After 10 days of U.S. military operations in Libya, President Obama gave his first direct address to the American people about this mission. And while I welcome his acknowledgement of the need for international partners to lead in this effort going forward, more questions than answers remain about our ultimate objectives and what “mission accomplished” will look like for the United States and the international community. The American people still need adequate explanation and justification for the president’s decision to order military force in Libya.
Certainly, we want to help citizens of oppressed nations help themselves as they fight a despotic government, but the line must be drawn at America leading the effort to topple a government, when there are questions to be answered first. We don’t have enough information about the insurgents. Who are they, and what is their goal? What kind of government would replace the one overthrown?
Now that the president has unilaterally ordered military force and laid out the imperative to remove Gadhafi from power, America’s credibility is on the line and will be undermined if Gadhafi remains in control.
The president has stressed that international cooperation is essential for success in this military endeavor in Libya, as well as future conflicts that will arise in the world. Indeed, it is critical that NATO and The Arab League take on a greater share of the responsibility in Libya and help foster more cooperation and consensus among our allies.
Neighboring countries in the Middle East have vital national interests at stake and possess the military capabilities, including fighter planes, to share in the responsibility. It is not enough for them merely to give permission or make statements of support. The Arab League must not remain only an observer to the atrocities unfolding in its own backyard, but it needs to become an active participant in the fight against tyrannical governments that promote terrorism and oppress and murder their own people.
We know from history that nations, like Libya, which are ruled by an iron fist with complete disregard for human rights, have a weak foundation of authority and when challenged will not be sustained. Eventually the oppression of their own people leads to revolution, civil war, and instability and that can spread beyond its own borders. The stable Arab nations should take the lead in their sphere to promote responsible solutions in Libya.
America has already taken on the major share of the challenges facing the Middle East through our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the time has come for other nations to share in this responsibility.
America’s standing in the world would not be diminished by other countries taking the lead in Libya. What diminishes U.S. standing in the world is to be sucked into a quagmire: our allies back away, the United States becomes the leader and we announce that it is too difficult to continue and retreat without accomplishing our stated mission. Sharing the responsibility with NATO, the Arab League, and other allies is the prudent course, and I hope we will see allies be willing to provide the lion’s share of the military effort.
As the U.S. priorities unfold in Libya, I hope the president will consult with Congress at every decision point. Members of Congress should be given the opportunity to ask questions about the mission, its strategy, and its impact on our military and offer counsel.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, not the president. But when the president takes action that eventually places our military in a position of having no alternative but to get gradually more and more deeply involved, it becomes a de-facto declared war without Congress’ approval. This is a dangerous precedent.
The interests of the American people will ultimately be best served when the president willingly involves Congress in decisions that put our security, our economy, and the lives of American service men and women at risk.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.