The recent House of Representatives votes on war authority and funding were a symbolic message to President Barack Obama, but a message delivered against a backdrop of growing unease at home and abroad with the ongoing NATO-led Libyan campaign.
A significant number of both Democrats and Republicans crossed party lines to send a mixed message. On the one hand, House members Friday rejected a resolution to authorize continued American involvement in the Libyan conflict. On the other, however, they voted to continue funding the mission.
“We are disappointed by that vote,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a press conference. “We think now is not the time to send the kind of mixed message that it sends when we are working with our allies to achieve the goals that we believe that are widely shared in Congress.”
A Gallup poll conducted Wednesday showed a decline in public support of U.S. involvement in the Libyan conflict. In March, when the NATO campaign began, 47 percent of those polled approved of American participation. Today, the approval rating has decreased to 39 percent.
Much of the opposition is based on war weariness and the high financial cost of the conflict. According to a New York Times report, the United States had conducted about 90 missile strikes from piloted aircraft and drones in Libya. By the end of September, America’s military contributions to the conflict could exceed $1 billion, the Times reported.
Other voices argue that the president does not have the authority to continue “hostilities” in Libya. Under the requirements of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, the president must end unauthorized deployments 60 days after notifying Congress that they have begun. That deadline passed on May 20.
The Obama administration urged allies in the House to vote against the resolution to limit funding. According to Politico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with House Democrats before the vote and told them that NATO’s effort to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was succeeding.
Indeed, House members of both parties warned during floor debates that the resolutions could send the wrong message to NATO allies — now and in the future.
As NATO’s involvement in the Libyan civil war stretches into its fourth month with no immediate end in sight, additional cracks are beginning to appear within the alliance. The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, called on NATO to suspend air raids to allow humanitarian assistance into the country.
This call for a temporary ceasefire came after NATO admitted that an errant missile June 19 landed in a residential area and killed civilians. Frattini stated that NATO’s credibility is at risk, according to the BBC.
Britain and France, which have taken the leading role in the mission, rejected Italy’s call for a pause in the military campaign. British Prime Minister David Cameron told members of the British Parliament that U.K. forces would continue the mission to oust the Libyan dictator.
“I think that is vital, and I would argue that the pressure is building on Gaddafi — time is on our side, not on Gaddafi’s side,” Cameron said, according to The Guardian newspaper.
France also rejected the ceasefire call. “Any pause in operations would risk allowing [Gaddafi] to play for time and to reorganize,” The Guardian quotes a French foreign ministry spokesman. “In the end, it would be the civilian population that would suffer from the smallest sign of weakness on our behalf.”
And despite the congressional vote, Carney told reporters that the White House intends to continue the mission.