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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. ENSIGN. Mr. President, I rise to speak in reaction to President Obama's speech this week outlining what he believes to be in our Nation's interest in Libya. Last week, while working in Nevada, many of my constituents asked what my thoughts were on the military action we have taken in Libya. My answer to them was simply that I did not believe the President had outlined a vital U.S.-American interest in our engagement in Libya, and that the United States cannot afford to be the police force of the world.

This week, with the President's address to the Nation, I had hoped I would hear something to change my mind or, better yet, something that would instill confidence about the President's decision, but, unfortunately, this address provided the American people with many more questions than answers. President Obama left me wondering why any vital U.S.-American interest in Libya would justify military action.

He said refugees would stream into Tunisia and Egypt, but we often aid refugees without F-15s. He said we needed to preserve the writ of the United Nations Security Council, but he did not explain why the safety of our men and women in uniform should ever be put at the service of that body. He said we needed to show dictators across the region that they cannot use violence to cling to power, but if President Obama's policy fails to get rid of Qadhafi, that is exactly the lesson they will learn.

The President left me wondering about the definition of "military success." He said our military mission is limited, but how do we know when we have hit our limit? Is it when Qadhafi poses no threat to civilians? Is it when all of Qadhafi's thugs are gone, or is it when Qadhafi steps down?

This week's address from President Obama makes it clear that we may be headed for another decade-long military operation in the Middle East. Our service men and women cannot afford to be engaged in another Middle East dispute; they are stretched thin enough as it is.

This weekend, Secretary of Defense Gates said, when asked about whether Libya is in our vital interest:

No, I don't think [Libya] is a vital interest for the United States. .....

So what are we doing? I understand the President may sincerely want to save lives in Libya, but our country cannot afford to be the police force for the rest of the world. We did not step in when there was genocide in Darfur. As a matter of fact, there is a story today which I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record.


Mr. ENSIGN. The headline reads:

Darfuries feel betrayed by Libya no-fly zone.

We didn't step in in Darfur. We also didn't help the people of Rwanda. The last time we did try to police a situation such as this was in Somalia, and we all know how that ended.

That is probably why we haven't intervened in the Ivory Coast, even though there are more than 1 million people who have fled their homes and hundreds of thousands have crossed into neighboring countries.

Other nations such as France wanted to take the lead on addressing the Libyan situation. I believe we should have allowed them to do so. The President's address made it clear that our military action in Libya is less about humanitarianism and more about realizing a multilateralist fantasy.

While Secretary Clinton has continued to refer to S. Res. 85 as the Senate's endorsement of the President's establishment of a no-fly zone, I would like to point out to the American people that this talking point is misleading. This is what she said:

The U.S. Senate called for a no-fly zone in a resolution that it passed, I think, on March the 1st, and that mission is on the brink of having been accomplished. And there was a lot of congressional support to do something.

This Senate resolution received the same amount of consideration that a bill to name a post office has. This legislation was hotlined. There was no debate allowed, no legislative language provided to consider. There was no vote. S. Res. 85 described a no-fly zone as a possible course of action for the U.N. Security Council's consideration. It did not instruct the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to take action, let alone authorize a military operation. Using the hotline process for this resolution as a congressional endorsement for the President's policy is simply not an adequate use of Congress's role in authorizing military action. The administration unilaterally developed, planned, and executed its no-fly zone policy. The President consulted with the United Nations, he consulted with NATO, he consulted with the Arab League, but he did not consult with the body that is mandated under the Constitution: the U.S. Congress. There was no congressional approval or oversight of this military commitment.

The Senate resolution simply does not authorize or endorse the use of force. It urges a multilateral body to consider a no-fly zone as a possible course of action. This is not the legal equivalent of an authorization to use force. This is not the political equivalent of that authorization. So what is it?

I believe it is a disrespectful checking of the box for congressional approval by the administration's unilateral action. As Secretary Gates has stated, there is not a vital interest for our Nation in Libya, which means now that we are engaged there, the United States is at risk of mission creep and the possibility of a "take two" of what happened in Somalia.

Before our military intervention, U.S. interests in Libya were minimal. Our intervention has overinflated our interests in Libya's civil war. If Qadhafi stays in power--and many believe he will--and continues to fire on innocent civilians, demands for U.S. military capabilities will go up. This sounds strikingly similar to what happened in Somalia. Furthermore, this engagement has explicitly announced our support for the rebel cause. Yet we don't even know who or what these rebels are or what their ideology is. President Obama's military strategy risks damaging our already shaky credibility in this unstable region of the world. Even with complete military success, President Obama's policy may appear to fail because he has disconnected military means--a no-fly zone--from his strategic ends--Qadhafi's removal.

The Obama administration has confused our priorities in the Middle East. Operations in Libya divert our focus from unstable situations in Syria, Yemen, and Iran, all of which are more important for U.S. interests. Operations in Libya muddle our interests and undermine our ability to lead across the region. If turmoil in Libya calls for a no-fly zone, are we prepared to make the same commitments in Syria and Iran, where we have far greater strategic interests? If not, what kind of message does this send to reformers in those countries?

Last year, when there was an uprising in Iran, the President basically said: Hands off. It is not in our interest. We can't do anything about it. What kind of a message does that send?

Some have argued that oil is the underlying reason for our engagement in Libya. Whether this is the case or not, the perception is there. Instead of lessening our dependence on dangerous foreign oil, this administration has steadfastly refused to allow the United States to tap into its own oil reserves.

In Alaska alone there are three places that would supply the United States with 65 years' worth of what we import from the Persian Gulf.

Unfortunately, as strongly as I believe in renewable energy, it is going to take us 30 to 40 years for renewable energy infrastructure to be up and running enough to start contributing significantly to our Nation's energy supply, which is why we need to act to get more oil, natural gas, and other types of American fossil fuels into our energy supply today.

I would argue that there is a vital U.S.-American interest to harvest our own energy or we risk engaging in a military conflict every time those in an unstable Middle East cannot get along.

This is absolutely a critical debate. There are legitimate differences on both sides of the debate, but this is a debate that Congress should be willing to have: whether the President should have consulted and whether this is in our vital U.S.-American interest to go forward.

Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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