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Republicans in Congress slam Obama Libya policy

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Reaction to Obama's Libya speech
  • NEW: Obama signals possible willingness to arm the Libyan rebels
  • President Obama calls Libya mission a model for 21st-century international action
  • Administration officials will give a classified briefing to Congress on Wednesday
  • Sen. McCain says Obama should use military force to oust Moammar Gadhafi

Washington (CNN) -- Republican leaders continued to hammer the Obama administration Tuesday for its handling of the war in Libya, criticizing the White House on a host of issues relating to the execution of the U.S. role in the conflict.

On the day after President Barack Obama gave a nationally televised speech on Libya, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, criticized him for refusing to overtly apply American military force in pursuit of the U.S. goal of removing strongman Moammar Gadhafi from power.

Other Republican critics said Obama has not provided a clear explanation of the mission, complained that Congress was bypassed, or called for an accounting of the costs, among other issues.

Democratic defenders of the White House, meanwhile, praised Obama, saying he clearly defined the U.S. role in the conflict and ensured a limited engagement that they say will prevent a repeat of the extended U.S. involvement in other parts of the Muslim world.

Obama, speaking at the dedication of a new U.S. office at the United Nations in New York, said the Libya mission was a model for 21st-century international action.

Sen. Durbin: 'No-fly zone' is working
Obama explains Libya action to nation
Boehner: Questions not answered
McCain says he wants Gadhafi out
  • Libya
  • Barack Obama
  • John McCain
  • Dick Lugar
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"That's how the international community should work: more nations; the United States right there at the center of it, but not alone; everybody stepping up, bearing their responsibilities, carrying the costs of upholding peace and security," Obama said. "That's what it means to be united nations. That was the vision imagined by the founders of this institution."

On Wednesday, top administration officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen will give Congress a classified briefing on the Libya situation, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Acknowledging complaints that Obama should have sought congressional permission before acting in Libya, Reid said he read the War Powers Act on authorizing military action to his Democratic caucus and told members to ask all their questions at Wednesday's briefing before deciding whether to take legislative action on the matter.

In his speech Monday night, Obama said that while the United States had clear strategic and moral reasons to intervene in Libya, it would be a mistake to try to oust Gadhafi directly through the use of U.S. military power. Doing so, he warned, would fracture the international coalition.

The coalition's military mission is instead giving the Libyan people the opportunity to get rid of Gadhafi themselves, he said.

"When the president says it would be a mistake to use military force in order to take (Gadhafi) out of power, which is U.S. policy ... I think (that) is a serious mistake," McCain said on CNN's "American Morning."

"I think the president made a clear and convincing case for our military intervention," McCain said. "But the rebels still don't match up with the Gadhafi forces."

"To say we're not going to use military means to achieve a U.S. policy goal, in my view, is a contradiction," he said.

If "Gadhafi remains in power, it will be a stalemate," he warned, noting the decade-long no-fly zone previously imposed in Iraq. "It's not an acceptable solution."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, responded to McCain's criticism by suggesting that other countries could commit land forces to the effort to overthrow Gadhafi -- an option explicitly ruled out by Obama for U.S. forces.

"It doesn't always have to be the United States that sends the soldiers and Marines and airmen forward," Durbin told CNN. "Let us support those countries that want to engage in this at that level."

Durbin stressed the importance of having America continue to act in concert with the broader anti-Gadhafi coalition.

"The Arab League came to us and asked for our help," he said. "The people of Libya who were the victims of Gadhafi asked for us to stand up and assist them. That message won't be lost in the Arab and Muslim world."

Attending a meeting of coalition partners in London, Clinton stressed that "long-term progress in Libya will not be accomplished through military means."

"While our military mission is focused on saving lives, we must continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to the Libyan people," Clinton said. The international community has to "speak with one voice in support of a transition that leads to that time."

Later Tuesday, Obama signaled a willingness to arm the Libyan rebels, but made clear that no decision had been made.

"I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in," Obama told NBC in one of three separate interviews on the Libya situation he gave to the major U.S. television networks.

"I think it's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could," Obama told ABC. "We're looking at all our options at this point."

While McCain is criticizing Obama for failing to use stronger military force against Gadhafi, other Republicans have criticized the president for, in their opinion, failing to adequately explain the extent of U.S. involvement and when it will end.

"The American people need to know whether we will contribute to a prolonged military engagement with Libya, to what extent the alliance is contributing military assets, what the direct and indirect costs will be, and what the U.S. role in Libya means for our military already committed significantly in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere," Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said after Obama's speech.

"The fact is that transferring this operation to NATO does not constitute an exit strategy, and ultimately means the United States is still shouldering much of the burden."

Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Libya campaign, asserted Tuesday that the organization is "on track" to take full command of the operation. "We are in the process of completing the handover in the coming days," he said.

NATO has already formally taken responsibility for enforcing an arms embargo and the no-fly zone. It agreed over the weekend to take on the added responsibility of civilian protection.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, complained that the administration's goal of replacing Gadhafi is "really nothing more than hope." There's no clear strategy in place to ensure Gadhafi is toppled, he said.

Boehner sent a letter to Obama last week in which he asked specific questions about the Libya mission, including whether the U.S. military would take on a larger role if the coalition were to fall apart.

The speaker said Tuesday that "some of my questions were answered by the president, but others were not." He asked how long NATO will continue to enforce the no-fly zone if Gadhafi isn't removed from power quickly.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Obama "missed a huge opportunity to talk about chemical and biological and other stockpiles there that worry us greatly and do impact our national and security interests."

He also referenced "other weapons systems we are very nervous about," though he didn't offer specifics.

Rogers, a supporter of U.S. engagement in Libya, said the president's refusal to specify a clear endgame strategy adds "to the skepticism" and the belief that the United States should not "have gotten in if (we) don't know how to get out."

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, agreed that "we don't have an endgame as far as the timeline." But he said Obama had clarified the mission, and praised the "substantial progress and stability on the ground."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, argued during a congressional hearing Tuesday that other Arab states with significant air assets -- such as Saudi Arabia -- should take a greater role in enforcing the no-fly zone.

Collins also told CNN she is concerned about an al Qaeda presence in eastern Libya, the region that provides the base of support for the rebels.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the rebel leaders meeting with Clinton in London "have made clear what their principles are."

"We believe that (their principles are) meritorious," Carney said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, complained that "the extent to which Congress has been bypassed in this process is breathtaking." White House officials insist they have fulfilled the congressional consultation requirements required under the 1973 War Powers Act.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, has led calls for a full accounting of the costs of the mission.

The United States has already fired close to 200 Tomahawk missiles in Libya. The cost of that alone is between $250 million and $300 million. By some estimates, it costs about $10,000 an hour to keep a U.S. fighter jet in the air, and U.S. jets have flown nearly 1,000 sorties, many of which lasted five or six hours.

Defense Department spokeswoman Cmdr. Kathleen Kesler said Tuesday that the Pentagon had incurred $550 million in Libyan operation costs so far. Munitions accounted for roughly 60% of those costs, she said.

Kesler added that while future costs are uncertain, the Pentagon expects to incur expenses totaling approximately $40 million over the next three weeks. Beyond that point, anticipated costs would total about $40 million per month, she said.

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Tom Cohen, Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh, Jennifer Rizzo and Chris Lawrence contributed to this report.

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