WASHINGTON–Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation voiced deeply divergent views about the U.S. military role in Libya, as a fierce campaign against Col. Muammar el-Quaddafi’s forces continued to unfold.
Some Democrats raised sharp questions about the scope of U.S. involvement in the military effort, as well as concerns about the White House’s lack of consultation with Congress.
“It seems like mission creep has occurred in record time,” said Rep. Joseph Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut’s 2nd District and a top member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Courtney said he was okay with the plan as initially articulated by President Barack Obama on Friday, which “was that the U.S. would be involved in a supportive role to help enforce a multilateral U.N. resolution with our European allies.”
But “the first 48 to 72 hours don’t look like a supportive role,” Courtney said, noting that National Guard troops have been activated and the Pentagon spent $100 million on the Libya strikes in the first day alone.
“This just makes me very uncomfortable in terms of how quickly it seems to have enlarged,” he said. Congress, currently on a one-week recess, should be called back into session so lawmakers can get answers from top Executive Branch officials about the unfolding situation, Courtney said.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, also said he had “deep concerns” about the U.S. involvement.
“I understand the gravity of the situation. I understand what a thug and a tyrant Quaddafi is… But this comes ony a week after Sec. Gates was very public, as were memers of the Pentagon, in warning against even a no-fly zone, in terms of the ramifications,” Larson said, referring to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Like Courtney, Larson said he had a host of questions for White House officials: “Were our vital interests threatened or is this a civil war?” he asked. “What is our mission?”
Larson said he’s most concerned about a potential ground war. “While the president has been very clear that this is not their intention, that wasn’t the intention when we sent advisors into Vietnam either,” he said.
Over the weekend, Larson, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, convened a conference call for his colleagues to discuss the situation in Libya. He said there was broad consensus among House Democrats of the need for an official congressional briefing. There was “a great deal of skepticism about the time, the mission, the purpose,” he said.
Similarly, Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, said in a statement that he supports U.S. engagement “to avert human disaster, but we need to be careful about engaging in a protracted struggle that forces us to pick sides in an emerging civil war.”
Murphy, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the White House needed to provide lawmakers with more details about the mission and its cost. “Ultimately, the President has an obligation to bring Congress a detailed plan with specific goals and cost estimates if he is going to do more than provide support to a limited international mission,” he said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, was traveling Monday on a congressionally-sponsored trip to Italy, led by Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. But DeLauro’s spokeswoman released a statement outlining qualified support–for a “limited” military campaign with a “focused and targeted mission.”
“I look forward to learning more about the mission in my meetings this week in Italy with the brave men and women of our armed forces,” DeLauro said, referring to scheduled meetings with U.S. troops and military officials stationed in Italy. She added that she expects “continued consultation with Congress by the Administration on implementation of the no-fly zone and ensuring that the United States is engaged in a focused and targeted mission with an achievable end.”
Others offered more full-throated support.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and defense hawk, said he fully backed the military action and called on the Obama Administration and its allies to go further by ousting Quaddafi.
“I know we’re not trying to kill him now, but this has to end with him gone,” Lieberman said in an interview with WTIC on Monday. Lieberman was an early and vocal advocate of establishing “no-fly zone” around Libyan airspace, as a way to prevent Quaddafi from unleashing air strikes against the protestors trying to topple him.
Lieberman said the U.S. and its European allies took too long to act, allowing Quaddafi to dig in. “That time helped him every day while the world refused to make the decision,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday. “I think earlier on, maybe a no-fly zone could have done it.”
Now, “I think we’ve got to be ready for a longer battle to get him out of there,” said Lieberman, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Once the president of the United States says, as President Obama did, that Quaddafi must go, if we don’t work with our allies to make sure Quaddafi does go, America’s credibility and prestige suffers all over the world.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, who also sits on the Armed Services panel, also offered support for the U.S. role in Libya, but he did not address the question of whether Quaddafi should be toppled.
“President Obama has outlined prudent, decisive action–with limited scope and duration–that we are undertaking along with our NATO allies,” Blumenthal in a statement. “Muammar Qaddafi has lost all legitimate claim to power through the brutal use of force on his own people, and I am confident that this intervention, which, importantly, was requested by the Arab League and supported strongly by the UN, will bring an end to the violence in Libya.”
Courtney said he would be thrilled to see Quaddafi fall as a result of internal and external political pressure. But a military ouster, he noted, was not part of the resolution approved by the United Nations, and it could be dicey for the U.S. and Europe to force him out.
“What we’re seeing is something that really does start to veer into exactly the type of issues that Sec. Gates was warning about,” Courtney said. The DOD chief argued against U.S. action, fearing that it would be perceived as a third U.S. military intervention in a Muslim country and that extremist elements in Libya could emerge to fill the vacuum if Quaddafi is removed.
“I really would like the Pentagon to walk us through this, in terms of how this is being organized and where is the U.S. in the mix,” Courtney said. “So you stop Quaddafi’s army from advancing, but what’s next? What’s the plan?”
The lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, Courtney said, “should hopefully be the most sobering for everyone-these operations don’t end that cleanly.”
The Administration should be talking to the American public and Congress “about what is the end game,” he said. “But you can’t do that when [Washington] is a ghost town,” adding that House Speaker John Boehner should call lawmakers back into session.