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It’s the Senate’s turn to beat up on Obama’s Libya intervention

Following the House of Representatives’ stunning rebuke of the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya last Friday, the Senate will weigh in tomorrow with a host of new proposed restrictions on President Barack Obama‘s war authorities. The House voted overwhelmingly Friday not to authorize the Libya intervention and then narrowly rejected a measure that would have ...

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Following the House of Representatives' stunning rebuke of the Obama administration's intervention in Libya last Friday, the Senate will weigh in tomorrow with a host of new proposed restrictions on President Barack Obama's war authorities.

The House voted overwhelmingly Friday not to authorize the Libya intervention and then narrowly rejected a measure that would have cut off most of the funding for the mission. A majority of lawmakers wanted to cut off the funds for Libya, but the vote failed because many congressmen believed that the bill, which left some of the funding in place, amounted to a "back door authorization" for the war.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow with State Department Counselor Harold Koh to examine the administration's claim that the Libya war does not amount to "hostilities," and therefore does not require congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution.

Following the House of Representatives’ stunning rebuke of the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya last Friday, the Senate will weigh in tomorrow with a host of new proposed restrictions on President Barack Obama‘s war authorities.

The House voted overwhelmingly Friday not to authorize the Libya intervention and then narrowly rejected a measure that would have cut off most of the funding for the mission. A majority of lawmakers wanted to cut off the funds for Libya, but the vote failed because many congressmen believed that the bill, which left some of the funding in place, amounted to a "back door authorization" for the war.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow with State Department Counselor Harold Koh to examine the administration’s claim that the Libya war does not amount to "hostilities," and therefore does not require congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution.

After the hearing, the committee will hold a business meeting to consider a bill by Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would authorize the Libya intervention. The committee could very well approve the bill, but not before several changes are made through amendments, most of them coming from ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).

"In this case, President Obama made a deliberate decision not to seek a Congressional authorization of his action, either before it commenced or during the last three months. This was a fundamental failure of leadership that placed expedience above Constitutional responsibility," Lugar will say at Tuesday’s hearing, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Cable.

"At the outset of the conflict, the President asserted that U.S. military operations in Libya would be ‘limited in their nature, duration, and scope.’ On this basis, the administration asserted that the actions did not require a declaration of war. Three months later, these assurances ring hollow," Lugar will say. "American and coalition military activities have expanded to an all but declared campaign to drive [Col. Muammar al] Qaddafi from power. The administration is unable to specify any applicable limits to the duration of the operations. And the scope has grown from efforts to protect civilians under imminent threat to obliterating Libya’s military arsenal, command and control structure, and leadership apparatus." 

Expect Lugar and other senators to challenge Koh on evidence that he was previously a staunch critic of granting the president unilateral war-making authority before joining the Obama administration. Koh reportedly supported the argument that the Libya intervention fell short of "hostilities" during the intra-administration debate on the topic.

When the committee does take up the Kerry-McCain resolution, Lugar will lead off with five amendmentsto limit the funds to only truly supportive functions like refueling and intelligence support, prevent any funding for ground troops, require the president to report every 60 days on the costs and progress of the Libya war, make sure it’s clear Congress won’t pay for reconstruction, and finally, to establish that it’s the Senate’s view that the Libya war does include "hostilities" and does fall under the War Powers Resolution. 

Some or all of these could be approved by the committee, but the last one is almost sure to pass, given widespread congressional rejection of the administration’s claim that legislative authorization is not required.

"You’ll see overall consensus that their finding on a lack of ‘hostilities’ doesn’t stand," Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke told The Cable. "The overall mood is that you have to have authorization, and the question then is: Do enough Democrats feel comfortable with the other restrictions?" 

Inside the committee, three Democrats have expressed reservations about the Libya war and could join with Republicans to restrict the president’s authorities: Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and new committee member Richard Durbin (D-IL).

Webb said on Sunday’s Meet the Press that he would support Lugar’s amendments, and he criticized the Libya mission harshly.

"The president did not come to the Congress, and the reasons that he used for going in defy historical precedent," Webb said. "We weren’t under attack, we weren’t under an imminent attack, we weren’t honoring treaty commitments, we weren’t rescuing Americans. So, on the one hand, there’s a very serious issue of precedent here."

Boxer pressed Kerry during a back and forth on the Senate floor on June 22, pushing him to confirm that the Libya resolution would not authorize ground troops and would expire in one year. Durbin supports the Kerry-McCain resolution but does not agree with the administration’s argument that congressional authorization is unnecessary.

There are several other amendments expected Tuesday. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has two amendments: one that would require the administration to seek reimbursement of the expenses of the mission from frozen Libyan assets and one that would require the administration to brief Congress every 15 days. Corker wants the authorization for the Libya war to expire after 6 months, as opposed to the 12 months granted under the Kerry-McCain measure.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will offer an amendment that would call for further action on the investigation of the bombing of Pan Am 103, which was conducted by members of the Qaddafi regime. Going against the grain, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will offer three amendments: to require the president to consult Congress before deploying ground troops,  use the frozen assets to pay for U.S. operations, and clarify that Qaddafi’s removal is the official policy of the U.S.

If and when SFRC finally approves the Kerry-McCain resolution to authorize the Libya war, that will mark the end of the Libya debate in the Senate for a while. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is not expected to begin the full Senate floor debate until after the July 4 recess.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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