CongressHouse FloorSenate Floor • U.S. Capitol: 202-224-3121

March 30, 2011


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Mr. McCAIN. I would like to take time today to address the ongoing situation in Libya. Last night, the President made a strong defense of our military action in Libya. I welcome his remarks, and I appreciate that he explained why this intervention was both right and necessary, especially in light of the unprecedented democratic awakening that is now sweeping the broader Middle East.

There has been much criticism of the President's handling of the situation in Libya--some legitimate, some not. But the fact is, because we did act, the United States and our coalition partners averted a strategic and humanitarian disaster in Libya.

Even as we seek adjustments to U.S. policy where appropriate to ensure that we accomplish the U.S. goal as stated by the President of forcing Qadhafi to leave power, I believe the President's decision to intervene in Libya deserves strong bipartisan support in Congress and among all Americans.

It is worth remembering, especially for the critics of this intervention, exactly what we would be facing in Libya now had we not taken action. Just over 1 week ago, Qadhafi was bearing down on Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people, and the main seat of the Libyan opposition, as well as the provisional government that has now emerged.

Qadhafi pledged in his words: No mercy for these people. He pledged to go house to house, to crush everyone opposed to him. Had we not taken action in Libya, Benghazi would now be remembered in the same breath as Srebrenica, a scene of mass slaughter and a source of international shame.

Libyan refugees would now be streaming into Egypt and Tunisia destabilizing those critical countries during their already daunting political transitions. If we had allowed Qadhafi to slaughter Arabs and Muslims in Benghazi who were pleading for the U.S. military to rescue them, America's moral standing in the broader Middle East would have been devastated. Al-Qaida and other violent extremists would have exploited the resulting chaos and hopelessness. The forces of counterrevolution in the region would have gotten the message that the world would tolerate the violent oppression of peaceful demonstrations for universal rights. This would have been a dramatic setback for the Arab spring which represents the most consequential geopolitical opportunity in centuries.

That is why Libya matters and why we were right to intervene. Yes, there are many other places in the world where evil resides, where monsters brutalize civilians. The United States cannot and should not intervene in all of these places. But we were right to do so in Libya because of the unique position this country now occupies at a moment of historic change in the Middle East and North Africa. This does not mean we should take the same actions toward other countries in the region as we have toward Libya.

Each of these countries is different. Their challenges and situations are different. When governments, both friend and foe, use force and oppression to crush peaceful demands for universal rights, we need to be clear in our condemnation, and we need to support the aspirations of all people who seek greater freedom, justice, and economic opportunity.

But let's be clear. Qadhafi's brutal and vicious slaughter of fellow Arabs and Muslims has set Libya completely apart from other countries in the region, and it warranted the decisive military response we and our international partners have taken. While some believe the President should have sought a congressional authorization for the use of force, or even a formal declaration of war prior to taking military action in Libya, I think his actions were in keeping both with the constitutional powers of the President and with past practices, be it President Reagan's action in Grenada or President Clinton's action in the Balkans.

Had Congress taken even a few days to debate the use of force prior to acting in Libya, there would have been nothing left to save in Benghazi. That is why our Founders gave the President the power as Commander in Chief to respond swiftly and energetically to crises. What we need now is not a debate about the past; that can come later. Many of us who wanted a no-fly zone at the time still are convinced that this could have been over by now. But the fact is, it is in the past.

What we need is a forward-looking strategy to accomplish the U.S. goal--as articulated by the President--of forcing Qadhafi to leave power. We have prevented the worst outcome in Libya, but we have not yet secured our goal. As some of us predicted, U.S. and coalition airpower has decisively and quickly reversed the momentum of Qadhafi's forces, but now we need to refine U.S. strategy to achieve success as quickly as possible.

As every military strategist knows, the purpose of employing military force is to achieve policy goals. Our goal in Libya is that Qadhafi must go, and it is the right goal. But let's be honest with ourselves: We are indeed talking about regime change, whether the President wants to call it that or not. While I agree with the President that we should not send U.S. ground troops to Libya to remove Qadhafi from power, that is exactly what Libyan opposition forces are fighting to do. They are now on the outskirts of Qadhafi's hometown of Surt, and they appear to have no intention of stopping there.

Thus far, U.S. and coalition airpower has cleared a path for the opposition to advance. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes the use of ``all necessary measures'' to protect civilians in Libya. As long as Qadhafi remains in power, he will pose an increasing danger to the world, and civilians in Libya will not be safe.

Ultimately, we need to be straight with the American people and with ourselves. We are not neutral in the conflict in Libya. We want the opposition to succeed, and we want Qadhafi to leave power. These are just causes. And we must therefore provide the necessary and appropriate assistance to aid the opposition in their fight. That certainly means continuing to use air power to degrade Qadhafi's military forces in the field, and I am encouraged by the fact that we are now bringing in AC-130 and A-10 attack aircraft to provide more close-in air support.

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This is the Libyan people's fight, but we need to continue to help make it a fairer fight, until Qadhafi is forced to leave power. I was very encouraged today to hear our ambassador to the United Nations suggest that the United States may provide arms to the opposition. We should also provide them, if requested and as appropriate, with resources, command and control technology, communications equipment, battlefield intelligence, and training. We need to take every responsible measure to help the Libyan opposition change the balance of power on the ground.

Yes, it has been documented that many eastern Libyans went to fight in Iraq, Many met their end there too. But Libyans are not rising up against Qadhafi now under the banner of al-Qaida. To the contrary, they have largely pledged their support to the Transitional National Council, which is based in Benghazi, and representative of tribes and communities across Libya. The leaders of this council are not unknown to us. They have met with senior administration officials, including the Secretary of State, as well as other world leaders. Their supporters are brave lawyers, students, and human rights advocates who just want to choose their own future free from Qadhafi. They have declared their vision for Libya as, quote, ``a constitutional democratic civil state based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and the guarantee of equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens.'' If these moderate, democratic forces do not succeed in Libya, we know exactly who would fill the void: the radicals and the ideologues. We have seen this movie before.

We cannot make the assumption that time is on our side. It is not. Perhaps Qadhafi's regime will crack tomorrow. I hope it will. But hope is not a strategy. If our strategy does not succeed in forcing Qadhafi to leave power sooner rather than later, we run the risk of a prolonged and bloody stalemate. That is not in America's interest or in the interest of the Libyan people. The risks are still too high of repeating a similar outcome from the first gulf war--where we had crushing sanctions and a no-fly zone in place, but still Saddam Hussein managed to hold onto power, threaten the world, and brutalize his own people for another 12 years. And only then, it took an armed invasion to remove him from power. That is not a definition of success in Libya. And it certainly is not a limited mission. It is a recipe for a costly and indefinite stalemate. We must avert that outcome.

Our mission in Libya is going well, but we have not yet accomplished our goal. I am extremely thankful and grateful for our many friends and allies, especially our Arab partners, who are contributing to this mission. However, none of this is a substitute for sustained U.S. leadership. If our goal in Libya is worth fighting for, and I believe it is, then the United States must remain strongly engaged to force Qadhafi to leave power. Nothing less is desirable or sustainable.

I yield the floor.

(Senate - March 29, 2011)

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