Lawmakers concerned about U.S. efforts in Libya

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 3:52 PM

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least a few U.S. lawmakers say President Barack Obama should consult with Congress before committing any U.S. troops to support a U.N.-backed demand for a ceasefire in Libya.

"It is imperative that members of Congress, as the direct representatives of our constituents, have the opportunity to weigh in before decisions are made," said Representative John Larson, a member of the Democratic leadership.

Larson made the comments in a statement on Friday shortly after Obama set terms of Washington's limited involvement to protect civilians in Muammar Gaddafi's Libya.

Obama said the United States would work with its international partners to enforce U.N. demands for a ceasefire, but promised no U.S. ground troops would be deployed in the North African country.

Still, just the prospect that U.S. troops, already engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, could get embroiled in another conflict makes many members of Congress nervous.

Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said Congress must approve any U.S. military action in Libya.

"The president has an obligation under the Constitution to seek the approval of Congress for any use of military force unless there is an imminent threat to the United States or its allies," Nadler said.

While others may dispute if Libya poses such a threat, Congress will have to approve any funds for U.S. action in Libya. And that could be difficult given the push to cut the U.S. deficit, due to reach a record $1.65 trillion this year.

Still, a number of lawmakers have urged that the U.S. help enforce an internationally backed "no fly zone" over Libya.

Senator Richard Lugar, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, has opposed the idea, citing the risks and the costs.

Lugar has also said that if the administration wants to participate in enforcing a "no fly zone," it should first seek a congressional declaration of war against Libya. "That would allow for a full congressional debate," he said on Thursday.

Lugar was among those who attended a private briefing that Obama gave on Friday to congressional leaders. He issued no statement afterward.

Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, participated in the briefing and afterward voiced support for the president.

"I agree with the steps the administration has put together to deal with this. I thought this was the right course of action for several national security issues," Rogers said.

A Senate aide said Obama told congressional leaders that U.S. efforts in Libya would focus on diplomatic rather than military.

"We will be watching to see if that line is crossed," the aide said, asking not to be identified by name.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: "I commend the president for his leadership and prudence."

(Additional reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Xavier Briand)