The Cable

Exclusive: Top U.S. admiral admits we are trying to kill Qaddafi

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."

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The Cable

How an exhausted White House lost Congress on Libya

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."

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