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

April 1, 2011

Libya - We Had Time

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Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I have a couple of things to say this morning. First, and briefly, I want to, and probably will, support the military action in Libya. I have been inclined to think that careful, surgical use of our forces can make a positive difference to the degree it would be worth the risk of that involvement. But I am not really sure of that.

As a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, these are matters with which I am not totally unfamiliar. I was very confident from the beginning that we could execute a no-fly zone very effectively, and that--there is risk but not great risk because of our military capabilities. However, I do believe that over a number of years the Congress and the American people have expressed grave concerns over the executive branch committing the United States to military actions without full participation of the legislative branch. We have not used the declaration of war mechanism, truthfully, as the defining act for most of our military actions in recent years. We have used authorization of military force resolutions that authorized the President to utilize the military force.

We spent weeks doing that before the Iraq invasion--not weeks, months. In fact, as I recall, the authorization for utilization of military force in Iraq was passed in the fall, I believe October, and the actual invasion did not occur until the next spring, in March.

During that time, we had many hearings. We had full debate. There was resolution after resolution in the U.N, but Congress was fully on top of all of it. They knew what was at stake, and we voted. Some voted no and complained and continued to complain. But for the most part, those who voted no supported the action because we had been involved in a discussion that was real about the risk and so forth.

Then we had other actions, such as Grenada and Panama, that had less debate by Congress. People have not been happy about that. They believed there should have been more. In my opinion, the consultative process for this military engagement was unacceptable. It did not have to occur in this fashion. There was ample opportunity to discuss it.

Senator Susan Collins, on the Armed Services Committee, a few days ago, we had top Defense Department officials there. Admiral Stavridis, who is the commander of NATO forces, was testifying. She said: Well, we had time, it appears, to consult and get a vote in the U.N. We had time to consult and get a vote in NATO. The Arab League apparently found time to reach some sort of consensus, but we did not have time to involve the Congress.

Well, that struck me as a very legitimate and serious statement. I think Senator Collins was correct. There was ample opportunity to consult Congress. This was a war, to use a phrase in recent years, of choice. It was not a military action that was demanded because we had been attacked on our soil or in our legitimate bases somewhere around the world and we had to defend ourselves immediately.

So I am not happy about it. I think it is a big mess. I think Democrats and Republicans have the same unease about it, and I believe it is time for Congress to assert itself more effectively.

We had a briefing last night, 5 o'clock, 6 o'clock. It went 50 minutes. Frankly, I did not get a lot out of it. I heard little that I had not picked up from the cable news networks. We turned on the television this morning, and we saw news about the CIA involvement there, for good or ill. I did not hear that discussed at our briefing. It would have been nice to have heard it straight from the administration's leaders, rather than seeing it on television the next morning. So this is the kind of situation we are in. It is not acceptable. Congress must assert itself.

Based on what President Obama said back during the campaign about our reluctance to initiate military force, it is sort of surprising that we have not had more consultation.

Maybe it is an institutional tendency. Once you become President, you don't want to fool with Congress. They ask troublesome questions. They slow things down, maybe, although in this instance I think we had a lot quicker response from Congress than we got from the administration. Regardless, I think we are in front of that issue. It is time for Congress in a bipartisan way to ask itself, first, what do we expect, what is a minimum amount of congressional involvement? Then we need to make sure that every President hence forward complies with at least that.

I am also not happy at the way some resolution was passed here that seemed to have authorized force in some way that nobody I know of in the Senate was aware that it was in the resolution when it passed. I am very concerned about that.

(Senate - March 31, 2011)

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