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Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Military Intervention in Libya


Location: Washington, DC

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) chaired a hearing this afternoon to discuss the way forward on Libya.

Full text of Chairman Kerry's statement as prepared:

Thank you all for coming this afternoon. We are here today to discuss the situation in Libya and we are pleased to have Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg with us. Jim, I understand that you will be leaving government to return to academia as dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. We all wish you well and I want to thank you for your outstanding government service.

Before we begin, I'd like to remind my colleagues on the Committee that this is an open hearing. We must avoid any questions that reveal information we learned in yesterday's classified briefing. Thank you.

Over the last nine days, the United States, acting as part of a robust international coalition, has averted a humanitarian catastrophe in Libya and sent a strong message to the region. Many people have expressed reservations about this intervention. We all welcome the debate. What I hope we can do here this afternoon is contribute to that debate by addressing some important questions:

Where do we go from here in Libya? What happens if we degrade Qaddafi's military resources but the opposition cannot oust him? Who are the Libyan opposition? What diplomatic and economic tools can we use to pressure Qaddafi to relinquish his illegitimate grip on power? And if he is ousted, what comes next?

These are tough questions. We are all eager to hear what Deputy Secretary Steinberg has to say about how we get from the missiles and bombs to stability and peace in Libya.

My views are well known. I have laid out what I see as the justifications for this military intervention and I don't need to repeat the details now. But let me hit what I think are the key points that frame the issue.

First, we do have strategic interests at stake in Libya. What we do as part of this international coalition reverberates throughout North Africa and the Middle East, a region where extremism has thrived and attacks against Western interests have been incubated.

By supporting the Libyan opposition, we give them a fighting chance to oust a dictator with a history of terrorism and the blood of Americans on his hands. At the same time, we keep alive the hopes of reformers across the Arab world. We also counter the violent extremism of Al Qaeda and like-minded groups. And we encourage a new generation of Arabs to pursue dignity and democracy and we create the opportunity for a new relationship with the people of the greater Middle East.

These are worthy goals and by accomplishing them we advance our values and protect our interests.

Second, our actions send a critical signal to other leaders. If Qaddafi had been successful in using tanks and aircraft to suppress the aspirations of the Libyan people, it would have been a tragedy not just for Libyans. It would have been a setback for the dreams unfolding across the entire region. Legitimate demands of peaceful protesters should never be met with bullets, and we need to send that message clearly and loudly to adversaries and allies alike.

Violence against peaceful protesters is unacceptable -- whether in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen or anyplace else -- and betrays the values that we, as Americans, respect and that people everywhere should share.

I am particularly concerned about the violence against protesters in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad did not use his speech yesterday to promise concrete reforms, including lifting the emergency law. With large protests scheduled for tomorrow, it is essential that his government refrain from using violence against its own people.

Some have asked, why Libya and not other humanitarian situations? The truth is that we must weigh our ideals, our interests and our capabilities in each case and then decide where and how to become involved. Every potential conflict is unique. In the case of Libya, where the opposition and the Arab League called for our help, I think the scales tipped heavily in favor of the limited military intervention.

Finally, success is not guaranteed. Even if more senior officials like Mousa Kousa, the foreign minister and once the feared chief of intelligence, defect, Qaddafi may hang on for some time. Even after the opposition ousts Qaddafi, which I am confident will occur at some point, the country will face a long and challenging road to build a more democratic and stable society. But saving lives in Libya is the least we can do to give a new generation of Arabs the chance to change the history of the region.

I understand that some of my colleagues have concerns about whether there has been sufficient consultation with Congress. There is an important constitutional question here, but it is not a new question. The truth is, presidents -- both Democratic and Republican -- have authorized limited military action in the last three decades without congressional authorization in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo.

The debate is healthy. But I want to emphasize that the president and other administration officials engaged in advance discussions with congressional leaders and the chairmen and ranking members of the key Committees, including this one. They have held briefings for all members as recently as yesterday. I trust that the president will continue these consultations and expand them as necessary. Maintaining congressional support for a military intervention should be a key consideration for any president, and that is no different here.

Deputy Secretary Steinberg, once again, welcome. I look forward to your testimony.

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