Pentagon concerned about Libya vote in House

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 02, 2011 12:58 PM
Pentagon concerned about Libya vote in House

By David Alexander

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Approval of a resolution in the House of Representatives directing President Barack Obama to withdraw from NATO operations against Libya would send an "unhelpful message of disunity" to allies and foes alike, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said that "once military forces are committed, such actions by Congress can have significant consequences," particularly on relations with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"It sends an unhelpful message of disunity and uncertainty to our troops, our allies and, most importantly, the Gaddafi regime," Morrell said in a statement in Singapore, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived Thursday to attend a security dialogue with Asian allies.

The Pentagon reaction came after the Republican-led House on Wednesday delayed a vote on the resolution, sponsored by Democrat Dennis Kucinich, so lawmakers would have more time to weigh their options on the Libya conflict.

NATO is leading the intervention in Libya with a U.S. contribution but there are no U.S. troops on the ground there.

The operation aims to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the protection of Libyan civilians from attacks by Gaddafi's forces, which are fighting rebels trying to oust the long-time leader.

The U.S. role has been controversial in Congress since Obama notified lawmakers on March 21 that he had ordered the intervention as part of a multinational coalition conducting air strikes to shield civilians.

Kucinich's measure would invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution to direct Obama to stop the U.S. participation in the war. Kucinich says Obama violated the part of the law that prohibits U.S. armed forces from being involved in military actions for more than 60 days without congressional authorization.

Kucinich suggested the vote was dropped because the measure might have passed, which would have confirmed that most of the lawmakers want the United States out of the Libyan conflict.

Last week, the House passed two amendments to a defense bill pushing back against U.S. involvement in Libya, including one prohibiting the use of U.S. ground troops in the North African nation.

Morrell said the Pentagon understood congressional concerns about the intervention but noted that NATO had asked the United States, as a key member of the alliance, to provide support, "just like we have asked them over the years to support difficult operations in Afghanistan."

House Speaker John Boehner told a news conference on Thursday the Kucinich resolution probably would be dealt with on Friday after Republicans meet to talk about Libya.

"We'll see what our members have to say, but I expect that this issue will be resolved tomorrow," he said. Asked if some alternative proposals might also be on the floor, he said, "we're going to have a conversation with our members today and we'll see what they have to say about it."

Boehner said that with the budget deficit at $1.4 trillion and a national debt over $14 trillion, lawmakers were concerned about war spending and didn't understand what much of it is for because the president has not articulated his goals.

"I think there's a lot of concern given the budget deficit, given our debt. I think every penny that the Congress spends is getting a lot more scrutiny," Boehner said.

"Members are a bit weary about the amount of money we've spent in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and that we're spending in Libya, and as a result, really are wondering what's our vital national security interests there," he added.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; editing by Michael Roddy)