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Opening Statement by Senator John McCain at the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Libya


Location: Unknown

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me thank our distinguished witnesses. I know we want to reserve as much time as possible for questions, so I will be brief.

"I remain a strong supporter of the President's decision to take military action in Libya. It averted what was an imminent slaughter in Benghazi -- and has given us a chance to achieve the goal of U.S. policy, as stated by the President: To force Qaddafi to leave power. That goal is right and necessary, and I agree with the President that we should not deploy ground troops to accomplish it.

"It is because I am a supporter of our mission that I am concerned with what is being described about the next phase of it. As the Secretary's prepared statement makes clear, following the transfer of authority to NATO, the United States will only be playing a supporting role -- namely, intelligence, aerial refueling, search and rescue, and other enabling functions, but not precision strike or other offensive operations. That means the U.S. military will no longer be flying strike sorties against Qaddafi's armored columns and ground forces. I believe this would be a profound mistake with potentially disastrous consequences.

"Just to be clear: I am very grateful that we have capable friends, especially our Arab partners and NATO allies, who are making critical contributions to this mission. It is always good to have friends at our side. But for the United States to be withdrawing our unique offensive capabilities at this time sends the exact wrong signal, both to our coalition partners as well as to the Qaddafi regime -- especially to those Libyan officials whom we are trying to compel to break with Qaddafi.

"I need not remind our witnesses that the purpose of using military force is to achieve policy goals. But in this case, not only are our military means out of alignment with our desired end of Qaddafi leaving power; we are now effectively stopping our strike missions altogether -- without having accomplished our goal.

"Perhaps the Qaddafi regime will crack tomorrow. I was encouraged to see that his foreign minister has defected. So maybe this will all be over soon. I hope so. But hope is not a strategy, and it certainly does not degrade armored units. Bad weather yesterday hampered our ability to fly strike sorties, and Qaddafi's forces made considerable gains on the ground. They are adapting to our tactics. So why would we do anything now that makes it harder and riskier to achieve U.S. policy?

"Let's be honest with the American people, and with ourselves: We are not neutral in this fight. We have intervened in Libya. We want Qaddafi to leave power. And we want the Libyan opposition to succeed. At this time, we should be taking every necessary and appropriate action, short of committing ground troops, to achieve our goal as quickly as possible -- and we certainly should not be withdrawing assets that make it more difficult to accomplish our objective.

"We cannot afford to assume that time is on our side against Qaddafi -- that sooner or later, maybe weeks, maybe months, or maybe even years, sanctions plus a no-fly zone will inevitably force Qaddafi from power. That is a dangerous assumption. We made a similar assumption after the first Gulf War, and 12 years later, we still had sanctions, we still had a no-fly zone, but Saddam Hussein was still in power, still threatening the world, and still brutalizing the Iraqi people.

"A long and bloody stalemate was a terrible outcome in Iraq before, and it is neither acceptable nor sustainable in Libya now. If Qaddafi remains in power, wounded and angry, he will only be more of a threat to the world and to the Libyan people. We cannot say that we averted a mass atrocity in Benghazi only to accept one in Misrata or some other city. That is not success. And the longer this drags on, the more likely it is. The greater the risk that the balance of power on the ground may shift toward Qaddafi, or that some tragic event could fracture our coalition, which may be hard enough as it is to hold together over a prolonged period of time.

"I know the U.S. military has a heavy load on its back right now, and our men and women in uniform are doing everything that we ask of them with their unique honor and effectiveness. But we must not fail in Libya, and I say this as someone who is familiar with the consequences of a lost conflict.

"We did not seek this military operation in Libya, but we were right to intervene. We have to deal with the world as it is, and if the demands of our great power are truly taxing our supply of it, then we need to have a debate about increasing the size and capabilities of our force, not taking decisions that increase the risk of failing in our mission in a country that is now at the center of the most consequential geopolitical opening since the fall of the Berlin Wall: The democratic awakening of the broader Middle East and North Africa. That is why Libya matters, and that is why now, together with our allies, we must be doing what is necessary, not as little as possible, to ensure that we accomplish our objective."

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