The Cable

Inside the White House-Congress meeting on Libya

President Barack Obama hosted 18 senior lawmakers at the White House on Friday afternoon to "consult" with them about the new plan to intervene in Libya, exactly 90 minutes before Obama announced that plan to the world and one day after his administration successfully pushed for authorization of military force at the United Nations.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) complained on Thursday that the administration had not properly consulted Congress before deciding to support military intervention in Libya, and called for a formal declaration of war by Congress before military action is taken. Inside the White House meeting, several lawmakers had questions about the mission but only Lugar outwardly expressed clear opposition to the intervention, one lawmaker inside the meeting told The Cable.

The other lawmakers in attendance were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-TX), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Buck McKeon (R-NY), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA).

Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough held a conference call with top Congressional staffers on Friday afternoon where he emphasized Obama's "deep respect for Congress in all of these matters," and gave a read out of the White House meeting. A recording of the call was provided to The Cable.

"The president expects the preponderance of our involvement to last a matter of days, not weeks," McDonough said.

"At the front end of this effort, the United States will contribute our unique capabilities to neutralize air defenses and military equipment that threatens civilians and civilian-populated areas to enable ongoing enforcement operations led by our partners," he said. "We will then enable and support other countries to enforce the no-fly zone...with us in a support role.... It will not be an open ended effort by the United States."

Responding to questions from the staffers, McDonough rejected Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa's claim that all military operations had been halted. McDonough said that all indications are that government attacks on civilians continue and "we have no evidence to support the assertion from the foreign minister that there's a ceasefire."

NATO, which is organizing command and control of the no-fly zone, enforcement of the arms embargo, and humanitarian assistance operations, could finished their planning as early as today, McDonough said. He also confirmed that in addition to the no-fly zone and the "no-drive zone," planning is ongoing for a "no-sail zone," which would allow greater enforcement of the arms embargo authorized by the new U.N. resolution.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Obama emphasized in the meeting that the United States would not shoulder the lion's share of responsibility for conducting and resourcing the mission.

"While the U.S. will provide support and leadership in terms of implementing capabilities which it's uniquely able to provide, the general operation is going to be much more Arab and European led," Berman said, adding that he called into the meeting from Los Angeles.

Berman praised the administration's action, but noted that the current plan is limited to protecting civilians and does not allow international forces to actively overthrow the Libyan government.

"There is now an international consensus that Qaddafi must go, but what does not yet exist is an international consensus on how to get Qaddafi to leave power," he said.

He said the administration is involved in a "tremendous amount of vetting" of Libyan opposition figures as it attempts to figure out which ones are safe to work with, and perhaps even provide with weapons. The White House also told lawmakers that the latest resolution eliminates confusion by more clearly allowing the arming of the opposition, Berman said.

Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also told The Cable in an exclusive interview on Friday that the White House clearly emphasized the U.S. role would be limited.

"We are going to play a very supportive role. France and Great Britain and others are going to lead the way along with our Arab League allies; there may be four or five Arab countries participating," he said.

Rogers said that the administration had been in contact with lawmakers and had kept him up to date, but the communications had been mostly one way.

"I wouldn't call it consultation as much as laying it out," he said.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Cable

Obama: Libya attack will have limited goals

President Obama laid out the rationale for military action against Libya Friday afternoon, arguing that the coming attacks would be limited to protecting the Libyan people and preventing the violence there from destabilizing the region.

Obama repeatedly emphasized that the military intervention will be led by Europe and the Arab states, based on the U.N. Security Council resolution passed 10-0 Thursday evening.

"Muammar Qaddafi has a choice," Obama said. "The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya."

"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action," Obama said.

Many in Washington have called for Obama to spell out exactly why military intervention in Libya is related to U.S. core national interests, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), who came out against attacking Libya Thursday. Obama directly addressed this point in his remarks.

"Now, here's why this matters to us," he said. "Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris on Saturday to meet with her European and Arab counterparts to coordinate enforcement of the resolution, Obama said. The resolution also strengthens the arms embargo on the Libyan regime. British, French, and Arab League leaders have agreed to take the leadership role in enforcing the resolution, Obama added.

The military action will explicitly not be used to drive Qaddafi from power, the president said.

"The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya," said Obama.

In remarks Friday morning, Clinton indicated that more may have to be done beyond the no-fly zone and no-drive zone currently being set up over Libya. "While this resolution is an important step, it is only that -- an important step. We and our partners will continue to explore the most effective measures to end this crisis," she said.

Qaddafi's foreign minister Musa Kusa Friday declared a cease fire and a halt to all military operations, but Clinton rejected that declaration. "We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words. We would have to see actions on the ground. And that is not yet at all clear," she said.