Obama Faces Criticism Of Mission In Libya
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
President Obama is back in Washington this morning after a five-day trip to Latin America, and he's facing a lot of pointed questions about the U.S. military mission in Libya. Some lawmakers say they weren't adequately consulted, and they're still not sure how the U.S. involvement in Libya is supposed to end.
So were going to talk about all this with NPR's Scott Horsley. He's on the line.
Scott, good morning.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Not exactly a grand homecoming for the president here.
HORSLEY: No, Steve. By our count, Air Force One was on the ground less than 10 minutes when House Speaker John Boehner's office released a letter that the congressman had sent the president saying he and other lawmakers are troubled that the military was committed to this operation without, he said, a clear definition of the mission or the U.S. role in that mission.
Boehner said it appears the White House has been consulting more with the U.N. and with the Arab League then with members of Congress.
Now there are some lawmakers who have come to the president's defense, but interestingly, Indiana Senator Dick Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has often been an ally of the president...
HORSLEY: ...complained that Congress has not been meaningfully consulted and saying it's not clear the administration has really thought through the consequences, here.
INSKEEP: And then Lugar's urging hearings, as I understand. I am curious, Scott, did people at the White House think about the possibility that if they went ahead with this plan - long-planned Latin America trip - just as the war was beginning, that people would be left behind in the U.S. saying you didn't explain this to me. You're not leading on this. We don't know what you're doing.
HORSLEY: Well, surely that was a consideration and that's why the president came out on Friday before he left, and gave a statement on Libya. The White House has said that it was important to keep this commitment in the Western Hemisphere. It showed the U.S. role in Latin America, and to underscore that the Libyan operation is not solely a U.S. campaign. That said, there were lots of photos and briefings during the trip, stressing the president keeping very much on top of what's happening in Libya.
INSKEEP: OK. So now the substance of the criticism here, that Congress feels they haven't been consulted, and also they don't know really what's going on. What is the White House saying in response?
HORSLEY: Well, aides point out that the president did meet with members of Congress on Friday before he left for Latin America and before the missiles were launched. Although, to be fair, at that point, the die was pretty much cast. So it was more of a matter of telling Congress what was about to happen than getting their buy-in. The White House staff have also been saying that the president will be doing more of this. Here's White House spokesman Jay Carney, talking to reporters yesterday aboard Air Force One.
Mr. JAY CARNEY (White House Spokesman): We obviously take very seriously the need for Congressional consultations, and we have done them and will continue to do them. It's important to remember that in the run-up to this action, we were criticized fairly frequently by those who felt like we weren't moving quickly enough. Now there's even - you know, some are criticizing us for going too quickly. What the president did was make a decision based on an imminent threat of a humanitarian nature to a great number of Libyans. And I think it's important to remember where we were a week ago and where we are now.
INSKEEP: That's White House spokesman Jay Carney. We're talking with NPR's Scott Horsley here.
And Scott, let's just remember, the president has said the U.S. role in Libya, he intends it to be limited. He doesn't want any American troops on the ground, for example. He wants to hand-off of control to the allies as quickly as possible. What else do lawmakers want to know from him?
HORSLEY: Well, one question has been just who is going to take over for the U.S. in running this operation. The administration has said NATO will play a significant role, but that's been a source of some friction within the coalition. You know, we're five-plus days in now, and there's still no clear command structure to replace the U.S. That's raised questions about just how long the U.S. will be in charge, just what this is going to cost.
While he was in Latin America, Mr. Obama said repeatedly that command will be handed over in days, not weeks.
President BARACK OBAMA: When this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily involved in enforcing the arms embargo. That's precisely what the other coalition partners are going to do. And that's why building this international coalition has been so important, because it means the United States is not bearing all the costs.
HORSLEY: And Congress is going to be asking more about the ultimate goal, as Tom Gjelten was talking about.
INSKEEP: And - but people are going to be asking, though, whether you can be partway into a war.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HORSLEY: For sure.
INSKEEP: Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley.
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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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