Leading Senate Democrats on Sunday defended President Barack Obama’s approach to Libya and made clear that U.S. military action would be strictly limited to protecting civilians and not target Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” from Cairo, described the activities of U.S. military forces in Libya as a “humanitarian initiative” that was wholly unconcerned with removing Gaddafi from power.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said the Obama administration’s cautious and deliberate strategy for Libya has the support of the military brass and would be well-received on Capitol Hill.
“One of the reasons I predict there will be strong bipartisan support in the Congress for the president’s decision is because it is a limited mission — no boots on the ground — and because he has done this with great caution, with great care, and I saw that in person in the White House on Friday,” said the Michigan Democrat, who appeared with Kerry on “Meet the Press.” “One of the things I know our military were very concerned about was that there could be mission creep. They don’t have that concern anymore because this mission has been very carefully limited.”
“The goal of this mission is not to get rid of Gaddafi,” Kerry added. “That’s not what the United Nations licensed, and I would not call it going to war. This is a very limited operation that is geared to save lives. ... It is not geared to try to get rid of Gaddafi, he has not been targeted.”
Senate Republicans were supportive of the mission as well, but they continued to question the Obama administration’s delay in acting and wondered whether adequate thought had been given to what comes next.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who also appeared on “Meet the Press,” said the White House should have implemented a no-fly zone over Libya several weeks ago, when Kerry and Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) first called for such action.
“I’m supportive of that at this point,” Sessions said. “I do think, however, the no-fly zone as it’s being executed has proven Sen. Kerry and Sen. McCain, in their call for a no-fly zone, correct. They did that several weeks ago, and certainly had it been done several weeks ago we’d be in better shape than we are today.”
Sessions added: “We could end up with the rebels having lost momentum and creating a prolonged stalemate in which Libya and the people of Libya are subjected to violence for months and maybe even longer than that. I can’t quite see where we are heading, I can’t see exactly where the endgame is. ... Maybe this will be successful, but I can’t see the certainty of it for sure.”
Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) promoted making a declaration of war by Congress and laying out a plan with a clear mission, although other Republicans — including Sessions and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who appeared on “Fox News Sunday” — said Obama was within his authority as commander in chief to launch the military action currently under way.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.