March 23 (KATAKAMI.COM / BLOOMBERG) — U.S. House Speaker John Boehner asked President Barack Obama to explain the “contradiction” between U.S. goals for regime change in Libya with a United Nations mandate limited to curbing Muammar Qaddafi’s ability to attack civilians, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
In a letter today, Boehner asked the president how the Libyan leader would be removed from power if the UN resolution authorizing force against Qaddafi “makes clear that regime change is not part of” the international mission.
U.S. and allied aircraft and missiles attacked Libya on March 19 to impose a “no-fly” zone to blunt the ability of Qaddafi forces to target civilians.
In Boehner’s two-page letter to Obama, the speaker complained of ‘conflicting messages from the administration” and coalition nations producing “a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission.”
The Ohio Republican asked a series of questions about the U.S. and allied military operation, saying the American people need to know “what our national security interests are, and how it fits into our overarching policy in the Middle East.” Boehner said these concerns “point to a fundamental question: What is your hallmark for success in Libya?”
He also said many lawmakers “are troubled that U.S. 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.”
Boehner requested from Obama details about the “engagement strategy” for the Libyan opposition forces.
“If the strife in Libya becomes a protracted conflict, what are your administration’s objectives for engaging with opposition forces, and what standards must a new regime meet to be recognized” by the U.S., Boehner asked.
Obama’s advisers said taking military action was necessary to prevent the deaths of civilians, and that the pace of the president’s decision-making on the issue allowed the U.S. to draw in international partners.
Multilateral support for the mission was “fundamental,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama returned today to Washington from a trip to Latin America.
By marshaling allies for the aerial campaign, the U.S. cost is “significantly” reduced, Rhodes said.
Boehner asked Obama if he expected to seek supplemental appropriations for the mission.
The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said today his chamber won’t constrain Obama’s direction of the attack on Qaddafi’s forces.
Opponents of Obama’s decision to support the mission won’t come “anywhere near success” getting the votes needed to curtail it, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan told reporters on a conference call.
When Congress returns from a recess next week, opponents of the U.S.-led operation may try to cut off funding or force a vote on congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which requires the president to seek approval from Congress for military actions.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration has had “a great number of consultations with Congress” on the reasons for the military action.
Boehner, though, told Obama that it was “regrettable that no opportunity was afforded to consult with congressional leaders” before the decision to attack Libya.
Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, today called for a panel hearing on the mission. Such proceedings are “especially vital because the Obama administration did not consult meaningfully with Congress,” Lugar said in a letter to committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said Obama briefed a bipartisan group of congressional leaders for an hour on March 18, the day before the military operation began. “I’ve been kept informed the entire way,” Durbin told reporters today on a conference call.
‘Criticism Is Apt’
Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, said in “some sense the criticism is apt” because “I don’t think there was a lot of consultation.”
In an interview, Hoyer said “there was certainly no consultation” at the briefing of congressional leaders. He said lawmakers were “informed of an action the president was going to take within, frankly, minutes of the ending of the meeting.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California urged more consultations with lawmakers. “U.S. participation is strengthened by the president’s continued consultation with Congress,” she said in a statement.
While Obama has said Qaddafi should give up power, Pentagon officials have said that the Libyan dictator isn’t a target of the attacks.
Coalition attacks on government tanks, artillery, supply lines and communication points are “pressurizing Qaddafi’s forces,” said U.S. Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber. Still, government forces have increased their attacks and killed 16 people in Misrata and six in Zentan, opposition spokesman Abdulhafid Ghoda told reporters in Benghazi.
Obama said yesterday that the U.S. goal is to transfer command of the operation to an international coalition that will be orchestrated by North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. The U.S. and its coalition partners are trying to resolve a disagreement over the role of NATO in the command structure of the operation.
In his letter, Boehner pressed Obama for details on which nations “will be taking the lead” and “are there clear lines of authority and responsibility and a chain of command?” (*)