Will Congress Stand Together on Libya?

Jake Wilson /

After backpedaling on debating S. Res. 194, a resolution on the use of U.S. military force and operations in Libya, Senator John Kerry (D–MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has finally decided to hold a meeting this Thursday to mark up the resolution.

The House of Representatives took the lead two weeks ago by passing a resolution prohibiting ground troops and demanding more details on U.S. operations in Libya. While the resolution is nonbinding, it did increase the pressure on the Senate to follow suit, especially since the resolution was supported by 45 Democrats. The White House claims, however, that it will “endeavor to answer” all questions about the intervention, but that promise remains unkept.

Congress needs to insist that the Obama Administration engage with lawmakers and reach an agreement on a strategy in Libya. But time is running out as Congressional members become increasingly agitated by the Administration’s lack of strategy and engagement. According to Heritage’s James Carafano, “More and more lawmakers seem to coming to the opinion that the president’s Libyan ‘strategy’ is little more than hope—and they don’t like it.”

The White House ought to be held responsible for not consulting Congress from the outset of this affair. American forces should be used only to protect vital national interests in concert with a clearly defined strategy. After 10 weeks, both of those standards remain unmet. But since the U.S. is involved, Congress should be wary of invoking the withdrawal provision of the War Powers Resolution, which would bring unconstitutional constraints on President Obama. Likewise, the U.S. should continue to support its allies who are fighting in harm’s way.

Towards this purpose, Carafano proposes the following four steps:

1.)    Rebuke the President for failing to adequately consult Congress on the Libyan intervention;

2.)    Demand that the President clarify the intent and scope of U.S. operations and propose a suitable, feasible, and acceptable path forward;

3.)    Consider withholding funds for operations in the future if, after careful consideration, a majority of Congress concludes that ongoing operations are not in U.S. interests; and

4.)    Weigh carefully any actions for how they may impact on the safety of allied forces.

As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee debates a resolution on Libya this week, it ought to keep these suggestions in mind. House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) has provided an example in leadership. The question now is whether the Senate will follow Boehner’s example and demonstrate real leadership to the American people.

Jake Wilson is in the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm