Kerry, Levin Defend Timing and Scope of Libya Response

Posted March 20, 2011 at 11:04am

Leading Senate Democrats on Sunday defended President Barack Obama’s approach to Libya and made clear that U.S. military action would be strictly limited to protecting civilians and not target Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” from Cairo, described the activities of U.S. military forces in Libya as a “humanitarian initiative” that was wholly unconcerned with removing Gaddafi from power.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said the Obama administration’s cautious and deliberate strategy for Libya has the support of the military brass and would be well-received on Capitol Hill.

“One of the reasons I predict there will be strong bipartisan support in the Congress for the president’s decision is because it is a limited mission — no boots on the ground — and because he has done this with great caution, with great care, and I saw that in person in the White House on Friday,” said the Michigan Democrat, who appeared with Kerry on “Meet the Press.” “One of the things I know our military were very concerned about was that there could be mission creep. They don’t have that concern anymore because this mission has been very carefully limited.”

“The goal of this mission is not to get rid of Gaddafi,” Kerry added. “That’s not what the United Nations licensed, and I would not call it going to war. This is a very limited operation that is geared to save lives. … It is not geared to try to get rid of Gaddafi, he has not been targeted.”

Senate Republicans were supportive of the mission as well, but they continued to question the Obama administration’s delay in acting and wondered whether adequate thought had been given to what comes next.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who also appeared on “Meet the Press,” said the White House should have implemented a no-fly zone over Libya several weeks ago, when Kerry and Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) first called for such action.

“I’m supportive of that at this point,” Sessions said. “I do think, however, the no-fly zone as it’s being executed has proven Sen. Kerry and Sen. McCain, in their call for a no-fly zone, correct. They did that several weeks ago, and certainly had it been done several weeks ago we’d be in better shape than we are today.”

Sessions added: “We could end up with the rebels having lost momentum and creating a prolonged stalemate in which Libya and the people of Libya are subjected to violence for months and maybe even longer than that. I can’t quite see where we are heading, I can’t see exactly where the endgame is. … Maybe this will be successful, but I can’t see the certainty of it for sure.”

Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) promoted making a declaration of war by Congress and laying out a plan with a clear mission, although other Republicans ­­— including Sessions and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who appeared on “Fox News Sunday” — said Obama was within his authority as commander in chief to launch the military action currently under way.

“That’s especially important in this case because the mission right now is based, as the admiral said, on trying to relieve the civilians in Libya from a tyrant, from trying to make certain the cruelties, the murder and what have you doesn’t continue. But how do you do that?” Lugar said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Lugar, echoing some of the concerns voiced by other Republicans on Sunday morning, pointed out that other Middle Eastern nations have also attacked civilian uprisings, and the United States could run the risk of becoming involved in those conflicts as well.

“We had better get this straight from the beginning, or there’s going to be a situation in which war lingers on, country after country, situation after situation, all of them on a humane basis, saving people,” he said.

Both Kerry and Levin dismissed those concerns.

“We’re not policing Libya,” Kerry said. “We are engaged in a humanitarian initiative to prevent the slaughter of innocent people, to prevent a dictator from dragging people out of hospital beds and they disappear.”

“What you’re missing here,” Levin added, “is this is the world that has made a decision. … It is not just we the United States. The president has taken the time to put the world community together.”