WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama told Americans March 28 that military action in Libya was needed to protect “our interests and values” but it would not include an attempt to overthrow the tyrannical regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land commended the president’s confirmation of America’s ideals but criticized his failure to seek congressional support of forceful intervention.
Speaking from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., to a national television audience, the president said he was seeking to inform the American people of the progress and plans for a coalition effort that began nine days earlier. That military effort opened with missile attacks against Gaddafi’s forces from United States ships and has continued with strikes from American and other air forces.
Obama acknowledged U.S. security was not at stake.
“There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are,” he said during the 27-minute address.
While the president said Libya “would be better off” without Gaddafi in power, that goal would be pursued “through non-military means.”
“Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” Obama said.
Expanding the military aspect to seek removal of Gaddafi would break up the coalition, likely result in U.S. troops on the ground in Libya and increase the costs, he told Americans.
“To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq,” the president said, adding the change in government there “took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”
The military objective, Obama said, remains the protection of the Libyan people threatened by Gaddafi and the grounding of the Libyan air force by instituting a no-fly zone — efforts supported by a United Nations Security Council resolution. The president has not sought legislative approval, though he said in his speech he consulted with congressional leaders from both political parties.
Land said he thinks “many Americans and most Southern Baptists appreciated President Obama’s reaffirmation of our values and beliefs and that it would violate our values and beliefs to allow human beings to be massacred by their own government when we had the ability to stop such a slaughter of human beings with a relatively small exercise of American military power.”
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said Obama’s intervention in Libya “is the opposite and correct decision to the wrong decision by President Clinton not to intervene in Rwanda in 1994, which resulted in as many as one million people being hacked to death in about three months’ time.”
“Unfortunately, President Obama has failed thus far to do one of the things that is absolutely necessary for the lawful use of the American military in combat: Seek the approval of Congress,” Land said. “For the president to authorize the use of American military force in combat without seeking the prior or the subsequent approval of Congress is — to put it bluntly — illegal. The authorization by the United Nations Security Council is not now, and never will be, a substitute for the approval of the United States Congress. To argue otherwise is to diminish America’s sovereignty.”
A Republican leader in the House of Representatives said after the speech he “still did not hear a clearly defined goal for how long military operations will last in Libya.”
“Utilizing U.S. warriors to protect civilians from a brutal dictator is a noble cause, but asking them to maintain a stalemate while we hold-out hope that Gaddafi will voluntarily leave his country raises serious questions about the duration of the mission,” Rep. Buck McKeon of California said in a written statement. McKeon is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Gaddafi’s reign of terror against his own people began after a popular uprising was ignited similar to recent, successful ones in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. His army struck back against rebel forces and was threatening the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi, a city of almost 700,000, when a coalition of the U.S., France, Great Britain and others took action March 19.
Obama said he had pledged to keep ground troops out of Libya, limit the U.S. role and transfer responsibility to coalition partners. “The United States of America had done what we said we would do,” he told Americans. From now on, the U.S. will take on a supporting role, helping with such things as intelligence and search-and-rescue aid, the president said.
The president said military force in Libya was needed to foster democracy in other countries and prevent Libyan refugees from possibly impeding the 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,” he said.
Under the 1973 War Powers Act, a U.S. president may send American forces into battle for 60 days without congressional approval, although he may extend that time for 30 additional days minus legislative support.
Land said that is why “President Bush 41 sought the approval of Congress prior to the first Gulf War and why President Bush 43 sought the approval of Congress before the liberation of Iraq.”
“The bottom line is the president needs to get the approval of Congress within a maximum of 90 days from the beginning of hostilities or he has to cease hostilities whether he is in coalition with NATO or not,” Land said. “Otherwise, it sets a dangerous precedent of the overreach of executive branch power and does damage to the balance of powers designed by our forefathers.”
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.