The Cable

Rubio: America looks weak on Libya -- and Russia and China are enjoying it

Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lashed out at the Obama administration's Libya policy on Thursday, saying that the United States looked weak and naïve in hoping that the U.N. Security Council would act to protect the Libyan people.

"The United States, quite frankly, looks weak in this endeavor, it looks unwilling to act," he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, highlighting that Britain, France, the Arab League, and the Libyan opposition are all calling on the United States to support stronger measures to stop Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's assault on rebels and civilians.

"The president has specifically said that Qaddafi must go but has done nothing since then except for having general debates about it for a week and a half or two," Rubio said. "Congressional leadership has strongly called for a no-fly zone and nothing has happened."

The stance of Rubio, the committee's newest Republican, it exactly opposite of the committee's top Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said at the same hearing that a no fly zone was not a good idea and would require a Congressional declaration of war.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns emphasized that the United States was pushing for stronger action at the Security Council, with new resolution coming as early as today. He said the United States was "leading the effort," along with France and Britain, to get authorization for a number of military actions -- short of boots on the ground.

But Rubio was extremely skeptical that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would endorse military intervention in Libya.

"To say that we're pressing the United Nations and that's energetic action is to basically say... that the United States may feel strongly about something but we're not doing anything that the Chinese and Russians don't agree to," said Libya.

Burns said the measures would be more effective with international support.

"But Russia and China don't care about this stuff, they're never going to get involved in these things, and they don't care if Muammar Qaddafi is trying to massacre people," Rubio said. "So if Russia doesn't care and China doesn't care and we care but won't do anything about it, who's it up to, the French?"

Burns said he didn't share Rubio's assessment that the U.N. Security Council won't be able to come up with a new resolution.

"When is that resolution going to happen, after the bloodbath?" Rubio shot back.

Burns predicted a resolution could come as early as today.

But Rubio wasn't done. He asked Burns how China and Russia would respond if America shows it doesn't "have the guts" to act on behalf of opposition groups. He also asked Burns about the U.S. message to Libyan opposition fighters, who are clamoring for U.S. support while the United Nations deliberates.

"Our message to them is, ‘you guys go ahead and do this stuff and if we ever get the Russians and the Chinese to come around, we may or may not join you?'" Rubio wondered.

Rubio then pressed Burns to describe the administration's backup plan, in the event that the United Nations can't agree on a resolution.

"We have lots of ideas about what we might do, we just don't assume it's going to fail," Burns said.

"Are there any ideas you can share with us?" Rubio demanded.

"We'll continue to step up economic pressure and sanctions," Burns suggested.

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The Cable

Lugar: No-fly zone requires declaration of war

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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