Strikes In Libya Divides GOP, Puts Boehner In A Bind

March 21, 2011 6:34 a.m.

Freshmen House Republicans are already putting House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in a bind over the budget, with a contingent of Tea Party-backed fiscal conservatives refusing to vote for any more continuing resolutions. Now a group of libertarian-leaning Republicans are balking at President Obama’s missile strikes in Libya.

Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Ron Paul (R-TX) and Justin Amash (R-MI) over the weekend objected to the President’s decision to use military force to contain Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, with some questioning the constitutionality of the operation and others opposing U.S military intervention in another Arab country because they aren’t convinced that the U.S. has a clear national interest in the action.“Unless there’s a clear and present danger to the United States of America, I don’t think you use U.S. forces in North Africa in what is the equivalent of a civil war,’ Chaffetz told the Deseret News.

Amash called on the congressional leadership to come back to reconvene in Washington to consider a vote on declaring war or authorizing military action.

”The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” he wrote on Facebook. “The U.S. must halt all strikes against Libya. I call on congressional leadership to reconvene so we can vote on whether to authorize military action.”

Paul outlined the “unintended consequences” of the military action in Libya in video available on YouTube, in which he called Obama’s decision to seek international authorization for the use of military force at the United Nations last week “annoying.” The attack occurred on the eight-year anniversary of the beginning of U.S. assault on Iraq, which was supposed to be short-lived but became a bloody clash and civil war that lingered for years without resolution, he said.

“So how long might this last in Libya?” he warned.

For years Paul has broadly opposed U.S. involvement in international conflicts, but the split in the GOP conference has Boehner and the rest of the Republican leadership walking a fine line.

On Sunday Boehner called on Obama to “do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved” before any further action is taken.

“The president is the commander-in-chief. But the administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress and our troops, what the mission in Libya is,” Boehner said in a statement.

But Boehner hedged his criticism, also acknowledging that the United States has a “moral obligation to stand with those who seek freedom from oppression and self-government for their people.”

During the last few weeks as the Obama administration struggled to seek international support from NATO and the U.N. Security Council for a no-fly zone and military strikes, the conflict in Libya cut across normal ideological lines and party divisions.

The vocal group of Republicans urging caution joined liberals who fumed about the lack of congressional coordination and approval before the attack and worried that it could lead to yet another U.S.-led war in the Middle East despite the President’s promise not to employ boots on the ground.

Other Democratic lawmakers — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have publicly supported Obama. The action has split the top ranking Democrat and Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, with Sen. John Kerry (MA), the chairman, joining forces with GOP Sens. John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Independent Joe Lieberman (CT) to call for quick, decisive action in Libya last week before Obama obtained U.N. authorization, while Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and a host of Democrats were urging caution and demanding that the President seek a declaration of war from Congress.

Lugar was particularly concerned about the costs of going to war with Libya, considering the current budget impasse and deep concerns in the country over the ballooning deficit.

“Clearly, the United States should be engaged with allies on how to oppose the Qaddafi regime and support the aspirations of the Libyan people,” Lugar said at the beginning of the panel’s Thursday morning hearing on the Middle East. “But given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame in a civil war, the strains on our military, and other factors, I am doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.”

While Kerry conceded that winning Congressional approval for military action is always more ideal, he said sometimes it isn’t practical when time is of the essence. President Ronald Reagan didn’t seek Congressional approval before sending missiles into Qaddafi’s palace in 1986, he said, and there was no seal of approval from Congress before U.S. military action in Kosovo.

“I have always taken the position that it is better to proceed with the authorization of Congress…if we have time and the opportunity provides for it,” Kerry said at the hearing. “But life doesn’t always present us with circumstances that afford us the opportunity to do that.”

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