Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Libya Discussed While General Carter Ham Testified Before Congress

There is still a lot of discussion about how Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle feel like they should be better informed about the action taking place in Libya and the plans moving forward. Although the Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday focused on the 2012 budget proposal, you can’t really have the leader of the US Africa command testify before the Armed Services committee without some discussion on the current situation on in Libya. General Carter Ham told the committee that US troops have moved into a support role, for instance, before adding that America still might launch a unilateral mission in some circumstances.
“There is always the potential for some U.S. unilateral military mission. One could think of, for example, personnel recovery of a downed pilot or something like that. If that were to occur, that would fall to U.S. Africa Command to execute those responsibilities.”
What was perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of Ham’s testimony, however, was that a lot of other countries in Africa were upset about the military action taken against Libya. This can be seen, for instance, in the reaction from people like the head of the African Union (Teodoro Obiang Nguema) who has actually come out in opposition to international action. He insisted that the situation was an internal Libyan problem. While many of the opposition leaders welcome the international support, they are also skeptical of the NATO forces claiming that they “don’t do anything.”

When it comes to a response to the international critics of our action in Libya, Gen. Ham said he needs “to have a very frank discussion about what U.S. Africa Command's role was and why we did what we did and just be as truthful and forthright as I can.” In other words, we need to continue engaging in the region and keep lines of communication open. With so many different revolutions taking place in Africa and the Middle East, this is definitely correct but it’s still not too comforting that we’re facing so much resistance. And that is part of the reason so many people are hesitant to fully support the way the Obama administration is handling the situation.

Rep. Buck McKeon appeared to share some hesitancy about the course of action we’re taking in Libya. In addition to having made comments about how he hopes Obama does a better job of keeping Congress informed, he hinted at how we don't appear to have an exit plan. When you consider that we're still in Afghanistan and Iraq years after Bush declared "mission accomplished," it was wise for McKeon to jump on this issue relatively early by using his opening statement to raise concern about how long we’re going to be staying in Libya.
"In AFRICOM’s area of responsibility, US forces have been conducting active military operations against forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in an effort to prevent a massacre of the civilian population of Libya. Although this humanitarian intervention is motivated by a noble impulse, there is a strong possibility of a strategic stalemate emerging in Libya. I fear we may find ourselves committed to an open-ended obligation through our participation in NATO operations."
This is where Democrats actually agree with many members of the GOP. We might be simply in a supportive role right now as we’re enforcing a no fly zone and trying to protect the people of Libya, but even this type of action can only last for so long before the American people will increase their calls for an explanation of what our actual plans are and what success would look like. The Obama Administration has been doing a better job of informing Congress and the public about what's going on in recent days, but yesterday's hearing makes it clear that there are a lot of unanswered questions about how we can gain international support and paint a better picture of future plans in Libya.

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