The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee argued against implementing a no-fly zone over Libya on Thursday, and also said that Congress must pass a formal declaration of war if the Obama administration decides to take that step.
"Clearly, the United States should be engaged with allies on how to oppose the Qaddafi regime and support the aspirations of the Libyan people," said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) at the start of the committee's Thursday morning hearing on the Middle East. "But given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame in a civil war, the strains on our military, and other factors, I am doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya."
Lugar pointed to the fact that 145,000 American troops are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the annual U.S. budget deficit is already around $1.5 trillion.
"In this broad context, if the Obama administration decides to impose a no-fly zone or take other significant military action in Libya, I believe it should first seek a Congressional debate on a declaration of war under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution," Lugar said.
Lugar's stance against imposing a no-fly zone puts him at odds with committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who supports the move. Kerry didn't mention the no-fly zone in his opening remarks on Thursday. However, he did say that "The will of the Libyan people will in my judgment prevail," contradicting last week's testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who predicted that Qaddafi would win out.
Kerry also argued that America's reliance on foreign oil had led to a misguided foreign policy in the Middle East.
"We had relationships that focused on leaders rather than people and that's part of the energy dependency we are locked into," he said. "We cannot continue to see the Middle East in the context of 9/11. We must see it in the context of 2011."
Kerry also announced he will go to the region this weekend, stopping in Egypt on Sunday.
The hearing's sole witness, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns, testified that "Qaddafi's forces have made significant strides on the ground in the last 24 to 48 hours," and are now 160 miles from Benghazi. Burns said that Muammar al-Qaddafi's troops have been able to take advantage of their overwhelming firepower from both air and land.
He also said that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is pushing for a resolution today at the U.N. Security Council that would authorize a no-fly zone.
"Among the options being discussed today are measures that include a no fly zone but also go beyond that to protect civilians," said Burns.
Lugar referred again to the budget crisis in the United States and implored Burns to seek Arab financing for a no-fly zone, an idea Burns said was under discussion. But Lugar still remained extremely skeptical that a no-fly zone was a good idea.
"The president has not spoken directly to the United States' interests in Libya," Lugar said. "Does the president plan to spell out what are our interests in Libya that would justify the used of armed forces?"
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) pressed Burns to say whether or not the administration believes congressional approval is necessary to intervene militarily in Libya.
"I can't give you a yes-no answer," Burns said.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.