Obama: Allies Will Soon Take Control of Libyan Campaign

Posted:
03/22/11
Facing criticism for taking military action in Libya without first formally consulting Congress, President Obama said Tuesday he is certain U.S. control over the operation would soon be transferred to the allies, news agencies reported.

"I have absolutely no doubt that we will be able to transfer control of this operation to an international coalition," Obama said at a press conference in San Salvador with El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Bloomberg reported.

Members of NATO are meeting to establish a command structure, which will be done "over the next several days," he said.

Aboard Air Force One, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters, "What we're saying right now is that NATO has a key role to play here."

According to Bloomberg, "the allies are considering a proposal, backed by France, to create a political steering committee that would oversee military operations using NATO's command structure."

In Moscow, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he expected that "significant military fighting" in Libya "should recede in the next few days."

"I don't want to get in front of the diplomacy that is going on, but I still think a transfer within a few days is likely," Gates said. "This command-and-control business is complicated, and we haven't done something like this kind of on the fly before. So it's not surprising to me that it would take a few days to get it all sorted out," The Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, debate in Washington over the U.S. role heated up even before reports Tuesday that a U.S. warplane patrolling Libyan air space had crashed.

Four liberal House Democrats -- Reps. Barbara Lee, Mike Honda, and Lynn Woolsey, all of California, and Raul Grijalva or Arizona -- called on the president to end the U.S. involvement in the Libyan campaign, Politico said.

"The decision for the United States to engage militarily in Libya is one that should have been debated and approved by Congress," the four lawmakers said in their statement. "We have serious concerns about whether or not an effective and thorough case for military intervention in Libya was made. Too many questions remain. What is our responsibility now? Do we own the situation in Libya and for how long? Where does this dramatic acceleration of military intervention end?"

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a conservative member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama's "unilateral choice" to join a U.N.-backed coalition establishing a no-fly zone "is an affront to our Constitution," The Hill newspaper reported. The United States, Bartlett said, "does not have a king's army."

Meanwhile, a CBS News poll shows a full 50 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of Libya.

Since the intervention started Saturday, U.S. Navy warships have launched Tomahawk missiles at Libyan air defenses, while American warplanes have joined other coalition aircraft in attacking military installations and some Libyan ground troops.

A U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed late Monday near Benghazi, but its two crew members ejected and were rescued, the Washington Post and NPR said. Military officials said the plane apparently malfunctioned and was not shot down.

In the Senate, Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a White House ally on some issues, said Congress should have a full debate on the objectives and costs of the U.S. role in the attacks. And Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a moderate, said, "This isn't the way the system is supposed to work."

But earlier this month, Defense Secretary Gates warned pro-intervention lawmakers that setting up a no-fly zone was a major undertaking that would have to begin with attacks on Moammar Gadhafi's anti-aircraft systems.

Traveling with the president in Santiago, Chile on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted Obama had consulted personally with congressional leaders on the Libyan situation. And last Saturday, Carney said Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough phoned top lawmakers "to inform them of the imminent action" about to happen. "We take very seriously the need to consult with Congress and we have been doing that," Carney said.

Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war. But the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, has authority to take military action in emergencies or in the face of threats to national security.

For Rep. Dennis Kucinich, that's not enough to justify what the U.S. has done in Libya. The liberal lawmaker called it "an act of war" and said Congress should be called back from a spring recess to decide whether to continue the military action.

On the website Raw Story, Kucinich (D-Ohio) went further, calling Obama's move in Libya "an impeachable offense." The president "didn't have congressional authorization; he has gone against the Constitution, and that's got to be said," Kucinich maintained.

Kucinich noted that then-Sen. Obama argued in 2007 that "the president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

Kucinich, who has twice run for president as an anti-war candidate, said he was not actually proposing impeachment proceedings but only "raising the question" as to whether grounds exist. In any event, calls for a president's impeachment -- often coming from the far left or the far right on Capitol Hill -- are not unusual. Kucinich himself sought to initiate an impeachment article against President George W. Bush in 2008, but then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn't go along with it.