In win for Obama, Senate panel OKs U.S. operation in Libya

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WASHINGTON -- In a victory for President Barack Obama, a Senate panel voted Tuesday to approve U.S. participation in the military campaign against Libya and Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

The 14-5 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stood in sharp contrast to the House's overwhelmingly rejection of a similar step last week, muddling the message about congressional support for the commander in chief's actions and the NATO-led operation.

"When Moammar Gadhafi is bunkered down in Tripoli, when yesterday the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of crimes against humanity, at a moment where our armed forces are supporting a NATO mission aimed at preventing more such atrocities, do we want to stop the operation?" the committee's chairman, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., asked his colleagues.

The resolution would limit U.S. involvement to one year while prohibiting American ground forces in Libya except for search and rescue operations or to protect government officials.

Obama had indicated he would welcome the bipartisan measure.

The full Senate is expected to consider the resolution the week of July 11.

The committee's action came after a morning of sometimes testy exchanges between Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, and panel members over Obama's decision not to seek congressional authorization for the Libya operation, now entering its fourth month.

Koh said Obama had acted legally because the limited U.S. role is neither a war nor the kind of full-blown hostilities that would trigger an American withdrawal within 60 days, as established in the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

"Our position is carefully limited to the facts of the present operation, supported by history, and respectful of both the letter of the resolution and the spirit of consultation and collaboration that underlies it," said Koh, who acknowledged that the administration could have done a better job in dealing with Congress.

Before backing the resolution, the committee adopted a series of amendments, including one that specified that the operation was "hostilities" that fall under the War Powers Resolution and require congressional authorization. The panel rejected an amendment, 14-5, limiting the military role to intelligence sharing, refueling, surveillance, reconnaissance and operational planning.

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