The Cable

Will Obama 'split the baby' on Afghanistan -- again?

When President Barack Obama announces his decision on the size of the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan tomorrow night, he can satisfy those calling for a "modest" reduction, or those calling for a "significant" reduction of U.S. soldiers - or he can take the middle road and make both sides equally unhappy.

Obama will address the nation Wednesday at 8 p.m. from the White House to "lay out his plan for implementing his strategy...to draw down American troops from Afghanistan," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

When Obama formulated his Afghan war strategy in December 2009, he was faced with two sets of advisors giving him contradictory recommendations. On one side were military and Pentagon leaders urging him to surge 40,000 troops to Afghanistan to implement a counterinsurgency strategy. On the other side were NSC advisors and Vice President Joseph Biden, who urged Obama to surge only 20,000 troops to focus on counterterrorism operations.

Obama, in King Solomon-like fashion, decided to draft his own six-page plan for Afghanistan that resulted in a surge of 30,000 troops to pursue a strategy that mixed counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.

Tomorrow, Obama faces a similar dilemma. Many reports predict he will announce that the United States will withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of 2011. That number is not likely to please those calling for a "modest" withdrawal, or those calling for "significant" reductions.

"It should be a significant number, that's what the president committed to, and significant means a minimum of 15,000 by the end of this year," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Cable today. He has also recommended that the entire surge force of 30,000 soldiers be removed by next spring.

"If it's not significant, it doesn't serve its purpose, which is to make it clear to the Afghan government that the primary responsibility for security needs to be transferred to them. And anything less than 15,000 sends a weaker message to the Afghan people and the wrong message to the American people, who really want us to make significant reductions in our presence," Levin said.

Levin's GOP counterpart, committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) is on the opposite side of this debate. He told The Cable Tuesday that he agreed with Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the drawdown should be "modest."

"Secretary Gates said a modest number that would not affect the troops that we've sent over as part of the surge. I totally agree with Secretary Gates. That's 3,000 to 5,000, that's what Secretary Gates recommended," said McCain.

The White House is cognizant of the political risks of going against the advice of its military professionals. Administration officials were quick to point out that ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus gave Obama a "range of options" when the two met at the White House last week.

But with so many officials and lawmakers already on record with their recommendations, the White House will be hard pressed to claim that it is following the recommendations of one side or the other if it does decide to announce the withdrawal of 10,000 troops.

Top officials have already admitted that the size of the drawdown won't be based on purely military considerations, but also the public mood concerning the Afghan war.

"It goes without saying that there are a lot of reservations in the Congress about the war in Afghanistan, and our level of commitment. There are concerns among the American people who are tired of a decade of war," Gates said on Tuesday. "So the president obviously has to take those matters into consideration, as well as the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan in making his decision."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment on the president's decision Tuesday, but will be testifying on the issue before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday morning.

Those who want faster reductions not only believe that U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly unjustifiable, but also make the argument that the current pace of war operations is fiscally unsustainable.

"Cost is very relevant issue to the speed of these reductions. There's a very large savings with the increasing level of reductions," Levin said.

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The Cable

Kerry announces new Libya resolution

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) took to the Senate floor Tuesday morning to announce a new bipartisan resolution endorsing the Obama administration's military intervention in Libya.

"Make no mistake, neither the U.N. nor any nation should be drawn into military intervention lightly. But there were legitimate reasons for establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and forcing Gadhafi to keep his most potent weapons out of the fight. If you slice through the fog of misinformation and weigh the risks and benefits alongside our values and interests, the justification is clear and compelling," Kerry said.

Kerry, who also announced that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and several others were joining him in sponsoring the resolution, tied the Libya intervention to the protest movements sweeping the Middle East and highlighted the humanitarian justification for using military force in the country.

"Silently accepting the deaths of Muslims, even at the hand of their own leader, could have set back relations for decades. Instead, by responding and giving the popular uprising a chance to take power, the U.S. and our allies sent a message of solidarity with the aspirations of people everywhere that will be remembered for generations," Kerry argued.

Kerry said the resolution is not a "blank check" for the president because it authorized the limited use of U.S. forces in a supporting role, bars the use of ground troops, and expires in one year.

Kerry also agreed with the administration's argument that the military intervention in Libya does not require Congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution because the activities there do not rise to the level of "hostilities" as described in the 1973 law.

"I do not think our limited involvement rises to the level of hostilities defined by the War Powers Resolution," he said. "There was, I understand, some disagreement within the administration itself."

He warned that, if Congress seemed divided or unsure of its resolve on Libya, it would send the wrong message to Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, and defended spending money on the Libya intervention even during a time of fiscal crisis.

"By supporting this resolution, we tell Arabs young and old that the United States is willing to make tough decisions and spend our tax dollars to help ensure your freedom. Our own security will be strengthened immeasurably if we can play midwife to these budding democracies," Kerry said. "And the cost now will be far less than the cost in the future if we lose our resolve now."

Full text of the resolution after the jump:

Joint Resolution Authorizing the Limited Use of the United States Armed Forces in Support of the NATO Mission in Libya

Whereas peaceful demonstrations that began in Libya, inspired by similar movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East, quickly spread to cities around the country, calling for greater political reform, opportunity, justice, and the rule of law.

Whereas Muammar Qaddafi, his sons, and forces loyal to them responded to the peaceful demonstrations by authorizing and initiating violence against civilian non-combatants in Libya, including the use of airpower and foreign mercenaries;

Whereas, on February 25, 2011, President Barack Obama imposed unilateral economic sanctions on, and froze the assets of, Muammar Qaddafi and his family, as well as the Government of Libya and its agencies to hold the Qaddafi regime accountable for its continued use of violence against unarmed civilians and its human rights abuses and to safeguard the assets of the people of Libya;

Whereas, on February 26, 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1970, which mandates international economic sanctions and an arms embargo;

Whereas, in response to Qaddafi's assault on civilians in Libya, a "no-fly zone" in Libya was called for by the Gulf Cooperation Council on March 7, 2011; by the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on March 8, 2011; and by the Arab League on March 12, 2011;

Whereas Qaddafi's advancing forces, after recapturing cities in eastern Libya that had been liberated by the Libyan opposition, were preparing to attack Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people and the seat of the opposition government in Libya, the Interim Transitional National Council;

Whereas Qaddafi stated that he would show "no mercy" to his opponents in Benghazi, and that his forces would go "door to door" to find and kill dissidents;

Whereas, on March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which mandates "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya, implement a "no-fly zone", and enforce an arms embargo against the Qaddafi regime;

Whereas President Obama notified key congressional leaders in a meeting at the White House on March 18, 2011, of his intent to begin targeted military operations in Libya and made clear that the United States "is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya";

Whereas the United States Armed Forces, together with coalition partners, launched Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya on March 19, 2011, to protect civilians in Libya from immediate danger and enforce an arms embargo and a "no-fly zone";

Whereas, on March 28, 2011, President Obama stated, "America has an important strategic interest in preventing Qaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful-yet fragile-transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power...So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.";

Whereas, on March 31, 2011, the United States transferred authority for Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya to NATO command, with the mission continuing as Operation Unified Protector;

Whereas, in a letter to joint bipartisan congressional leaders on May 20, 2011, President Obama expressed support for a Senate resolution on the use of force in Libya and stated that, "Since April 4, U.S. participation has consisted of: (1) non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance (2) aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone and (3) since April 23, precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets in support of the NATO-led coalition's efforts."; and

Whereas, on June 9, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized the Transitional National Council "as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people during this interim period.": Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SENSE OF CONGRESS.

It is the sense of Congress that-

(1) the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and coalition partners who are engaged in military operations to protect the people of Libya have demonstrated extraordinary bravery and should be commended;

(2) the United States Government should continue to support the aspirations of the people of Libya for political reform and self-government based on democratic and human rights;

(3) the goal of United States policy in Libya, as stated by the President, is to achieve the departure from power of Muammar Qaddafi and his family, including through the use of diplomatic and economic pressure, so that a peaceful transition can begin to an inclusive government that ensures freedom, opportunity, and justice for the people of Libya; and

(4) the funds of the Qaddafi regime that have been frozen by the United States should be returned to the people of Libya for their benefit, including humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, and the President should explore the possibility with the Transitional National Council of using some of such funds to reimburse NATO countries for expenses incurred in Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Unified Protector.

SEC. 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR THE LIMITED USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES IN LIBYA.

(a) Authority.-The President is authorized to continue the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in Libya, in support of United States national security policy interests, as part of the NATO mission to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) as requested by the Transitional National Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Arab League.

(b) Expiration of Authority.-The authorization for such limited use of United States Armed Forces in Libya expires one year after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution.

SEC. 3. OPPOSITION TO THE USE OF UNITED STATES GROUND TROOPS.

Consistent with the policy and statements of the President, Congress does not support deploying, establishing, or maintaining the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya unless the purpose of the presence is limited to the immediate personal defense of United States Government officials (including diplomatic representatives) or to rescuing members of NATO forces from imminent danger.

SEC. 4. REPORTS TO CONGRESS.

The President shall consult frequently with Congress regarding United States efforts in Libya, including by providing regular briefings and reports as requested, and responding to inquiries promptly. Such briefings and reports shall include the following elements:

(1) An updated description of United States national security interests in Libya.

(2) An updated statement of United States policy objectives in Libya, both during and after Qaddafi's rule, and a detailed plan to achieve them.

(3) An updated and comprehensive list of the activities of the United States Armed Forces in Libya.

(4) An updated and detailed assessment of the groups in Libya that are opposed to the Qaddafi regime, including potential successor governments.

(5) A full and updated explanation of the President's legal and constitutional rationale for conducting military operations in Libya consistent with the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.).

 

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