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Congress Pushes for Vote on Libya Intervention

President Barack Obama works as his motorcade arrives at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., May 18, 2011. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House)

Washington – As the War Powers Act, which purportedly authorised U.S. President Barack Obama to wage war in Libya for 60 days without Congressional approval, expires Friday, experts here continue to question the strategic focus of the NATO-led operation, with pressure mounting from Capitol Hill on the Obama administration to lay out what its desired end game in Libya will be.

“[I]n Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people's call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed,” Obama said, summarising his rationale for the use of force in a speech about the region Thursday.

“Now, time is working against Gaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organised a legitimate and credible Interim Council. And when Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed,” Obama added.

Increasingly, voices from both Democratic and Republican parties have raised concerns about the strategy of U.S. involvement. Some have even called into question the constitutionality of such involvement.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich plans to introduce a bill next week in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on the use of force in Libya.

“President Obama violated the Constitution by pursuing war against Libya without a Constitutionally-required authorisation for the use of military force or declaration of war from Congress,” Kucinich said in a statement Thursday.

Similarly, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, raised a number of issues for the Obama administration in a statement last week.

“Extended engagements in military action abroad, and the costs and risks they entail, must be undertaken only with the full support of the American people,” Sen. Lugar's statement read. “If the Administration seeks to continue our military involvement in Libya, it is incumbent that they seek and secure Congressional authorization.”

According to the United Nations, two million civilians have been adversely affected by the ongoing conflict in Libya, and with as many as 800,000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries, U.N. officials asked for an additional 233 million dollars on Wednesday to cope with the growing humanitarian crisis there.

Having already surpassed the 750 million dollar mark – the projected total costs of U.S. involvement in Libya before the NATO operation began – officials at the U.S. Department of Defence now estimate that continued enforcement of the no-fly zone could drain upwards of 40 million dollars per month from U.S. government coffers.

But as Congressional debates over the president's authority to conduct the war ensue, some experts have criticised the decision to intervene in Libya in a broader context: whether or not the policy decisions that have led to the no-fly zone were based on a thorough consideration of its strategic goals, and the nature of Western involvement in Libya if a ceasefire could be agreed on or if Gaddafi were to step down.

“As with the invasion of Iraq, in short, the issue [in Libya] wasn't whether the West could eventually accomplish 'regime change' if it tried. Rather, the key questions revolved around whether it was in our overall interest to do so and whether the benefits would be worth the costs,” Stephen Walt wrote on his blog last week.

Some analysts argue that discussion of prolonging U.S. involvement in enforcement of the no-fly zone implies that the removal of Gaddafi is the primary goal.

“There was always from the beginning some confusion about what the goal was…but it clearly has become one of regime change,” Paul Pillar, former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, said during a Middle East Institute conference on Thursday.

James L. Jones, Obama's former national security advisor, echoed Pillar's assessment in a speech at the National Press Club on Monday.

“Strategically for the U.S., Libya is not on par with Egypt in terms of vital interests, but how this crisis is resolved and when it is resolved is of great importance to us, to NATO, whose success, despite a quite limited mandate, will ultimately be evaluated against the regime's survival or its collapse,” Jones said.

While Libyan rebel groups continue to fight forces loyal to Gaddafi, renewed debate over the international community's approach to mitigating the conflict – including whether to officially recognise Libya's Transitional National Council, encourage defections to erode support for Gaddafi, and whether to arm the rebels or expand the NATO mandate to leverage a ceasefire – remain as central questions for those advocating prolonged U.S. and European involvement.

“Our main issue is the recognition of the [Transitional National] Council. We believe recognition is very important to give the council credibility in the international community,” Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali, the representative to the U.S. for the council, said at the Middle East Institute conference.

“I'm very confident now than ever before that the revolution in Libya will win… As far as Gaddafi is there, this is the main danger,” Aujali added.

On Monday, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah Senoussi, in what some analysts believe will embolden Gaddafi's determination to fight.

As the Obama administration weighs its policy options in Libya, the realties between policymaking for those holding the office of president and running as a candidate for president remain in stark contrast.

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” then- presidential candidate Barack Obama said in December 2007.

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