations. But Committee Chairman John Kerry said in cases like Libya, time does not permit a full-scale Congressional debate of a U.S. military commitment.
"[Debate] is better," said Kerry. "But life does not always present us with circumstances that afford us the opportunity to always do that. And we have not always. Republican and Democrat Presidents alike have had to make tough choices, faced with the moment."
Burns promised thorough consultation with Congress on the content of a Security Council resolution.
He said the United States would not only seek Arab League support for a no-fly-zone, as declared by the group late last week, but also "active Arab partnership" and financial support in any action that would be taken.