House Speaker John Boehner has written a letter to President Obama detailing his concerns with the Libyan mission, and he’s getting plaudits for it from some unusual corners.
Boehner says that he respects the authority of the President as commander in chief. However, he writes, “I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that US military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.” And he lays out a series of questions (my comments in italics).
1) Obama has stated that Gadhafi must go, and yet the military mission does not explicitly call for regime change. So Boehner asks, “Is it an acceptable outcome for Qadhafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya? If not, how will he be removed from power?”
2) Which partners will be taking the lead and what is the chain of command? I believe this is still being worked out at NATO, where members are balking at a NATO lead for the mission.
3) “Does enforcement of a no-fly zone require US forces to non-air or command and control operations for land-based battlefield activities?” Clearly yes. There is no Libyan air force left. And allied planes are bombing tanks and other ground assets to push Gadhafi’s troops back from cities like Misurata, with some success during the day, though by night the troops resumed attacks.
4) Coalition partners have raised questions on the mission. If they disengage, will we?
5) “Do you have an engagement strategy for the opposition forces? Well, we know there’s 1,000 of them!
6) How long until the US hands off control for the mission? How long would US planes be used after that? What is the timeline? The handoff was supposed to have happened already, before resistance at NATO. But even Obama himself said the overall air campaign could take some time, contradicting his earlier “days, not weeks” quote. In fact, he said yesterday, “As long as Qadhafi remains in power — unless he changes his approach provides the Libyan people the opportunity to express themselves freely and there are significant reforms by the Libyan government, and he steps down — there’s still going to be a potential threat to the Libyan people.” So the time frame is tied to regime change.
7) Is there an estimate of the total cost to the Department of Defense for this action? Will there be a supplemental request needed?
8) “What is your benchmark for success in Libya?” See above.
These are a good set of questions, honestly, and they deserve to be answered. That’s the assessment of not only me, but Dem Senator Sherrod Brown:
House Speaker John Boehner’s strongly worded letter to President Obama on the U.S. mission in Libya asked the “right questions,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Thursday.
Some members of both parties have criticized Obama for intervening in Libya, to enforce a United Nations-approved no-fly zone, without first seeking congressional approval. Others have said he has the authority to do so.
In a Monday letter to Boehner and the president pro tempore of the Senate, Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Obama pushed back on that criticism, saying he was within his authority to authorize U.S. military involvement in a mission that is “limited” in scope.
While House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s statement on this, seemingly timed to coincide with Boehner’s, generally had supportive words, she added, “Decisions made in the days ahead are strengthened by our NATO partners’ participation. U.S. participation is strengthened by the president’s continued consultation with Congress.”
Republicans in the House have drafted legislation to defund operations in Libya. Like Carl Levin, I don’t think such actions would meet with success in the House. But Congress deserves to have an authorization vote on this matter, which as Dick Durbin said could come as early as next week.
There’s a partisan dig at the end of the Boehner letter about House leaders not being consulted. I was under the impression that there was a consultation before the airstrikes began, though we’ll find that out soon enough. The point is that, despite the briefing, these questions weren’t answered to Boehner’s satisfaction. And they should be.