President Barack Obama came under pressure from Republicans on Wednesday to outline the U.S. goals in Libya, where American aircraft and warships are part of an international campaign enforcing a no-fly zone, as lawmakers sought to protect Congress' constitutional role in military decisions.
In a letter to the White House, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said while he respected Obama's authority as commander in chief, he complained that the president ordered the military into combat without clearly describing the mission and U.S. role for the American people and Congress. Boehner insisted that certain questions be answered on U.S. strategy, the cost of the operation, the continued support of coalition partners and whether it was acceptable for Gadhafi to remain in power after the military effort is over.
"Because of the conflicting messages from the administration and our coalition partners, there is a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission, what our national security interests are and how it fits into our overarching policy for the Middle East," Boehner wrote. "The American people deserve answers to these questions. And all of these concerns point to a fundamental question: What is your benchmark for success in Libya?"
Boehner said he hopes the president will provide a clear and robust assessment of the mission and how it will be achieved. The letter was dispatched to the White House while Obama was en route home from a trip to Latin America that was overshadowed by events in Libya.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wasn't as pointed in her statement in which she said the no-fly zone prevented an imminent humanitarian crisis. But she added, "Decisions made in the days ahead are strengthened by our NATO partners' participation. U.S. participation is strengthened by the president's continued consultation with Congress."
Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One that the administration has consulted with Congress throughout the process.
"We consulted before we took military action and continue to brief Congress and believe it's very important to have a very close and important dialogue with Congress about what we're doing in Libya," Rhodes said.
Boehner's letter does not call for a vote in the House on the commitment of U.S. military resources, as some individual lawmakers have demanded. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, pointed out on Wednesday that under Senate rules any lawmaker could call for a vote on authorizing military force. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he expected strong bipartisan support for Obama. They made their comments in a conference call with reporters.
Separately, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, called for prompt hearings on Libya. "In my judgment, hearings on Libya are especially vital because the Obama administration did not consult meaningfully with Congress before initiating military operations," Lugar said.