WASHINGTON—House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a point–that the White House, despite their assertions, did not consult with Congress very much about the military action in Libya. Boehner and others have a number of legitimate questions about the U.S. engagement that need answering. (Boehner questions below.)
But it’s fair to point out that the GOP House leaders could have been more assertive–perhaps call members back from recess, demand calls from top military and White House brass, etc. Playing “victim” is not becoming for congressional leaders.
The Obama administration briefed members and staffers after the decision was made to attack; that’s a one-way street, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck noted on Thursday in a memo he sent around. “Consulting implies one is seeking input on if and how to act. The earliest communication on this topic was last Friday, when leaders were informed of the WH plan. At that point, the plan was already in motion and the use of U.S. military assets had already been committed to other nations. ….Notification is always appreciated, but it is not a substitute for the long-respected custom of congressional consultation before committing to military action, even the kinetic kind.”
UPDATE As for playing victim, Buck disagrees with how I put it, telling me, “Per “playing victim,” we’ve made quite clear that this isn’t just about getting answers and making the case to Congress. More importantly, it’s making the case to the American public before taking military action. They deserve(d) answers to these questions just as much as Congress.” END UPDATE
On Wednesday, Ben Rhodes, the deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications implied a two-way street, when he talked about consulting Congress, though it seems more precise to say Congress was notified.
Said Rhodes, “First of all, we would like congressional support. We’ve consulted with Congress throughout this process, again, consulted before we took military action, and continue to brief Congress and, again, welcome congressional support and believe it’s very important to have a very close and ongoing dialogue with Congress about what we’re doing in Libya.”
Anyway, moving ahead, the Obama White House needs to make clear the mission length, scope and goals.
Here are Boehner’s questions, some of which will come up next Wednesday, when the first congressional hearing on the military strikes against Libya will be held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited to testify.
A United Nations Security Council resolution does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy. You have stated that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi must go, consistent with U.S. policy goals. But the U.N. resolution the U.S. helped develop and signed onto makes clear that regime change is not part of this mission. In light of this contradiction, 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? Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?
In announcing that our Armed Forces would lead the preliminary strikes in Libya, you said it was necessary to “enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners.” Do we know which partners will be taking the lead? Are there clear lines of authority and responsibility and a chain of command? Operationally, does enforcement of a no-fly zone require U.S. forces to attack non-air or command and control operations for land-based battlefield activities, such as armored vehicles, tanks, and combatants?
You have said that the support of the international community was critical to your decision to strike Libya. But, like many Americans, it appears many of our coalition partners are themselves unclear on the policy goals of this mission. If the coalition dissolves or partners continue to disengage, will the American military take on an increased role? Will we disengage?
Since the stated U.S. policy goal is removing Qadhafi from power, do you have an engagement strategy for the 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 our government?
Your Administration has repeatedly said our engagement in this military action will be a matter of “days, not weeks.” After four days of U.S. military action, how soon do you expect to hand control to these other nations? After the transition to coalition forces is completed, how long will American military forces remain engaged in this action? If Qadhafi remains in power, how long will a no-fly zone will be enforced?
We are currently in the process of setting priorities for the coming year in the budget. Has the Department of Defense estimated the total cost, direct and indirect, associated with this mission? While you said yesterday that the cost of this mission could be paid for out of already-appropriated funds, do you anticipate requesting any supplemental funds from Congress to pay for ongoing operations in Libya?
Because of the conflicting messages from the Administration and our coalition partners, there is a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission, what our national security interests are, and how it fits into our overarching policy for the Middle East. The American people deserve answers to these questions. And all of these concerns point to a fundamental question: what is your benchmark for success in Libya?