Opinion Pieces

Columbian Guest Column: Local View: President must explain, justify action in Libya

By U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler
Sunday, March 27, 2011

I was not elected to Congress because of my foreign policy experience. During the recent election people wanted to know what I would do to deal with issues here at home: The economy, jobs and the rising federal debt.

Those are the issues that I have spent my time focusing on during my first months in Congress. But we suddenly find that are in a new war in Libya and people ask what I think and how I will act, so here is my response.

My background is not in foreign policy, though I have spent time reading and learning about foreign policy from others with experience. What I have developed is a critical lens through which I will examine our foreign policy actions.

Here is what I learned and believe when it comes to America deciding to go to war. First, using our military should be a last resort. Before America goes to war our national leadership should be able to clearly answer six questions:

  • Is this use of military force vital to America’s national interest? 
  • What is a victory? Have we clearly defined our mission?
  • If we do commit our military, are we committed to win?
  • What is the proposed timetable for ending our involvement?
  • Are the American people and the Congress clearly in support of the military action?
  • After achieving victory how do we end our military commitment and bring our men and women home?
  • We are now at war in Libya. When U.S. planes fly day after day and bomb the national government forces of Libya, that means we are in a war.
No answers

Today I can’t answer any of the six questions. Moammar Gadhafi is a tyrant, but he has been for 40 years. How has overthrowing him only now become critical to America? If he goes, will the people who replace him create a better government? Maybe. But “maybe” isn’t a good enough answer to send America into a new war.

In the 72 hours leading up to Thursday afternoon, the White House has said that overthrowing Gadhafi is not the mission of this war, while the attorney general says that it must be done. Our mission is not clear. Congress and the American people were not informed or even consulted.

Maybe Americans will get a break and Gadhafi will be overthrown soon, and the new government will be vastly better for the citizens of Libya and America’s relationship with Libya. At this point I don’t see any other good outcome of this action.

The president owes the American people answers to these questions. Congress should hold hearings to investigate the decision to involve America in this war, and that’s something I will actively pursue.

There is a likelihood the president will approach Congress to seek financial and legislative support for this war. If he still hasn’t answered these questions, I cannot in good conscience vote to commit American resources to this war.

Read this article online at the Columbian by clicking here.