Fighting for Florida
| Jun 23 2011
We're engaged now whether we like it or not, and the only acceptable outcome is the end of the anti-American dictatorship
The deepening confrontation between the White House and Congress over Libya is both counterproductive and unnecessary. Whatever one thinks about the constitutional questions surrounding the War Powers Resolution, or the wisdom of the original decision to intervene in Libya three months ago, the strategic reality is that our nation is now engaged in a fight. It will either end in the demise of a brutal anti-American dictator, or in his victory over us and our allies. The latter would be an extremely harmful outcome for the U.S.
For this reason, we have an unequivocal national interest in ensuring Moammar Gadhafi's regime is defeated as quickly as possible. To guarantee the mission's success, it is vital that the U.S. officially recognize the Transitional National Council, provide additional resources to support the council, and intensify strike operations to target the Gadhafi regime.
Yet rather than push the Obama administration to do what is necessary to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion, members of Congress are pushing to restrict our military campaign. If we withdraw from our air war over Libya, it will lengthen the conflict, increase its cost to American taxpayers, and raise doubts about U.S. leadership among friends and foes alike.
If the U.S. were to withdraw from operations against the regime in Tripoli, the coalition would quickly unravel. Gadhafi would emerge triumphant, even more dangerous and determined to seek his revenge through terrorism against the countries in NATO and the Arab League that tried and failed to overthrow him. U.S. withdrawal would also mean a bloodbath inside Libya, as Gadhafi unleashes unspeakable horrors against the Libyan people who sought their freedom. And it would have ripple effects across the Middle East: Pro-democracy movements from Iran to Syria would conclude that the U.S. had abandoned them, and dictators would be emboldened.
American disengagement would also inflict irreparable damage on the NATO alliance, a pillar of U.S. security in which we have a vital national interest. Having walked out on our European allies in the middle of a battle, we can expect them to do the same to us in Afghanistan.
Some may claim the current congressional proposals to curtail operations in Libya are largely symbolic. Since the proposals are unlikely to become law, their backers insist they are simply intended to "send a message" to the White House.
The problem is that these measures also send a message to Gadhafi and those around him. That message? The coalition is breaking and his regime might yet persevere. Although we know this is not the intent of our colleagues' actions, it risks being their effect.
There is a better way forward. For those on Capitol Hill who think the president requires congressional authorization to continue operations in Libya, there is a simple solution: Congress can and should pass a resolution explicitly backing these activities. It is precisely for this reason that we support a Senate resolution, put forward by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), to do this.
We share the frustration of those who argue that the Obama administration has not done an adequate job making a public case for our intervention and its objectives. Instead of denying we are engaged in "hostilities" (we are) or that the aim of our military operations is "regime change" (it is), the White House owes Congress and the American people a better explanation of why Libya is in our national security interest and why we and our allies must win the fight there. Here, too, however, our job in Congress is to push the administration to do a better job explaining our war effort in Libya—not to undermine or weaken it. Members of Congress owe the White House the time and space to make that case.
The cruel irony is that these congressional efforts take place just as the tide in Libya appears to be turning against Gadhafi. In recent weeks, the moderate, pro-American opposition in Benghazi has succeeded in expanding the territory under its control, breaking the siege laid by regime forces on Misrata, the country's third largest city. At the same time, the Gadhafi regime has been shaken by further defections and collapsing international support.
At this critical hour, both our values and our interests demand that we stand fast. Rather than abandoning the cause of freedom in Libya and throwing a lifeline to a vicious dictator—one who has American blood on his hands—we should push toward the only acceptable outcome: the removal of the Gadhafi regime and, with it, the opportunity for the Libyan people to build a free and democratic society.
Mr. Lieberman is an Independent Democratic senator from Connecticut. Mr. Rubio is a Republican senator from Florida. You can also read the op-ed here.