Good afternoon, everybody. I just completed a call with my National Security Council on the situation in Libya. And earlier today, I spoke to Prime Minister Cameron about the extraordinary events taking place there. The situation is still very fluid. There remains a degree of uncertainty, and there are still regime elements who pose a threat.
But this much is clear: The Gadhafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people.
In just six months, the 42-year reign of Moammar Gadhafi has unraveled. Earlier this year, we were inspired by the peaceful protests that broke out across Libya. This basic and joyful longing for human freedom echoed the voices that we had heard all across the region, from Tunis to Cairo.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Monday that the first order of business for the new Libya government, after it secures control over the country, should be to hand over the man responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
"The world is about to be rid of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done," Romney said in a statement Monday.
Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the former head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Scotland in 2001. Qaddafi agreed to pay the Lockerbie victims about $2.7 billion in 2002 as part of a deal that saw Libya's gradual reintegration into the world community, and led to Qaddafi's regime being taken off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Megrahi was released under compassionate grounds in 2009, under the belief he was dying of cancer, with only months left to live. He is reportedly still alive. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Megrahi in September 2010 to investigate how the decision to release Megrahi was made, but no British officials agreed to testify.
Last month, Megrahi was spotted on video at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Tripoli.
It's not only Romney who has lamented the decision to release Megrahi, and called on the new Libyan government to transfer him back to international custody.
"The families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 have suffered so much
already, and the images of Megrahi at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Libya only add
salt to their wounds," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on July 27. "Parading one terrorist
out to support another is an affront to justice and further affirmation that
Megrahi was released from prison on false pretenses. We will continue to
fight for justice on behalf of the Pan Am 103 families."
In June, Lautenberg and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder to put the Megrahi issue at the top of the U.S. agenda when dealing with a new Libya government.
"While we recognize there are many critical foreign policy decisions to be made with regard to Libya at this extraordinary time, we ask that justice for the Lockerbie victims and their families remain a top priority and not be overlooked," they wrote.
Romney has been a critic of the Obama administration's approach to Libya, saying that the United States should lead on such international issues rather than playing second fiddle to European countries.
"America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak. We're following the French into Libya," he said in March. "I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world."
Romney supported the military intervention in Libya but criticized Obama for relying too much on multilateral organizations for legitimacy.
"[Obama] calls for the removal of Moammar Gadhafi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and United Nations," Romney said in March. "He's tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced."
In July, when the war appeared to be at a stalemate, Romney further criticized Obama for not explaining the endgame in Libya and for exceeding the mandate provided by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
"We approved the humanitarian mission as a people," he said. "We did not approve an expanded and muddled mission, which is what we see."
UPDATE: Gov. Rick Perry's campaign issued this statement on today's Libya news:
The crumbling of Muammar Ghadafi's reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration. The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.
Former Gov. John Huntsman's campaign sent out the following:
The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful -- as the whole world should be -- that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.
UPDATE #2: Menendez called for Megrahi to be expedited to the U.S. in a Monday afternoon statement sent to The Cable.
The Qaddafi reign of terror is ending and the TNC, as the legitmate government of Libya, must move quickly to embrace democratic reform. To that end the, TNC should extradite al-Megrahi to the United States to answer for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. There would be no better signal to the world that a new Libya believes in justice and has every intention to adhere to international law.
Now that the Libyan rebel movement, led by the Transitional National Council (TNC), appears to be taking over Tripoli, their need for access to the frozen billions of dollars of Qaddafi assets is even more urgent, the TNC's top representative in Washington told The Cable today.
Ali Aujali, the former ambassador for Qaddafi who defected in March and now serves as the charge d'affaires at the rebel-controlled embassy in Washington, said that the TNC's long struggle for control over the funds that were frozen by U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.S. executive orders must be overcome for the rebels to assert control in Tripoli.
"The immediate next step is to get Qaddafi, that's number one. Number two, we need money. The third thing is that TNC will move to Tripoli as soon as it's a secure place," Aujali said. "We need this money, because we need to supply food, we need medical treatment for our injured, we need to pay salaries, we need to run facilities."
For more than three weeks, the U.N. sanctions committee has been considering whether to unfreeze some of the estimated tens of billions of dollars in frozen Libya assets. But Aujali said it is the position of the TNC that it does not need the approval of the sanctions committee to access the funds.
"I don't think we need sanctions committee authorization because the TNC will inherit the regime," he said. The U.N. has not officially recognized the TNC as the government of Libya.
But don't expect the TNC to keep the institutions of the Qaddafi regime intact. Aujali said that the institutions of the Libya state were so corrupted and so controlled by the Qaddafi family that they are of little use in the new Libya.
"All the institutions are to serve Qaddafi and his Green Book. We need to build everything from zero: democratic institutions, civil society, government organizations. Everything was controlled by Qaddafi and his sons," he said.
While the exact schedule has not been set, Aujali's understanding is that, after the TNC moves to Tripoli, it will set up a conference to draft a new constitution, which will then be approved or rejected by the Libyan people in a referendum. He said the TNC would then start to organize elections, a process he predicted could take about eight months.
Aujali said the TNC was committed to preventing retribution on the ground in Tripoli and upholding the ideals of inclusiveness and respect for the rule of law. He implored the U.S. government to increase its coordination and support for the rebels.
"I want the administration to unfreeze the frozen money, to commit to support the Libyan people, to interact with the TNC as much as they can, and to keep the NATO mission action until the threat of Qaddafi is no more," he said.
Aujali said that he hasn't been in regular contact with the State Department over the weekend, because he's been focusing on following the events on the ground in Tripoli. But CNN reported that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who is in Cairo and was recently in Benghazi, was contacted by Qaddafi regime officials as recently as Saturday.
"I think they were looking for a way to find a lifeline, buy time, to prevent what was then becoming inevitable, which was the uprising in Tripoli," he said.
In an interview with ABC News Monday morning, Feltman said that it was clear the rebels were winning that that he didn't think a violent unraveling of the security situation was likely in Libya, as happened in Baghdad when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fell.
"A lot of that sectarian mix that existed in Saddam Hussein's Iraq doesn't exist here in Libya," Feltman said. He also said that "the overwhelming vision that we are hearing" from people across Libya is that "they want a Libya that is moderate, that is secular."
Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on Monday that the Obama administration needs to develop an aggressive yet nuanced plan to increase U.S. involvement and aid in Libya to support the TNC, while at the same time not giving the impression that Western ideas were being imposed there.
"Bad as our current economic problems are, it would be incredibly foolish not to offer aid to Libya (and Egypt, Tunisia, and any other states caught up in this wave of change.)," he said. "Failing to provide that aid will not simply be penny wise and pound foolish; the price of such a U.S failure will eventually be paid in U.S. and allied blood."
As rebel forces poured into Tripoli, the White House called for Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, whose whereabouts now are still unknown, to recognize publicly that he is no longer in control and called on the rebel leadership to prove it will be a competent and inclusive leader of a new Libya.
President Barack Obama convened a conference call with members of his national security team at about 9 PM from advisor Valerie Jarret's House in Oak Bluffs, a resort town on Martha's Vineyard. At about 10 PM, the White House released a statement from Obama calling on Qaddafi to step aside and calling on the Transitional National Council, the Benghazi-based government-in-waiting, to demonstrate leadership in order to ensure a smooth transition.
"Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant," Obama said in the statement. "The Qadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator."
The White House called on the TNC to protect civilians, protect the institutions of the Libya state, and ensure human rights, inclusiveness, and democracy as it takes over power. The administration also called on the TNC not to permit retribution on the streets of Tripoli.
"Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected," Obama's statement said.
The officials on Obama's call were Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Winnefeld, Allied Joint Forces Commander Adm. Admiral Sam Locklear, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, NSC Chief of Staff Brooke Anderson, NSC Director for Strategic Planning Derek Chollet, Loren Schulman, and State Department Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Brennan had been giving Obama regular updates since Sunday morning and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued a statement in the afternoon that also called on the TNC to reach out to all of the sectors of Libya society.
"As Assistant Secretary [for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff] Feltman's visit to Benghazi underscores, we continue efforts to encourage the TNC to maintain broad outreach across all segments of Libyan society and to plan for post-Qadhafi Libya. Qadhafi's days are numbered. If Qadhafi cared about the welfare of the Libyan people, he would step down now," Nuland's statement read.
The Obama administration formally recognized the TNC in July and the TNC representative in Washington, Ali Aujali, formally took over control of the Libyan embassy last week. The TNC has weathered some internal strife during the six-month fight against the Qaddafi regime; it is also still currently engaged in a legal struggle with the international community to get its hands on billions of dollars in frozen Qaddafi assets.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who has been an active supporter of the TNC throughout the Libya war, called on the Obama administration to increase its contacts and support for the TNC, now that they appear to be on the verge of taking power. He laid out a long list of tasks for the TNC if they are able to secure and hold Tripoli.
"In particular, we must support the new Libyan authorities to ensure they are able to prevent acts of retribution, initiate a credible process of national reconciliation, secure weapons depots and critical infrastructure, protect vulnerable populations, establish security and rule of law in Tripoli and throughout Libya, and begin the broadest possible outreach across Libyan society for an inclusive and transparent political transition," Lieberman said in a statement Sunday evening.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a joint statement setting out what they see as the TNC's task ahead and calling on the international community to assist them.
"The Libyan people have won their freedom, but now they must build the durable institutions necessary to keep it, including a transparent and inclusive political process, a free and independent media, an impartial system of justice and the rule of law, a free economy, and unified, professionalized security forces that answer to civilian authority," they wrote.
Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley tweeted that the onus was on the TNC to prove its competence. "The #TNC must quickly demonstrate it can credibly move #Libya forward. There will be lots of jockeying as a new political order is formed," he said.
At least there's one person who is bringing Democrats and Republicans together this summer. Actress, singer, and humanitarian Mandy Moore recently led a bipartisan delegation of congressional staffers on a trip to Cameroon to promote foreign aid and disease prevention there.
Moore spoke with The Cable late last week from the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde, where she was finishing up a visit before the lauch of Cameroon's upcoming country-wide campaign to give out long-lasting insecticide treated anti-malaria mosquito nets. The visit was organized by Nothing but Nets, run by the U.N. Foundation and the global health organization Population Services International (PSI). Moore has been an ambassador with PSI for over two years.
"Every 45 seconds a child dies of malaria and this is the number one leading cause of death here in Cameroon," Moore told The Cable. "I'm here with this bipartisan congressional delegation to learn how this net distribution actually happens.... I've loved coming here with them because they ask some hard hitting questions."
The delegation visited a clinic run by the Chantal Biya Foundation, met with private sector leaders and UNICEF representatives, filmed a public service announcement in a rural area that is receiving nets, and distributed nets at a local orphanage. Moore also met with Prime Minister Philemon Yang and Minister of Public Health André Mama Fouda.
Moore's trip comes right in the middle of a fight over foreign aid funding in Congress. Moore said the plight of the Cameroonians was one issue that shouldn't fall victim to partisan bickering or short-term cost-cutting.
"I think it's lovely that it's a bipartisan delegation. I think this is an issue that effects and unites both Republicans and Democrats," she said. "African economies are critical to the health of our economy, from manufacturing to consumer goods, and even with some of the things that I do in terms of music and films."
"One of the things I love about our country is that we are a generous country and the work that we're doing here and elsewhere in the developing world is having real, measurable results and I feel fortunate that the congressional staffs can see that as well."
Moore didn't perform during the trip, but the Cameroonians put on a show for her and her team. They threw a gala that included traditional dancers who had the name "Mandy Moore" painted in pink letters on their stomachs.
The Hill staffers on the trip included Michael Shank, communications director and senior policy advisor for Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Julie Nickson, chief of staff for Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Steven Shearer, chief of staff for Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), Richard Hudson, chief of staff for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), Rachel Dresen, legislative director for Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), Jenn Holcomb, legislative assistant for Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Jessica J. Lee, legislative assistant for Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA).
"For what I pay every day for lunch at Longworth House Office Building cafeteria, I can save two lives in Cameroon from deadly malaria, which kills a significant portion of this country's population each year," one of the staffers on the delegation told The Cable. "Major props to Mandy for making this a priority in South Sudan, Central African Republic and now Cameroon, and for dedicating her platform to malaria prevention."
Almost a month after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States now sees the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) as the official government of Libya, the TNC is on the verge of reclaiming the Libyan embassy in Washington but it's nowhere near getting its hands on billions of dollars in frozen assets formerly held by Muammar al-Qaddafi.
The Libyan rebels, who are represented in Washington by former Qaddafi envoy Ali Aujali, have been working out of donated office space in northwest Washington for months. The State Department signed an order last week handing control of the Libyan embassy, located in the Watergate complex, over to the rebels. However, they have yet to move in to their new digs
Sources close to the TNC mission in Washington said that Aujali is in Canada right now, helping the Canadian government expel their own Qaddafi officials and setting up the TNC embassy in Ottowa. He is planning to return to the United States after the State Department finalizes his diplomatic status, which will allow him to become the official head of mission of the new Libyan embassy.
When that happens, the TNC will gain access to the $13 million in the embassy's bank accounts, which is probably enough to keep the lights on, pay salaries, and maybe even pay their lobbyists, Patton Boggs. But the bulk of Qaddafi's funds remain frozen and will likely remain so for quite a while.
"We had difficult internal U.S. procedures with regard to the banking situation, et cetera," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And we're also in an environment where U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 put some restrictions on what we can do. So we're continuing to work internally on various routes to get some of this money to the TNC."
There is probably only about $150 to $200 million of frozen Qaddafi money in U.S. banks, but even that money is affected by the U.N. sanctions. The rest of the $30 billion is held outside the U.S. banking system. What's more, Nuland said that the United States wants to make sure that the money "if given, is used properly and for humanitarian purposes."
"So it's going to be a little bit of time yet, but please know that we are working on it and we're working on it hard," she said.
Meanwhile, the State Department continues to communicate privately to the TNC that the investigation into the killing of their military commander, Abdel Fatah Younis, last month is crucial to maintaining the TNC's credibility and reputation.
Publicly, Nuland portrayed the killing and the reorganization of their cabinet as a watershed moment in the TNC's evolution into a functioning, democratic organization ‘So, frankly, while the killing was an awful event, the fact [is] that the TNC has not just stood pat but has really taken this as an opportunity for internal reflection, for renewal," she said.
One of the State Department press corps members responded to her, "I'm not sure I've ever heard a glass-half-full explanation better than that one in a long time."
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Turkey for the latest meeting of the Libyan Contact Group on Friday, she will be asked to address how the Obama administration intends to help the rebel's Transitional National Council (TNC), which is running out of money and patience.
But what can she say? What will she say?
Four senators are renewing their push for the administration to recognize the TNC in advance of the Istanbul meeting. In a letter to Clinton last week, which was obtained by The Cable, they argued that the TNC's expanded inclusiveness and its new territorial gains make the case for recognition stronger. What's more, they said that diplomatic recognition was the best way to release the more than $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets that the rebels desperately want.
"We believe that formal recognition is justified, necessary and urgent," wrote Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). "Even more importantly, diplomatic recognition by the United States is now the best available means to ensure the TNC can secure access to the financial resources it desperately needs to meet the needs of the Libya people and sustain its fight against the Qaddafi regime, as legislation in Congress for this purpose has unfortunately become bogged down."
Over the past days, the White House has been considering the issue of extending diplomatic recognition intensively. We're told that there has been both a Deputies Committee meeting and a Principals Committee meeting in recent days to discuss what to do about the TNC. We don't know what the decision was, or if one has officially been made, but Clinton will likely unveil that information in Istanbul on Friday.
What's clear though is that the administration is in a bind, and one of its own making. They haven't recognized the TNC officially, which is the prerequisite for releasing some or all of the frozen Libyan assets to the TNC. The administration has come close, saying that the TNC is "the legitimate and credible interlocutor for the Libyan people." But that doesn't equal an official recognition, and doesn't allow the TNC to get their hands on the funds.
So far, 26 countries have recognized the TNC, including France, Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Canada.
The administration had been depending on Congress to pass legislation that would speed as much as $10 billion to the TNC from the frozen Qaddafi coffers. Unsurprisingly, the relevant legislation is bogged down in the Senate and has very little prospect of surfacing any time soon.
On Capitol Hill, frustration is growing with what many lawmakers and staffers see as a hands-off approach by the administration toward the Libyan rebels. For example, there is only a smattering of U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi, while other countries, such as Britain, have dozens of diplomats and advisors on hand.
The administration has one other option to get the money to the rebels. They could use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), former Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey argued in an article for the Council on Foreign Relations. That law allows the president to take certain steps if he determines that a situation poses an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to national security. But since the White House has said there are no "hostilities" going on in Libya, that's going to be a tough case to make.
Yesterday, Clinton praised European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton for opening an EU office in Benghazi, but didn't say anything about the Obama administration's plans to assist the rebels in the near- or medium-term.
"As momentum continues to build in Libya, the people are not waiting to plan their new post-Qadhafi future. They are laying the foundation, organizing the institutions, and preparing the infrastructure, and the international community will support these efforts," Clinton said.
Whether the United States will be an integral part of those efforts remains to be seen.
The White House announced today that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice will lead the country's delegation to South Sudan on July 9 to attend a ceremony marking the country's Declaration of Independence. She will be joined by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Other members of the delegation include Rep. Donald Payne (D- N.J.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights; Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of State for African Affairs; Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan; Brooke Anderson, deputy national security advisor; Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command; Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator for USAID; Barrie Walkley, the consul general in Juba; and Ken Hackett, the president of Catholic Relief Services.
Notably absent from the delegation: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She was initially scheduled to make the trip, but the Washington Post reported last month that security concerns might prevent her from doing so.
Franklin Graham, an evangelical leader, will also be in attendance. He was supposed to travel with Sarah Palin, but Palin also canceled her plans to attend due to what she said were "scheduling problems."
Southerners backed independence in a January referendum -- though since then clashes along the border with the north have led to growing fears that violence could escalate. Tensions between north and south Sudan are still high over the issues of oil revenue sharing and what's to become of Abyei, a disputed region on the border.
And today the Harvard-based Satellite Sentinel Project released images taken July 4 showing what appears to be an 80-car convoy of Sudanese military forces traveling through the disputed border region of Southern Kordofan. 73,000 people have fled fighting there since June.
The U.N. Security Council will meet July 13 to discuss admitting South Sudan to the international body, making it the first state since Montenegro in 2006 to become a U.N. member.
GOP senators fought back today against the Democratic leadership's plan to debate and vote on the Libya war this week, but, following that episode, the leader of that effort said it should be the next item on the Senate's agenda.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and several other GOP senators held a late Tuesday afternoon press conference to celebrate the fact that they forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to scuttle his plans to hold a cloture vote on the Kerry-McCain resolution authorizing the military intervention in Libya.
"The events of this afternoon were very, very significant," Sessions said at the presser. "The Senate has sent a message to the leadership that we expect in this recess period that we do real work on the financial condition of our country, which includes budget issues and the debt ceiling. Those matters are of extreme focus for American and we should focus on that."
Of course, there isn't likely to be any floor debate on the debt limit this week, because those negotiations are stalled and being held behind closed doors. But there won't be any debate over the Libya war either, thanks to the efforts of the GOP caucus.
So when should the Senate get around to debating the Libya war, according to these senators? The Cable pressed Corker on that question at the press conference. After several attempts to skirt the question, Corker declared that the Libya debate was a lower priority because it won't force the administration to actually change its actions there, but nevertheless should be the Senate's next order of business.
Here's the exchange:
Josh Rogin: There are a lot of senators who want to debate the Libya war. It's been almost four months since we attacked Libya. When do you propose we get back to that?
Bob Corker: I think most people know that the resolution that's before us was defeated in the House. One of the things that has been a misnomer, the president has never asked for authorization of Libya.... What he did say is he would like to have a "sense of the Senate" resolution in support. In a cute way, he's tried to bypass the War Powers [Resolution]. I would have respected them more if they would have just said, "Hey we think [the War Powers Resolution] is unconstitutional." So there's no question that we need to return to the issue of Libya, because you cannot have somebody calling something "not hostilities" when it is. Let's settle this once and for all.... I think we will get back to that.
BC: There was nothing we were going to do this week in the Senate that in any way would have affected what was actually happening on the ground in Libya, nothing. Everybody knew that. The Senate might have voiced its opinion, but since the House already voted against the same resolution, nothing was going to change. So you're right, we need to get back to that.
BC: In my opinion -- I don't set the agenda -- that ought to be the very next item after we deal with these financial matters, that are more pressing and are something that we can actually affect, because again what we were going to do on Libya, which we are not going to do now, really wasn't going to affect the activities there either on the ground or in the air one iota.
The Senate indefinitely delayed its plan to debate the war in Libya on Tuesday, with Republicans decrying the very fact that the topic was on the table in the first place.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cancelled the Senate's July 4 recess after President Barack Obama taunted lawmakers for leaving town while the country careens toward a fiscal crisis due to the lack of a deal over how to raise the debt ceiling. But since there's no progress on that front, Reid brought up the Kerry-McCain resolution to authorize Obama's military intervention in Libya.
But several senior Republicans took to the floor on Tuesday afternoon to object to debating the Libya mission at all and pledged to vote no on moving to debate the war -- arguing that the budget crisis was more pressing. Sensing that the vote was doomed to fail, Reid pulled the measure off the floor.
"Just to speak to how dysfunctional the U.S. senate is, we're here over the debt ceiling, but instead of focusing on the issue at hand, we're going to focus on something that's irrelevant possibly and has nothing to do with why we're here," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), said on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon. "Let's not take up an issue that will have no effect on and has nothing to do with the debt ceiling, and take on those issues that will."
Corker is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Several other key Republicans, such as Senate Armed Services Committee members Robert Wicker (R-MS) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), promised to vote no on cloture, arguing not the merits of the war but rather the need to move immediately to budget matters.
The Senate has avoided a full vote on the Libya war for over three months and the complicated politics of the issue have placed both Republicans and Democrats in an uncomfortable position. For Democrats, they are being pressed by the administration to back the president's decision. Voting no risks the ire of the White House. But if they vote yes, their constituencies may fault them for supporting yet another war with an uncertain timeframe and costs.
For Republicans, voting no would risk ceding the national security high ground to a Democratic president; voting yes would put them on record pledging more American treasure to yet another unpopular and expensive foreign intervention.
Before Reid pulled the measure, several other senators were also set to vote no on debating the Libya war tonight based on their opposition to the mission or their anger at the president for not properly consulting Congress before attacking. Senators opposed to the Libya war overall include Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Ron Paul (R-KY), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).
In his own floor speech on Thursday, Lugar objected to authorizing the Libya mission based on the cost and his dissatisfaction with the administration's justifications.
"American intervention in Libya did not come as a result of a disciplined assessment of our vital interests or an authorization debate in Congress," Lugar said. "A civil war in Libya is not a priority that required American military and economic investments. It is an expensive diversion that leaves the United States and our European allies with fewer assets to respond to other contingencies."
Lugar maintains that the War Powers Resolution does apply to the mission in Libya, despite the administration's claim there are no "hostilities" going on there, and he continues to demand clearer explanations of the mission's objectives, timelines, and costs.
"Even if one believes that the president somehow had the legal authority to initiate and continue U.S. military operations in Libya, it does not mean that going to war without Congress was either wise or helpful to the operation," Lugar said. "There was no good reason why President Obama should have failed to seek congressional authorization to go to war in Libya."
The House already rejected a similar measure to authorize the Libya war by a 123 to 295 vote on June 24. The House also narrowly rejected a motion to largely defund the mission, but that measure would have passed if not for some lawmakers' belief that it constituted a backdoor authorization for the war.
If today's vote had passed with 60 yes votes, a full debate over the war would have immediately followed, setting up a final vote on the Kerry-McCain resolution on Thursday afternoon.
But now, the Libya war debate will be shelved in the Senate until Reid brings it up again, probably after the debt ceiling deadline of Aug. 2, and perhaps much later. Our Hill sources tell us they expect the any further senate debate over Libya to be postponed until after the August congressional recess.
Following the House of Representatives' stunning rebuke of the Obama administration's intervention in Libya last Friday, the Senate will weigh in tomorrow with a host of new proposed restrictions on President Barack Obama's war authorities.
The House voted overwhelmingly Friday not to authorize the Libya intervention and then narrowly rejected a measure that would have cut off most of the funding for the mission. A majority of lawmakers wanted to cut off the funds for Libya, but the vote failed because many congressmen believed that the bill, which left some of the funding in place, amounted to a "back door authorization" for the war.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow with State Department Counselor Harold Koh to examine the administration's claim that the Libya war does not amount to "hostilities," and therefore does not require congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution.
After the hearing, the committee will hold a business meeting to consider a bill by Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would authorize the Libya intervention. The committee could very well approve the bill, but not before several changes are made through amendments, most of them coming from ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).
"In this case, President Obama made a deliberate decision not to seek a Congressional authorization of his action, either before it commenced or during the last three months. This was a fundamental failure of leadership that placed expedience above Constitutional responsibility," Lugar will say at Tuesday's hearing, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Cable.
"At the outset of the conflict, the President asserted that U.S. military operations in Libya would be ‘limited in their nature, duration, and scope.' On this basis, the administration asserted that the actions did not require a declaration of war. Three months later, these assurances ring hollow," Lugar will say. "American and coalition military activities have expanded to an all but declared campaign to drive [Col. Muammar al] Qaddafi from power. The administration is unable to specify any applicable limits to the duration of the operations. And the scope has grown from efforts to protect civilians under imminent threat to obliterating Libya's military arsenal, command and control structure, and leadership apparatus."
Expect Lugar and other senators to challenge Koh on evidence that he was previously a staunch critic of granting the president unilateral war-making authority before joining the Obama administration. Koh reportedly supported the argument that the Libya intervention fell short of "hostilities" during the intra-administration debate on the topic.
When the committee does take up the Kerry-McCain resolution, Lugar will lead off with five amendments -- to limit the funds to only truly supportive functions like refueling and intelligence support, prevent any funding for ground troops, require the president to report every 60 days on the costs and progress of the Libya war, make sure it's clear Congress won't pay for reconstruction, and finally, to establish that it's the Senate's view that the Libya war does include "hostilities" and does fall under the War Powers Resolution.
Some or all of these could be approved by the committee, but the last one is almost sure to pass, given widespread congressional rejection of the administration's claim that legislative authorization is not required.
"You'll see overall consensus that their finding on a lack of ‘hostilities' doesn't stand," Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke told The Cable. "The overall mood is that you have to have authorization, and the question then is: Do enough Democrats feel comfortable with the other restrictions?"
Inside the committee, three Democrats have expressed reservations about the Libya war and could join with Republicans to restrict the president's authorities: Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and new committee member Richard Durbin (D-IL).
Webb said on Sunday's Meet the Press that he would support Lugar's amendments, and he criticized the Libya mission harshly.
"The president did not come to the Congress, and the reasons that he used for going in defy historical precedent," Webb said. "We weren't under attack, we weren't under an imminent attack, we weren't honoring treaty commitments, we weren't rescuing Americans. So, on the one hand, there's a very serious issue of precedent here."
Boxer pressed Kerry during a back and forth on the Senate floor on June 22, pushing him to confirm that the Libya resolution would not authorize ground troops and would expire in one year. Durbin supports the Kerry-McCain resolution but does not agree with the administration's argument that congressional authorization is unnecessary.
There are several other amendments expected Tuesday. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has two amendments: one that would require the administration to seek reimbursement of the expenses of the mission from frozen Libyan assets and one that would require the administration to brief Congress every 15 days. Corker wants the authorization for the Libya war to expire after 6 months, as opposed to the 12 months granted under the Kerry-McCain measure.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will offer an amendment that would call for further action on the investigation of the bombing of Pan Am 103, which was conducted by members of the Qaddafi regime. Going against the grain, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will offer three amendments: to require the president to consult Congress before deploying ground troops, use the frozen assets to pay for U.S. operations, and clarify that Qaddafi's removal is the official policy of the U.S.
If and when SFRC finally approves the Kerry-McCain resolution to authorize the Libya war, that will mark the end of the Libya debate in the Senate for a while. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is not expected to begin the full Senate floor debate until after the July 4 recess.
Obama administration officials are claiming a partial victory today because the House rejected a measure to defund the Libya war, even after rejecting a separate measure that would have authorized the war. But the numbers don't tell the whole story.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to put lipstick on the pig of today's admonishment of the administration by Congress, saying that she was "gratified that the House has decisively rejected efforts to limit funding" for the intervention. She was referring to the House's rejection of a bill put forth by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) that would have shut off the spigot of funds for most, but not all, U.S. military operations in Libya.
The vote failed 180-238 - but, in fact, there were more than enough lawmakers to pass the measure. Of the 149 Democrats who stuck with the president, up to 70 of them are totally opposed to the Libya intervention and want to see it completely defunded as soon as possible. They voted "no" on the Rooney's bill because they thought it was too weak, did not cut off all funds, and implicitly authorized the intervention.
These 70 Democrats make up the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), the largest caucus within the House Democratic Caucus, whose leadership includes Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
"Members of Congress voted no because the bill provided funding and legal authority for everything we're currently doing. It was back door authorization. Members didn't support authorizing what we're doing now in Libya," Michael Shank, Honda's spokesman, told The Cable. "The majority of the CPC voted no on the Rooney vote because of this."
In other words, if the GOP had put forth a stronger anti-Libya resolution, the progressive Democrats would have joined them and it would have passed. Despite what Clinton or other administration officials may say, the bill's failure cannot be seen as an endorsement of the Libya war.
The argument that the Rooney bill indirectly authorized the Libya war was made Friday on the House floor by many, including Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who said:
"This bill purports to cut off funding for combat in Libya. In doing so it simply forbids what the constitution already forbids, the waging of war without explicit congressional authorization. But then it specifically grants to the president what up until now he has completely lacked: Congressional authority to engage in every conceivable belligerent act short of actually pulling the trigger."
"Refueling bombers on their way to targets, identifying and selecting targets, guiding munitions to their targets, logistical support, operational planning... these are all acts of war in direct support of belligerence at war and this bill authorizes them," he said. "Let's not enter a war through the backdoor when we have already decided not to enter it through the front."
And in case there was any doubt on the CPC's position, their leaders issued the following statement:
The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce call on Congress and the President to immediately end our war in Libya. The US has been engaged in hostilities for over 90 days without congressional approval, which undermines not only the powers of the legislative branch but also the legal checks and balances put in place nearly 40 years ago to avoid abuse by any single branch of government.
We call on our colleagues in Congress to exercise their legitimate authority and oversight and immediately block any funding for this war. Before the Executive branch further weakens the War Powers Resolution, and before we attack another country in the name of our "responsibility to protect," we must recommit ourselves to our Constitutional duty and obligation to hold the purse strings and the right to declare war. For decades, the House recognized the need for appropriate checks and balances before another war was waged. We must do the same. We call on Congress to exhibit similar foresight by promptly ending this war and pledging to uphold the laws that characterize America's commitment to democratic governance.
The top U.S. admiral involved in the Libya war admitted to a U.S. congressman that NATO forces are trying to kill Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. The same admiral also said he anticipated the need for ground troops in Libya after Qaddafi falls, according to the lawmaker.
House Armed Services Committee member Mike Turner (R-OH) told The Cable that U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the NATO Joint Operations Command in Naples, Italy, told him last month that NATO forces are actively targeting and trying to kill Qaddafi, despite the fact that the Obama administration continues to insist that "regime change" is not the goal and is not authorized by the U.N. mandate authorizing the war.
"The U.N. authorization had three components: blockade, no fly zone, and civil protection. And Admiral Locklear explained that the scope of civil protection was being interpreted to permit the removal of the chain of command of Qaddafi's military, which includes Qaddafi," Turner said. "He said that currently is the mission as NATO has defined."
"I believed that we were [targeting Qaddafi] but that confirmed it," Turner said. "I believe the scope that NATO is pursuing is beyond what is contemplated in civil protection, so they're exceeding the mission."
Later in the same briefing, Turner said, Locklear maintained that the NATO mission does not include regime change. "Well, certainly if you remove Qaddafi it will affect regime change," Turner said that he replied. "[Locklear] did not have an answer to that."
Locklear also said that, upon Qaddafi's removal, ground troops would be needed during the immediate period of instability, Turner said. In fact, Locklear said publicly that a "small force" might be necessary following the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in a May 30 conference in Varna, Bulgaria.
Turner joined hundreds of other lawmakers in voting against authorizing the Libya war on Friday morning. The authorization resolution was defeated 123 to 297. A subsequent vote on a bill to defund the Libya mission also failed 180-238 .
Turner has been opposed to the Libya war from the start and even introduced a resolution opposing the effort. For him, Friday's chaotic Libya debate was a direct result of the administration's neglect and disrespect of Congress throughout the debate over the mission.
"The president hasn't come to Congress and said any of this, and yet Admiral Locklear is pursuing the targeting of Qaddafi's regime, Qaddafi himself, and contemplating ground troops following Qaddafi's removal," Turner said. "They're not being straightforward with Congress... It's outrageous."
Ignoring Congress allowed the administration to ignore the large, looming questions about the Libya war that congressmen are asking -- especially today, as another vote to defund the mission looms before the House next month, when the defense appropriations bill is set to be debated. But if the House does vote to defund the mission, Turner said, Obama will have nobody to blame but himself.
"I believe that this administration has handled this so badly, that if they had come to Congress, I think they would have done more of their homework. They have not done a full assessment of their mission, its scope, or the consequences if they're successful. Congress would have required that," Turner said. "Now it's a little late."
The House of Representatives, in a culmination of over three months of Congressional frustration with the Obama administration's handling of the Libya intervention, voted against authorizing the war 123-295 and is set to vote for cutting off most of the funding for the mission.
The resolution to authorize the President Obama's intervention in Libya, sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), garnered only 8 GOP votes.
But all of this could have been avoided if overworked top Obama administration officials had not been too physically exhausted to pay a little more attention to Capitol Hill, according to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
"It's crazy that we're fighting over this the way we are," Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said in a roundtable with reporters just now.
The scene here at the Capitol on this sunny, summer Friday morning is surreal, as the three-hour debate continues. Lawmakers, who must still vote a resolution to cut off all funds for the war sponsored by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), are continuously unleashing statements on why the Libya war represents a threat to the Constitution, a plundering of the Treasury, or an overreach of U.S. power.
The arguments against the war are all over the map. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) actually said the votes were the best way to prevent a decades-long slide into "monarchy." Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) launched into a diatribe about the abuse of wartime contractors.
Democrats like Howard Berman (D-CA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) tried to defend the president's policy by making the humanitarian argument and focusing on the limited nature of U.S. involvement. But they were shouted down by the war's opponents, many even from within their own party. "What, we don't have enough wars going on?" said Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), sarcastically.
To be clear, the votes today won't actually force President Barack Obama to terminate the U.S. military intervention in Libya. But though the votes are largely symbolic, that doesn't mean they aren't hugely important. The Obama administration realizes the negative impact of a rebuke by the House, and is even resorting to rhetoric that implies the GOP might actually be helping Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
"Who's side are you on?" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this week, showing her deep frustration with Congressional opposition to the Libya war.
McKeon said this was exactly the kind of unhelpful statement that showed the administration's lack of respect for Congress and its fumbling of the politics of the Libya war.
"She is one of the ones that caused us to be where we are," McKeon shot back, in response to a question from The Cable.
So how did we get here? On March 17 -- the same day that Obama was pursuing the authorization for war at the United Nations and two days after he decided he wanted to attack Libya -- the president had a 90-minute lunch with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) but never mentioned Libya once, McKeon said. McKeon left Washington that night, only to receive a phone call 10 a.m. Friday morning, saying, "The president wants you in the White House in an hour for a meeting."
"It's like at the last minute somebody thought ‘here's something we should check off, talk to the Congress,'" McKeon said.
When Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates eventually did come to Capitol Hill to brief Congress a week later, someone asked Clinton directly to address the issue of Congressional authorization and the War Powers Resolution.
"[Clinton] said, paraphrase, ‘It doesn't matter what you think, we're doing what we're doing.'" McKeon said. "I heard from a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that that really bothered them."
"Somebody else told me Secretary Clinton was living on about 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. So I just gave her the benefit of the doubt on that, I figured she was just tired and stressed when she made that comment," McKeon added.
McKeon then asked Gates to brief his committee for 3 hours, but Gates negotiated down the amount of time, telling McKeon, "I am exhausted... just physically," McKeon said.
Communication with Congress did not improve from then on, leaving lawmakers to come up with their own views on the war, McKeon said.
"There are a lot of people in the conference that feel the president has violated the constitution. And yet, some of those same people, they're not opposed to the mission in Libya," McKeon said." They think if he had met with Congress or in some way done a better job of setting up what he was going to do, they would feel much more comfortable and we wouldn't even be at the point where we are at."
McKeon is the quintessential GOP defense hawk in Congress. He is for steadily increasing defense budgets. He thinks Obama made a mistake by announcing the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. He is concerned that the GOP is risking its credibility on national security.
"Conservative Republicans have a three legged stool: defense, fiscal responsibility, and social issues. Right now the stool is out of balance because fiscal matters are dominating everything," he said.
But when it comes to Libya, even he just doesn't see the logic of the endeavor.
"Why aren't we in Syria, why aren't we in Yemen," McKeon said. [Obama's] argument, you could drive a tank through it. It doesn't make sense."
He doesn't believe President Obama's contention that the United States has taken itself out of the lead role in Libya. And he doesn't buy that a NATO-led mission that's dependent on the U.S. military is much different than any other international mission where the U.S. military is involved.
"The President is in a box because he's getting hit from the left as far as anything he does with the military, so he used [NATO] as cover," McKeon said. "NATO is us. So I think that was just a thing the president kind of used to say ‘hey it's not us.' They can't do it without us."
McKeon believes that the Libya war is currently in a stalemate, hindered by a mission plan that is meant to protect Libyan civilians, but does not permit the targeting of the despot who is killing those civilians.
So what does McKeon think we should do now? Kill Qaddafi. "We should get him, whatever it takes."
Does that include ground troops, we asked? "No."
On Friday, the Obama administration will reach the 60-day limit on how long it can wage war in Libya without congressional authorization, as spelled out in the War Powers Resolution of 1973. But does the administration, or for that matter Congress, even care?
Section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. § 1544(b)) mandates that:
Within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted pursuant to section 4(a)(1), whichever is earlier, the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress (1) has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces, (2) has extended by law such sixty-day period, or (3) is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. Such sixty day period shall be extended for not more than an additional thirty days if the President determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.
President Barack Obama notified Congress of his intention to commit U.S. forces to war in Libya on March 21, so the 60-day deadline is May 20. But there's no chance the U.S. involvement in the Libyan war will end by then and there's no chance Congress will move to formally express its view on the war before the deadline.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) circulated a letter on Wednesday, obtained by The Cable, demanding that Obama explain exactly what he plans to do.
"As recently as last week your Administration indicated use of the United States Armed Forces will continue indefinitely. Therefore, we are writing to ask whether you intend to comply with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution. We await your response," Paul wrote.
The letter was also signed by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Mike Lee (R-UT).
The Cable asked NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor if the president intended to comply with the War Powers Act or even believed it to be constitutional, but Vietor declined to comment.
We're told by two congressional sources that the White House is considering declaring that U.S. military involvement in Libya has paused, only for it to resume in a few days, thereby resetting the 60-day clock. But that questionable legal tactic, for now, is not being confirmed by anybody in the administration.
Regardless, as of Friday, any one senator can invoke the War Powers Resolution, which would force the Senate to debate the issue. Several Senate offices are scrambling now to figure out exactly how the law would be invoked, but the most likely scenario would be for one senator to raise a budget point of order, which would seek to cut off all funding for war operations in Libya immediately, thus kicking off the debate.
The White House does seem nervous about the deadline. The administration pulled Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from a scheduled Thursday hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was then cancelled.
Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) had been working on a resolution expressing support for the administration's military intervention in Libya, but the final language was never worked out and the momentum for doing anything in the Senate with regard to Libya petered out as the focus turned to the budget battle.
Kerry told reporters on Tuesday that he was open to debating and passing a resolution in the Senate on Libya, but said he didn't see any enthusiasm from leadership or his caucus to get something done.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said on Tuesday that a Senate resolution approving the Libya war was more trouble than it was worth because though most senators approved of the Libya war, they couldn't agree on the details of how a resolution should be worded.
Still, there are several GOP senators who would like to use the deadline to press the administration for more clarity on the mission: goals, benchmarks, costs, and lots of other details. These senators include Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) who has been demanding such answers to no avail.
But GOP senators are in something of a bind on the issue, as several of them are on the record as arguing that the War Powers Resolution, which has never been challenged in court, is unconstitutional.
"I've never recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, nor has any president, Republican or Democrat," exclaimed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), speaking to reporters on Tuesday.
Levin predicted that if the issue came to a head, the White House would declare the law invalid.
"If we operated under the War Powers Act, [the White House is] going to say the War Powers Act is not constitutional and the whole thing ends in court," Levin said.
He added that there's an easier and more effective way for senators to stop the war -- if that's what they want to do. They can just hold up the money.
"You don't have to go through the complexities of the War Powers Act.... It's called the power of the purse."
The Obama administration has been furiously advancing its regional diplomatic efforts on a wide range of issues in the run-up to the Middle East speech that President Barack Obama will deliver at the State Department on Thursday.
Top administration officials have been meeting with Arab leaders, preparing new announcements on aid to the region, finalizing sanctions on bad actors, and closely coordinating the president's message in the last few days. Obama's mission is a tough one -- to clarify a consistent U.S. approach to the region despite his administration's varied responses to the uprisings that have occurred throughout the region this year. And there's a lot on his plate.
"Specifically, a successful speech will need to align America with the most positive aspects of Arab rebellions against autocracy; reflect a balance between the hope and fear triggered in equal parts by seismic political change; signal American support for a process of democratic choice without suggesting indifference to the outcome of free and fair elections; project both disapproval and understanding -- but not endorsement -- toward those U.S. friends, especially in the Gulf, who refuse reform and repress its advocates; and explain why the maniacal dictator in Libya merits NATO bombing while the capo di tutti capi in Damascus does not even merit specific personal opprobrium for his outrageous behavior," said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The administration ratcheted up its response to Damascus today, announcing that the United States will expand sanctions to include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests. The administration sanctioned some Syrian officials last month, but this is the first time Assad himself is the target of such measures.
On Monday, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Jordan's King Abdullah in Washington in a potential preview of the speech's message on Middle East peace. "We both share the view that despite the many changes, or perhaps because of the many changes, it's more vital than ever that the Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table," Obama said after the meeting.
The speech is not expected to delve into the details of any plan to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, a process that ended formally with the resignation of Special Envoy George Mitchell, but the administration has also been in close contact with the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to coordinate messaging. Netanyahu will meet with Obama on Friday in Washington, and will also deliver a speech to Congress on May 24.
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg is in Israel and the West Bank today, meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Steinberg will participate in the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue on Thursday, which will firm up progress on U.S.-Israel security cooperation.
Steinberg was in Bahrain on Tuesday, along with Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman, reinforcing the explicitly different tone the administration has taken with that regime, which is also implicated in human rights abuses against protesters.
"During his meetings, Deputy Secretary Steinberg affirmed the long-standing commitment of the U.S. to a strong partnership with both the people and the Government of Bahrain and stressed the importance of full respect for universal human rights," the State Department said in a read out. "He urged all parties to pursue a path of reconciliation and comprehensive political dialogue."
Meanwhile, White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan has been busily firming up the administration's stance on Yemen, where protesters have been pressing the government to fulfill promises of a leadership change. Brennan called President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Wednesday to urge him to implement the Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered agreement, which would see Saleh step down from power.
"Brennan noted that this transfer of power represents the best path forward for Yemen to become a more secure, unified, and prosperous nation and for the Yemeni people to realize their aspirations for peace and political reform," the White House said in a statement about the call.
What about Egypt and Tunisia? The State Department has been working to finalize a new aid package for Middle East countries transitioning to democracy, the Wall Street Journal reported today, just in time for Thursday's speech.
On Libya, Obama is expected to claim limited success in the mission to protect civilians, pledge additional support for the Transitional National Council, and repeat calls for Col. Muammar al Qaddafi to step down.
Obama is also planning a series of events following the speech to drive home his message. On May 20, he will go to CIA headquarters to thank the agency for its work in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. On May 22, he'll address the AIPAC conference in Washington.
The relationship between the Arab Spring and the drive for Middle East peace is one area of the speech lawmakers are listening for closely. Does the president think the wave of democratic revolutions across the region make the peace process easier or harder?
"I think in some ways it makes it harder and in some ways it makes it easier," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable. "The thrust of the Arab Spring is democratic and not really religious so that makes it easier. But it's also harder because when you have a population in a state of upset it's kind of hard to lead to that population."
Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister of the Libyan opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC), called on the United States to formally recognize Libya's rebels as the country's legitimate representative body so that urgent financial assistance can begin to flow.
The Obama administration has repeatedly called for Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi to step down from power but the State Department has not abandoned its official recognition of the Qaddafi government and transferred recognition to the TNC, as did France, Italy, and Qatar. Without that recognition, the TNC can't begin to draw from the billions of dollars in assets that had belonged to the Qaddafi regime and were frozen by the international community shortly after the revolution began, Jibril said during his Thursday visit to Washington.
"I would like to call on the United States and this administration to help us," Jibril told an audience at the Brookings Institution. "We are facing a real crisis, running almost out of money... We have a real human tragedy in the making right now."
The frozen Libyan government assets are valued at about $34 billion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said May 6, "We're looking at ways that we can take frozen assets from the Qaddafi regime and provide those to the Transitional National Council."
But Jibril said that, without official recognition, it was impossible to get access to the funds or even to draw a line of credit based on the frozen assets.
"We are not recognized by the United States, so they cannot release the money," he said.
He also noted the contradiction in the administration calling for Qaddafi to go but continuing to recognize his government.
"Ironically enough, the United States is declaring that the regime lost its legitimacy, so it's not recognizing the other regime by the very fact of this official statement," Jibril said. "We need political recognition by just recognizing this council as the sole legitimate representative interlocutor of the Libyan people."
Jibril said that Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) was working on legislation that would provide about $180 million to the TNC, but that the council needs about $3 billion to provide for Libyan citizens over the next six months.
Jibril also feared that the Congressional appropriations process might be too slow, and that delay in funding could lead to vast humanitarian suffering. "Four or five weeks might be too late. We need this money yesterday, not today."
According to Jibril, some countries have justified their failure to recognize the TNC by explaining that the Libyan opposition does not actually constitute a state. Legally, if the TNC were to form a government, that would facilitate recognition, but the TNC doesn't want to take that step because that could lead to a partition of the country, he explained.
Clearly frustrated, Jibril pleaded for the administration to look beyond the legalities and recognize the TNC as a political gesture.
"If you are convinced of the legitimacy of this revolution, of the legitimate demands of those people, then some political steps have to be taken," he said.
He said that the Libyan revolution was a peaceful movement that had been forced into armed revolt by the brutal actions of the Qaddafi regime. "The freedom fighters are marching toward Tripoli," he said, predicting that Qaddafi regime would ultimately collapse or be overrun, although he couldn't predict when.
"Either an internal crackdown will take place or a total collapse of the regime will materialize in the next few weeks, hopefully," said Jibril.
He also laid out what the TNC sees as a "roadmap" for Libya to reorganize politically if and when Qaddafi falls. First, the TNC would convene a national congress, which would draw representatives from all regions of Libya, to select the committee that would draft a constitution. The constitution would then be put to a referendum, supervised by the United Nations. If the constitution is approved, the new Libyan government would then hold parliamentary elections, followed shortly thereafter by a presidential election.
Jibril is meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon at the White House tomorrow. He will also meet Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and some members of Congress before leaving Washington.
Part of his message to U.S. officials will be that the United States must continue to play a prominent and active role in dealing with the crisis in Libya.
"If I meet President Obama... I would strongly urge him to play a more active role, because there is a lot at stake strategically for the United States if that role is not played properly. There is a lot to be lost," Jibril said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted last month about the decision to start giving non-lethal aid to the Libyan rebel army. Yesterday, the rebels got their first delivery: 10,000 packets of pre-packaged food, what the military calls Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
"This shipment, authorized under the President's April 26th drawdown, consisted of more than 10,000 halal meals ready to eat, so-called MREs, that were transferred from Department of Defense stocks in support of the [Transitional National Council]'s efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under the threat of attack," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at Tuesday's briefing.
The meals are part of the $25 million in non-lethal aid to the Libyan rebels the White House approved on April 26. That approval came 11 days after the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to spend the funds to help the Libyan rebel army fight off the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in non-lethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition, is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Clinton said April 21.
But while the State Department's notification said the money would go to things like "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the Libyan opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC) as urgently needed -- now the list is much more weighted to humanitarian goods.
Toner said Tuesday that the shipments were meant to be in "support of the TNC's efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under the threat of attack." More items are en route to Benghazi, including medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, and personal protective gear, he said.
"We continue to work with the TNC to determine what additional assistance requirements we might be able to support in the coming weeks," said Toner.
Tomorrow will be a great chance to do that, as TNC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril arrives in Washington.
In just over a week, 60 days will have passed since the war in Libya began. But Congress has no plans to exercise its rights under the War Powers Act to either approve or stop the administration's use of U.S. military forces to fight the army of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 allows the president to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress, with another 30 days allowed for the withdrawal of those forces.
"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," the law states.
But the administration won't be immediately pressed to follow the law if nobody in Congress intends to enforce it. Both leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told The Cable on Tuesday that there are no plans for Senate action on the war in Libya -- before or after the deadline.
"I'm not hearing from my colleagues that they feel the War Powers situation is currently in play because we're deferring to NATO," committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable. Kerry had been working on a resolution with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) but the text was never finalized.
Kerry said there's nothing on the schedule either in his committee, where a resolution based on the War Powers Act would have to originate, or on the Senate floor. "I'm certainly prepared to listen and be responsive," if senators want to debate the war, he said.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the committee's ranking Republican, told The Cable he also doesn't see any action on the horizon, but he called on the Senate to start conducting oversight of the war and demanding more details from the Obama administration.
"I'm one who believes that there does need to accountability, if not a declaration of war under the War Powers Act, at least some specific resolution that would give authority," Lugar said. "But even absent that, some definition from the president of what our plan is, what our metrics would be, and by this time what the costs have been, quite apart from the estimate of what they will be."
Asked if the president is legally required to begin ending U.S. military involvement when the 60-day window closes, Lugar said it's a possibility.
"That is certainly one strong interpretation of this. I'll examine that when we come to it," he said. "The War Powers Act has been argued through several administrations as to whether the president feels bound by it or not."
Overall, he and many others in the Senate lament that the budget debate and other issues have pushed the Libya discussion to the back burner.
"There has never has been the correct focus on Libya with regard to congressional hearings or congressional debate," Lugar said.
Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril is coming to Washington on May 12, about a month after he postponed his previously planned visit due to a cancelled flight.
The opposition's official representative in Washington, former Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali, announced the visit on Thursday, and said Jibril will meet with administration officials, lawmakers, and give a speech at the Brookings Institution. During his previously scheduled trip, he had planned to speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"We are deeply grateful to the US for its diplomatic leadership, military support, and humanitarian assistance in the fight against the Qaddafi regime," said Ajuli in a statement. "During his visit, Dr. Jibril will help to fill out the picture and the plans of the opposition and its leadership in its efforts to establish a free and democratic Libya."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be out of town for Jibril's visit, on an official visit to Greenland. But she met with Jibril today on the sidelines of the Libya Contact Group's second round of meetings in Rome.
Before the meeting, Clinton announced that the United States would seek to give some of Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's frozen assets to the opposition.
"I'm pleased to announce that the Obama administration, working with Congress, has decided to pursue legislation that would enable the U.S. to tap some portion of those assets owned by Qaddafi and the Libyan government in the United States, so we can make those funds available to help the Libyan people," she said.
Clinton also said that Qaddafi must relinquish power, and promised that the NATO-led coalition would not stop striking his military until he stops killing his own citizens.
The Obama administration has been gradually ramping up its support for the Libyan opposition. The White House approved $25 million in non-lethal aid to the rebels on April 26. But the State Department has yet to abandon its official recognition of Qaddafi's regime and recognize the TNC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
As part of Jibril's ongoing plea for aid, he promised that all Libyan government contracts would be honored by a new government led by the TNC.
Clinton said there were many ways to help the rebels, but didn't get into specifics. "We'll be discussing a financial mechanism, we'll be discussing other forms of aid," she said.
The White House finally approved the $25 million in non-lethal aid to the Libya rebels that the State Department had notified Congress about on April 15.
The White House released a memo late Tuesday from President Obama to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates officially authorizing them to "drawdown" up to $25 million of "non lethal aid and services" to give to the Libyan Transitional National Council "to support efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya."
The State Department's Congressional notification about the aid funds stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the TNC as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces in cities such as Misrata.
Clinton trumpted the aid as direct support to the rebel army when she "announced" it April 21, a day after the Washington Times first revealed the State Department's plan.
"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in nonlethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition - is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Clinton said.
So what was the hold up? State Department spokesman Mark Toner said April 21 that the request, despite being approved by Clinton and sent to Congress, was not fully "cooked" and had not received White House approval.
Our sources tell a different story. Multiple sources said that the list of items and logistics for delivering the goods hadn't been worked out. The U.S. military doesn't actually land on Libya shores under the current operations scheme, so the goods have to be routed through third party carriers, which is costly. The heavier the items (trucks, for example), the costlier the delivery.
$25 million doesn't really go that far when delivery costs are accounted for, so the final shipment is likely to contain less military vehicles and more lightweight goods, such as medical equipment and blankets, our sources said. There's a realization that even then, the $25 million won't be enough to meet the needs of the Libyan rebels and the people they are protecting.
Separately, the U.S. government is sending millions of dollars in aid to Libya in the form of food, aid to international organizations, and money to help airlift migrants and refuges back to their homes.
State Department Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan was asked about the delay in the approval of the funds at a Tuesday briefing. "Is there a problem?" he was asked. "Not that I'm aware of," he responded.
The Cable asked Sullivan if the reasons for the delay were the logistics but he said he didn't know. We also asked him if $25 million was really enough to help the rebel army.
"Do we need to put more than $25 million into Libya, this is something that we're constantly assessing," Sullivan said. "And obviously, the conversations that are happening in the run-up to the Rome Contact Group meeting about this temporary financial mechanism will involve consideration of what the United States has on offer in respect to assistance, and we're looking at that and will continue to do so."
On April 15, the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to send $25 million of non-lethal military aid to the Libyan rebels, but as of today that money is being held up by the White House and no funds or goods have been disbursed.
The State Department's congressional notification about the aid funds, first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Times, stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC) as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces in cities such as Misrata.
"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in nonlethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition - is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on this morning.
"There's an urgent situation here and they need our help," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday.
But as of today, six days after the State Department notified Congress it planned to give the aid, the White House has still not signed off and none of the aid has begun its journey to the rebels, despite that intense fighting is ongoing.
"Yesterday's announcement of the 25 million in drawdown assistance was not fully cooked. That still needs to head to the White House, be confirmed or ratified by the president, and then we can begin implementing it," Toner explained at Thursday afternoon's State Department briefing.
So what's the hold up? National Security Staff spokesperson Tommy Vietor declined to comment on why the White House was holding up the funds or when a decision would be made.
Meanwhile, a State Department official said that the State Department's top official in Libya Chris Stevens continues to work with the NTC to figure out what they need and whether the U.S. can provide specific items of assistance.
If the aid is approved by the White House, Libya rebels could be soon wearing U.S. military uniforms, although without the U.S. flag stitched on them.
"Many places around the world people wear old NYC police uniforms, they won't be the current uniforms, they have old stocks," the official said.
The U.S. and other countries are readying further measures to increase pressure on Qaddafi through further sanctions on the regime's oil business and tighter enforcement of existing sanctions, the official said.
When asked if the U.S. was considering military advisors to Libya, as the British and French are doing now, the official said, "No."
The leader of Libya's National Transitional Council, Mahmud Jibril, was supposed to be in Washington today and tomorrow to meet with administration officials and senators, but was forced to postpone his trip at the last minute due to a cancelled flight.
"Dr Jibril's commercial flight to the United States was cancelled and he is unable to attend the meeting. We hope to reschedule in the near future," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said in a statement. Jibril was scheduled to have coffee with SFRC members today.
Jibril was also set to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, some Pentagon officials, and give a speech Friday at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. He was not scheduled to meet with any White House or National Security Council senior officials. On its website, CSIS said that Jibril plans to reschedule his trip to Washington for early May.
Jibril had been in Doha attending the first formal meeting of the Libya Contact Group, a broad array of international diplomats working to coordinate between the Libyan opposition and the rest of the world.
He was scheduled to leave for Washington from Bahrain on Wednesday evening, arriving early Thursday morning, but his flight was cancelled due to technical difficulties. Was there any other reason Jibril didn't come to Washington?
"We take it on face value that his travel complications were the reason for the cancellation and we hope to reschedule this important event," said H. Andrew Schwartz, senior vice president for external relations at CSIS.
But the missed opportunity to meet with American officials, lawmakers, and the D.C. foreign policy community comes at a crucial time for the Libyan opposition. The NATO allies are bitterly divided over how far the military intervention in Libya should go. France and the UK support expanding the air mission but not arming the rebels. Italy supports arming the rebels. Germany is opposed to both measures.
Meanwhile, Qaddafi forces are shelling the port and sniping innocent people in the city of Misrata and showing no signs of yielding to the pressure brought on by NATO airstrikes and international sanctions
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Berlin today dealing with this very issue. The NATO allies are divided on whether to increase the pace and scope of the airstrikes, whether to arm the rebels and whether to allow the rebels to use a portion of the billions of dollars from Qaddafi's coffers that is currently frozen in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"We are a sharing the same goal which is to see the end of the Qadhafi regime in Libya. And we are contributing in many ways in order to see that goal realized," she said just before her meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said on Wednesday that U.S. planes are still flying attack missions over Libya despite the handing over of control to NATO last week. The Obama administration pledged to reduce the U.S. role to providing support.
In his speech to the nation March 18, President Obama said, "The United States will play a supporting role -- including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications."
The Senate probably won't be debating the Libya war anytime soon. Top senators on both sides of the aisle are still negotiating over language for a resolution to express the Senate's view on the U.S. involvement in Libya, while the budget battle pushes the intervention to the back burner.
Congress was upset with President Barack Obama last month for committing U.S. forces to the international military intervention in Libya without seeking congressional consent or even really telling Congress about it in advance. But now, almost a month after the attack began, the appetite in the Senate for holding a full-fledged Libya debate on the floor, much less passing a resolution, just isn't there.
"I don't know if there will be time" to debate a resolution before senators leave town for a two-week recess next week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Kerry said he was still working on a resolution with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that expresses support for Obama's policy and that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MA) has also had input. But the three of them just can't seem to get together on the final language.
"We've got the language resolved except for two words," Kerry said. He didn't say what those two words are, but several senate sources mentioned "regime change."
Regime change was the focus of the draft resolution circulated by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) last week. Cornyn's draft is the marker inside the GOP caucus -- but because it outwardly calls for regime change in Libya, it goes farther than the White House's policy and therefore can't be signed onto by the administration's top supporters on Libya, which include Levin and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Like Cornyn, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also wants the Senate to officially endorse regime change, a step Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adamantly opposes.
We're told by multiple GOP senate aides that ultimately, a majority of the GOP caucus could go along with removing the phrase "regime change" from the resolution, but there's still no consensus. Meanwhile, there are also several senators who are just flat out opposed to the Libya war, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and SFRC ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).
In a Tuesday interview, Lugar told The Cable that he still had not received any clarity from the administration on the objectives, goals, or costs of the Libya war, which he said is just as important as resolving the issue of congressional authorization for the war.
"There's been no plan, no metrics for success, no budget as to how much will be spent during the conflict nor post conflict," Lugar said. "I think these are all important things and we'll continue to call for it."
The Defense Department's three-year-old Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been looking for a permanent home ever since it began operating out of its current location in Stuttgart, Germany. Today, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) revealed that the top contender to host AFRICOM is... Charleston, South Carolina!
"Secretary Gates, I've been told, has instructed the Department of Defense to look for a stateside home for Africa Command, to move you out of Stuttgart and that the leading contender, the most preferred site was Charleston Air Force Base," Graham said at today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on AFRICOM.
AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham said he wasn't aware that Gates had chosen Charleston as the lead contender, but said he liked Charleston all the same.
"Sir, I have visited Charleston and enjoyed that visit very much," said Ham.
"Good. We would like to have you," Graham responded, reassuring the general that Gates had, in fact, chosen Charleston and that the city was ready to provide the Defense Department with all the infrastructure assistance it would need to relocate AFRICOM to South Carolina.
For those tracking the numbers, AFRICOM's current headquarters in Stuttgart is about 800 miles from the closest point in Africa. Charleston is about 4,000 miles from the African continent.
Of course, AFRICOM wouldn't be the first combatant command to be headquartered outside of the region it covers. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which covers the broader Middle East, is located at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida, although it has a huge forward operating base in Qatar. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which is responsible for South America and Central America, is located in Miami, relatively close to the region it covers.
But AFRICOM personnel shouldn't start packing their bags just yet. Last month, the Charleston Business Review reported that local business leaders had been told by the Pentagon that the final decision to relocate AFRICOM had been deferred indefinitely.
In other news from the hearing, Ham who was for 12 days running the U.S. intervention in Libya stated that a stalemate in the Libya war "is now more likely," than when the conflict began. "In my personal opinion, that is not the preferred solution," Ham said.
The NATO-led coalition is still attacking regime command-and-control assets in Tripoli and is engaged in an electronic warfare effort to keep the Libyan regime off of TV and radio, he said. He added that there is no effort to kill Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, but if he happens to be killed, that's perfectly acceptable.
Ham also said that the United States is still flying combat missions over Libya and is still using the AC-130 close air support gunship to help the Libyan rebels, despite previous administration claims that those planes would be removed from the fight.
He also stressed that there must be some negotiated ceasefire.When asked how the war in Libya will end, Ham said, "Sir, I think it does not end militarily."
UPDATE: The Virginia Pilot reports that Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner confirmed that Charleston hasn't been chosen yet. They want AFRICOM to be based in Norfolk, VA, where Joint Forces Command, which is being closed down by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The Senate voted late Tuesday afternoon to delay any debate on the Libya war until after the ongoing budget debate. And if the government shuts down on Friday, that debate could be delayed much longer.
Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) forced the Senate to take a vote on his non-binding amendment expressing the Senate's opposition to the Obama administration's decision to go to war in Libya. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) didn't want a Libya debate to halt progress on the small business bill that was on the floor, so he convened a vote to table the Ryan amendment. Reid's vote to table the amendment passed overwhelmingly, 90-10. Ten GOP senators actually voted against delaying a vote on Paul amendment, signaling that they are firmly opposed to the president's Libya policy or at least want the debate to happen now.
In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Paul said that he considered the vote to table his amendment as tantamount to a vote on the war itself.
"It's exactly the same thing," said Paul. "It's either you want to consider it or you don't want to consider it. Obviously if you vote to table it you disagree with the resolution. The implication isn't very subtle. We won't get a direct vote because [the Senate leaders] don't want to take the vote, so you get an indirect vote."
Paul's amendment essentially calls on senators to approve or disapprove then-candidate Obama's 2007 statement to the Boston Globe, in which he asserted, "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
"It embarrasses [Senate leaders] because it uses the president's exact language," Paul said. "But it divides our caucus too. Half of our caucus believes in no limitation on war-making...and I strongly disagree with that. Either you believe there needs to be Congressional authority for war or you don't."
The ten GOP senators who voted against tabling the Paul amendment were Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Paul himself.
One senior Republican who is adamantly opposed to the Libya war but did not vote for the Paul amendment was Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN). In an interview with The Cable, Lugar said that the budget debate was preventing the Senate from taking up the Libya debate.
"We're so consumed with the budget debate, whether the government is going to close down, there's almost no audience in the caucus for the time being," he said. "In terms of an effective parliamentary gesture, this is preempted for the foreseeable future."
Lugar said Paul has a good point about congressional authorization but noted that several senators, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), John Kerry (D-MA), and John Cornyn (R-TX), are working on ideas on how to express Congress' view on the Libya war.
Lugar said Congressional confusion about its right to authorize the war is a separate issue from lawmakers' demands that the administration present clear objectives for the Libya intervention and detail a plan for the mission going forward.
"This has been going on for weeks. We are moving along day after day spending money... everyone assumes that we know in the back of our minds that Qaddafi must go but that is not the stated objective, nor is there really any plan whatsoever as to what will be done in the aftermath," Lugar said. "Literally, the drift continues."
In an interview with The Cable, Cornyn said he agreed with the plan to delay the Senate Libya debate for now because the Senate needed to move on more pressing business.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable in an interview that the Libya resolution was discussed at the GOP caucus lunch meeting on Tuesday, but there were still several ideas being tossed around.
"The worst thing would be if we take up a resolution and it fails," Graham said, adding that he wants the final language to explicitly call for regime change in Libya. "We're going to have to sit down and see where our Democratic colleagues are at."
Princeton Lyman, President Barack Obama's new special envoy to Sudan, left on Saturday for his first trip to the region since officially replacing Gen. Scott Gration, and the Sudan advocacy community could not be happier about the replacement.
"It's an excellent upgrade that will allow the U.S. to be even more effective," John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project, told The Cable. "Lyman has both of the ingredients that Gration lacked -- a deep understanding of regional politics and a long record of negotiating experience. Gration had neither of them when he took the job in 2009."
Gration, who had multiple run-ins with both top Obama administration officials and advocates in the Sudan community, will probably be remembered for what some considered a naïve approach toward the brutal Sudanese regime, notably when he said that "gold stars" and "cookies" could be used to affect positive change in Khartoum. Gration has been appointed ambassador to Kenya, and Tuesday he testifies at a hearing that will mark the beginning of what's sure to be a difficult Senate confirmation process.
Obama met with Lyman at the White House on April 1 to congratulate him on the appointment and talk over the road ahead.
"During the meeting, the President outlined his serious concerns over the situation in Abyei and the impact that increased bombings are having on civilians in Darfur," according to a White House read out of the meeting. "The President underscored his commitment to the establishment of two viable states in northern and South Sudan in July. They discussed the urgency of all parties joining the new opportunities in the Doha Peace Process and of elevating the level of international engagement on Darfur."
Lyman will first travel to Ethiopia to participate in talks regarding implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and security arrangements along the border between the two countries. Those talks are being facilitated by the African Union's High-Level Implementation Panel. He will then travel to Khartoum, where he will meet with Sudanese leaders on North-South political issues. Finally, he will travel back to Ethiopia for meetings of the "economic cluster groups," who deal with oil, debt, and other non-security issues. Meanwhile, his senior advisor Dane Smith is set to travel to Doha for the next round of talks on the situation in Darfur.
There are only three months left before the CPA's "interim period" runs out and Sudan will officially split into two countries, following the January referendum, in which the south overwhelmingly voted in favor of separation. But the situation on the ground is reportedly getting worse as the northern government masses its forces near the oil-rich region of Abyei, whose final status is far from settled.
"Troubling is too light a word for what's going on in Abyei," said Prendergast. "The concentration of armor and artillery is a violation of the CPA and the amassing of ground forces indicates that major military action is imminent."
Lyman's first order of business as special envoy is, "to prevent that from happening and secure the wider deal on border, citizenship and other issues" Prendergast said. "That's going to be the biggest priority."
Back at the State Department, a reorganization of Gration's office is also underway. We're told that plans are being put in place to integrate the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan back into the African Affairs bureau (AF) led by Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson.
On a conference call with advocacy leaders last week, Lyman said he was looking to add additional staff to his team to address issues related to the relationship between north and south Sudan, but no decisions had been made as of yet.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced on Monday that it was lifting sanctions against Musa Kusa, the former Libyan foreign minister who defected from Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime and fled to London last week.
Kusa was sanctioned as part of Executive Order 13566, which included the freezing of all assets belonging to senior Libyan government officials. Since Kusa is no longer a senior Libyan government official, his name will be immediately taken off the Treasury's Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List and his funds in international banks will now be unfrozen, the Treasury Department said on Monday.
A White House spokesman quickly sent the Treasury Department's release to reporters. David Cohen, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, wrote on Monday that Kusa's defection showed that sanctions can work, although he didn't directly claim that Kusa made his decision based on the sanctions alone.
"One of the intended purposes of sanctions against senior officials in the Libyan government was to motivate individuals within the Qaddafi regime to make the right decision and disassociate themselves from Qaddafi and his government. And today's announcement shows the ability of sanctions to advance our national security and foreign policy goals and objectives," wrote Cohen.
"Sanctions are a powerful tool that we have at our disposal to apply pressure against individuals to influence their decision-making calculus ... Koussa's defection and the subsequent lifting of sanctions against him should encourage others within the Libyan government to make similar decisions to abandon the Qadhafi regime."
Thirteen Libyan government officials remain on the SDN list and more sanctions are on the way, Cohen added.
Since the Libyan crisis began, Kusa has been a major target of the U.S. government due to both his proximity to Qaddafi as a trusted advisor, and his close connections to officials in foreign countries. He was the main interlocutor between the Qaddafi regime and the State Department for weeks at the beginning of the Libyan uprising and often spoke on the phone with Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
The defections are crucial to the White House's strategy of ousting Qaddafi, as it seeks to scale down the U.S. military role in the Libyan intervention.
Last week, President Obama told ABC News, "I think what we're seeing is that the circle around Qaddafi understands that the noose is tightening, that their days are probably numbered, and they are going to have to think through what their next steps are."
The Libyan rebels' representative in Washington, Ali Aujali, called on the United States to stay at the fore of the international effort to oust Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and to give the opposition leadership weapons and access to billions in frozen Libyan assets.
"The United States is the major player in this crisis. We want the administration and we want your support to keep the role of the United States alive. We want American to be involved," Aujali said at the Center for American Progress on Monday. Aujali previously served as Qaddafi's ambassador to Washington before joining the opposition in February. "For the United States to continue to be a major player in this crisis, this is very important."
He said he understood the domestic considerations in the United States, but insisted that the Obama administration still had a huge role to play in supporting the armed resistance to Qaddafi and continuing aid to Libya's civilian population.
"It will change a lot the image of the United States in the Arab and Muslim world. People will see Americans not only go because they have interests, they go to support freedom, they go to support people who are willing to die for their cause," he said. "This is a great achievement for American foreign policy."
Aujali called on the Obama administration to recognize the National Transitional Council, which is based in Benghazi, as Italy did today. He also called on the international community to give the council access to assets of the Qaddafi regime that were frozen as part of U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973.
"If we don't have access to the money, that's a serious problem," he said.
The Libyan opposition has been in contact with the State Department and the Treasury Department to press their case for control of the funds, Aujali said. "It may just be a matter of time, but time means more killing of the Libya people, more suffering, shortages of food and water... We have to move fast if we want to save the Libyan people from this massacre."
Aujali said that he had met with several lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and others.
Aujali's basic demands mirrored those in his March 31 op-ed in the Washington Post. "If you want the opposition to achieve victory on the ground then we need to help them. They need training, they need armament, they need political support."
He claimed that the Qaddafi regime is collapsing from the inside, and made clear that the Libya people will never strike any deal with Qaddafi that would keep any member of his family in power, as his son Seif al-Islam has reportedly suggested. Aujali also denied reports that there are deep divisions within the opposition.
"There is not a split among the council or among the military leadership at all," he said.
Overall, Aujali's message was that the Libyan rebels will never stop fighting until the entire Qaddafi family is gone from power and, while the no-fly zone is helpful, the international community must not stop there.
"If Qaddafi stays behind, not only will the Libyans be victimized. All of us will be victims. It is time for us now to get rid of this man. It's time for us to give Libyans a chance to rule themselves," he said. "The Libyans have the right to dream. And they are prepared to die."
Responding to reports President Barack Obama secretly authorized covert action to support the Libyan rebels, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that actually arming the Libyan rebels would require his approval and he hasn't given it.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a late Wednesday interview that the Obama administration's top national security officials were deeply split on whether arming the rebels was a good idea. In a classified briefing Wednesday with lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Rogers said it was clear that there were deep divisions between the cabinet officials regarding the wisdom of arming the rebels.
"I've never seen an uneasiness amongst their national security cabinet members as I have seen on this. It's kind of odd," said Rogers. He declined to say which cabinet members were supporting arming the rebels and which were opposed, but he said it was obvious that they disagreed.
"Everything from body language to the way they are addressing members of Congress, it's very clear that there's lots of tension inside that Cabinet right now. This to me is why it's so important for the president to lead on this," said Rogers. "I think [Obama's] reluctant on this, at best. And there are differences of opinion and you can tell that something just isn't right there."
Rogers wouldn't confirm or deny the report that Obama issued what's known as a "presidential finding" authorizing the intelligence community to begin broadly supporting the Libyan rebels, because such findings are sensitive and classified. But he said that if Obama wanted to arm the rebels, the president would need Rogers' support, which he doesn't yet have.
"Any covert action that happens would have to get the sign off of the intelligence chairmen, by statute. You won't get a sign off from me," Rogers said referring to National Security Act 47. "I still think arming the rebels is a horrible idea. We don't know who they are, we only know who they are against but we don't really who they are for. We don't have a good picture of who's really in charge."
Rogers said that the issues of providing covert support and actually arming the rebels are separate issues.
"There is a public debate about arming the rebels... that somehow got intertwined and it probably shouldn't have."
But Rogers has no objections to putting CIA operatives on the ground to gather information on who the rebels are. National Journal reported late Wednesday that about a dozen CIA officers are now on the ground in Libya doing just that.
"That should be happening anyway, through public means, through intelligence, all of that should be happening," he said. "The agencies are by statute and by law allowed to go overseas to collect information, that means any country."
The intelligence committees do need to be notified about major intelligence operations, either before or immediately after in exigent circumstances, a committee staffer said.
Rogers said he was concerned about al Qaeda's involvement with the Libya opposition.
"The number 3 guy in al Qaeda right now is Libyan. They have put a fair number of fighters into Iraq from Libya. So it is a place where al Qaeda is, [but] that doesn't mean this is an al Qaeda effort."
He also said that the Libyan regime, led by Col. Muammar al Qaddafi, still possesses stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
"The administration missed a big opportunity when they didn't talk about chemical weapons stockpiles. I've seen it personally with these eyeballs. Their biological weapons program, we think we got it all but we're not sure," said Rogers. I worry a lot about who is safeguarding that material. We believe right now it is in the hands of the regime."
"Mustard gas in the hands of bad guy, you don't have to have a large scale event to have that be an incredibly dangerous terrorist weapon. And there are other things that he has as well."
The White House issued a statement late Thursday from Press Secretary Jay Carney that the Obama administration was not arming the rebels as of now.
"No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya. We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters," the statement read.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.