The Cable

Rubio vs. Reid on Libya

A war of words has erupted over the war in Libya between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s newest and most vocal Republican, Marco Rubio (R-FL). The dispute started on Wednesday, when Rubio sent a letter to Reid regarding the forthcoming Senate resolution supporting President Barack Obama‘s decision to ...

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A war of words has erupted over the war in Libya between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s newest and most vocal Republican, Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The dispute started on Wednesday, when Rubio sent a letter to Reid regarding the forthcoming Senate resolution supporting President Barack Obama‘s decision to use force in Libya. In that letter, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged that any Libya resolution should include a clear statement that removing Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi from power is in the U.S. national interest, and that the Senate should authorize Obama to do so. Rubio also said the United States should recognize the Benghazi-based Interim Transitional National Council that represents the Libyan opposition, a step already taken by the French.

"As long as Qaddafi remains in power, he will be in a position to terrorize his own people and potentially the rest of the world," Rubio wrote. "The world is a better place when America is willing to lead. And American leadership is required now more than ever."

Of course, regime change is explicitly not covered in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the international intervention in Libya, and Obama made it clear in his March 28 speech that he would not use military force to oust Qaddafi.

But Reid spokesman Jon Summers decided to go a few steps further than Obama in an interview with the Washington Post, when he said that Rubio "seems oblivious to the troops’ lives his plan would put on the line."

"Moreover, he seems to have forgotten that the Libyan people have made it clear they don’t want foreign boots on the ground," Summers said.

Rubio couldn’t just let that go, and he fired off a response letter to Reid on Thursday, which stated, "My concern for the well-being of our troops is no less than yours. I am saddened you would suggest otherwise."

Reid’s office said in the interview that Rubio’s "rash suggestions could commit our troops irrevocably to a regime change and nation-building effort that could take months or years and cost billions of taxpayer dollars."

Rubio responded that the United States has already gone too far to stop now and the current mission to protect civilians is impossible as long as Qaddafi remains in power.

"The reality is that the U.S. has attacked a brutal dictator with a long history of brazen support for terrorism against Americans," Rubio said. "If he survives this international effort against him and remains in power, he will be emboldened and angry, and he will once again act against America’s interests."

These two arguments could very well frame the debate when the Senate eventually takes up a resolution to express Congress’s support for the war in Libya. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are working on a draft now.

McCain said he wants to make sure the resolution is made up of "language that can receive an overwhelming vote in the Senate. It would not be a good signal, otherwise."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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