Military Action in Libya

Floor Speech

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: March 28, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, today, as the American naval aviators in the Mediterranean wait offshore to fly combat missions against the Libyan Army, as marines wait for the call to go ashore to rescue a downed pilot, or as Air Force pilots fly combat air patrol, we are confident that all military orders will be met with the same professionalism and skill we have come to expect of our All-Volunteer Force. The valor and loyalty of the men and women of our Nation's Armed Forces have never been in question. Yet, despite that certainty, many Americans view our military intervention in Libya with anxiety and uncertainty. They are wondering why U.S. forces are once again engaged in combat action against an Arab regime in the Middle East. They are wondering when this operation will end and when their loved ones will return. And they are asking another reasonable question: What is the mission?

If the American people are uncertain as to our military objectives in Libya, it is with good cause. The President has failed to explain up to this point what follows the evident establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya as it was originally described. Further, the President has articulated a wider political objective of regime change in Libya that is not the stated objective of our military intervention, nor is it the mandate of the U.N. resolution the President has used as a justification for our military efforts there.

Now that the objective of establishing a no-fly zone has been reached and our NATO allies are ready to assume the command and execution of this mission, it is fair to ask, what is the role of our military and military alliance in providing support to an opposition we are only now beginning to understand?

These concerns and questions are equally relevant here in the Senate and in the Congress since it is the responsibility of Congress to declare war, if it is war, and, of course, to fund our military operations.

The President stated:

There is no decision I face as your commander in chief that I consider as carefully as the decision to ask our men and women to use military force. Particularly at a time when our military is fighting in Afghanistan and winding down our activities in Iraq, that decision is only made more difficult.

Yet this latest decision was taken without adequate consultation with Congress or sufficient explanation to the American people.

Since returning from South America, the President has begun to talk in greater detail about our involvement in Libya. For the second time, he has discussed our operations in and around Libya with the congressional leadership. Over the weekend, he devoted his entire address to the topic, and he will speak to the American people tonight about our operations in Libya. All of this is welcome and, in my view, overdue.

Before addressing what answers I hope to hear from the President this evening, let me address the notifications to Congress that the President made.

Prior to the initiation of combat activities in Libya, the congressional leadership received two forms of notification of the President's decision to order Americans into harm's way. Prior to departing for his overseas trip, the President notified the congressional leadership of his plans to send American forces into combat action in a limited, discrete role to destroy the integrated air defenses of the Libyan Government and to enable our allies to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. The second notification was a written communication as part of his responsibilities under the War Powers Resolution.

Throughout his communications with the congressional leadership, the President has emphasized that the U.S. military would not undertake ground combat against the Libyan Army and that the American combat role would be limited in time, scope, and would be used simply as a means ``to set the conditions for our European allies and Arab partners to carry out the measures authorized by the U.N. Security Council Resolution.''

The President and his military advisers and commanders have explained that the overwhelming American capabilities to destroy enemy air defenses, target command-and-control structures, jam communications signals, and monitor the battlefield would all be employed to allow NATO and the coalition to assume responsibility for the no-fly zone. It was the limited nature of our combat role that encouraged me that the President was acting within his article II authorities as Commander in Chief. And the actions by NATO over the past few days to take over command and responsibility for the no-fly zone are consistent with the President's commitment that ``limited U.S. actions will set the stage for further action by our coalition partners.''

Here I am reminded of the important contribution of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in advising the President since he came to office. The President is fortunate to be able to call upon the wisdom of this seasoned national security expert in considering our operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It was Secretary Gates who reminded the American people of the risks inherent in military intervention. I know his views will be critical as we transfer further responsibilities to the coalition, and I hope the administration pays close attention to what he says.

This week, NATO will consider the last part of the mission that must be transferred. What the United Nations resolution refers to as protection of civilian personnel has included attacks on Libyan ground forces and strike missions conducted by American warplanes. If U.S. military forces were to have responsibility for close air support or execute additional strike missions in support of opposition forces, then that, of course, would exceed the President's definition of a limited, supporting role. Such a mission could last indefinitely and would trigger congressional consideration of our larger role in the war.

My expectation is that the President will explain this transfer of responsibility in his speech tonight and that NATO will resolve this issue this week, ending our efforts there as the primary force.

As the commander of U.S. African Command, GEN Carter Ham has said:

Our mandate--again, our mission--is to protect civilians from attack by the regime ground forces. Our mission is not to support any opposition forces.

General Ham has also said:

We do not operate in direct support of the opposition forces.

So as President Obama addresses the Nation this evening, like many Americans, I will be listening for answers to the following questions: When will the U.S. combat role in the operation end? Will America's commitment end in days, not weeks, as the President promised? What will be the duration of the noncombat operation, and what will be the cost? What national security interests of the United States justify the risk of American life? What is the role of our country in Libya's ongoing civil war?

The President made clear that our combat forces' role in Libya will be limited in scope and duration. Tonight, I hope he will reiterate that pledge or ask Congress before extending the duration or scope of our mission there. And, as always, our thoughts are with the brave young Americans in places such as Helmand Province and Baghdad, those in Japan helping the Japanese people recover from the natural disaster there, and with those who are once again off the shores of Tripoli.

I yield the floor.

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