Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) pleaded with GOP colleagues Tuesday not to tie President Obama’s hands when it comes to U.S. military action in Libya, reminding them it could come back to haunt future Republican presidents.
“We are all entitled to our opinions about Libya policy, but here are the facts: [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi is going to fall. It is just a matter of time. So I would ask my colleagues: Is this the time for Congress to turn against this policy?” he said in a lengthy statement on the Senate floor. “Is this the time to ride to the rescue of a failing tyrant when the writing is on the wall that he will collapse?”McCain made the comments after introducing a bill he authored with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) that would authorize the limited use of military force in Libya. House Republicans, with the support of numerous Democrats, are readying a vote for later this week on a bill that would cut off funding for U.S. military intervention in Libya.
From the onset of the Libyan unrest, McCain has urged aggressive, unilateral action from the U.S. against Qaddafi in order to preserve rebel gains and prevent mass slaughtering of opposition forces. Obama has moved slower than McCain wanted, waiting to secure international support from the United Nations before authorizing U.S. military strikes as part of a NATO operation.
Despite his differences with Obama on Libya, McCain said this is no time for Congress to try to limit U.S. military action in the North African country. Doing so, he said, would demonstrate to Qaddafi, his inner circle, U.S. NATO allies, and all the world that “our heart is not in this, that we have neither the will nor the capability to see this mission through, that we will abandon our closest friends and allies on a whim.”
The week is setting up to be a tough one for the President on foreign policy. Obama plans to deliver a major speech Wednesday, announcing his plans for a drawdown in Afghanistan and Congress is embroiled in a heated debate over whether the War Powers Act requires Obama to seek Congressional approval for continued military action in Libya.
The law requires Congressional approval when the U.S. military is engaged in “hostilities” for more than 60 days, with a 30-day extension. The U.S. action in Libya has exceeded the three-month time frame, but the Obama administration has said it doesn’t believe the airstrikes in Libya amount to hostilities because it does not involve U.S. ground troops and no U.S. servicemen have been killed in the fighting.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last week said that explanation doesn’t past the “straight-face test.” While Boehner has supported the President’s actions in Afghanistan and robust level of troops remaining there, he has been more critical of Libya, echoing the concerns from more conservative factions of his party. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), along with his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), reflect the more general frustrations of the Tea Party, in opposing both wars and advocating a more isolationist role for U.S. foreign policy.
McCain Tuesday said he agrees with Obama that the actions in Libya do not amount to a full-fledged state of war, but took issue with the administration’s explanation that U.S. airstrikes in Libya did not amount to “hostilities,” saying he found that explanation “hard to swallow.” The implausible explanation, he said, as well as the administration’s failure to seek Congress to authorize intervention in Libya months ago, has led to the full-scale House revolt against his Libya policy.
But McCain warned his Congressional colleagues – “especially my Republicans colleagues” – against taking any action that would limit the commander-in-chief’s ability to declare and wage war. He reminded Republicans of the condemnation President Bush endured for launching the Iraq war – “the other side of the aisle savaged” Bush, he said.
“We were right to condemn this behavior then, and we would be wrong to practice it now ourselves, simply because a leader of the opposite party occupies the White House,” he said. “Someday, a Republican will again occupy the White House, and the President may need to commit U.S. armed forces to hostilities.
“So if my Republican colleagues are indifferent to how their actions would affect this President, I would urge them to think seriously about how a vote to cut off funding for this military operation could come back to haunt a future President when the shoe is on the other foot,” he continued.