“This operation will not be a success unless it ends with the demise of the Qadhafi regime. The reason is clear: The mandate for this operation is that it protect Libyan civilians. Yet, we all know that there can be no enduring protection for the Libyan people as long as Qadhafi remains in power.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman
Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee hearing entitled “Libya: Defining U.S. National Security Interests”:
Madame Chairman, thank you for calling this very timely hearing.
I’d like to begin by commending Deputy Secretary Steinberg for your exemplary service to our nation. We wish you all the best at Syracuse University. You will be missed.
President Obama’s decision to take military action in response to the humanitarian crisis in Libya may provoke questions that are not fully answerable at this time, but I believe it was the right policy, because the alternative – acquiescence in the face of mass murder – was untenable. And I believe it was done in the right way – namely, with the cooperation of the international community.
President Obama’s policy has unquestionably saved many lives, probably tens of thousands of them, and it has weakened a brutal dictator and an egregious sponsor of terrorism. It will also, I hope, cause other dictatorial regimes to think twice before they use unbridled violence against peaceful protestors.
We have been prudent in focusing on civilian protection and doing so in a way that spreads the burden among our allies, including some Arab countries. The President has clearly stated that the United States’ military goals are limited, in line with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Together with our allies, America’s military mission has been: 1) to implement a no-fly-zone to stop the regime’s attacks from the air; and 2) to take other measures necessary to protect the Libyan people.
America’s involvement in Libya directly supports the United States’ national interests. First, the United States plays a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. In Libya we embraced this important role head-on by preventing a mad man from slaughtering his own people. Secondly, Libya’s neighbors – Tunisia and Egypt – have just gone through revolutions which are changing the nature of the region - hopefully for the better. If Libya were to spin out of control, and instability were to pour over its borders, the entire region would suffer. This outcome would certainly not be in the national interest of the United States or our allies.
But we have to acknowledge another fact: This operation will not be a success unless it ends with the demise of the Qadhafi regime. The reason is clear: The mandate for this operation is that it protect Libyan civilians. Yet, we all know that there can be no enduring protection for the Libyan people as long as Qadhafi remains in power.
But we also must acknowledge something else: that we don’t know exactly how Qadhafi will be brought down. The President has placed limits on the operation, with which I agree: We do not want American “boots on the ground.” We do not want the operation to be too costly. And we do not want it to divert resources from Afghanistan and Iraq. At the end of the day, however, we have put our leadership prestige on the line. Whether voluntarily, by the hand of his own people, or as a result of coalition action, it is essential that Qadhafi go.
Mr. Secretary, I hope you will be able to enlighten us about how our current strategy of sanctions and international isolation, combined with military pressure, will hasten the removal of Qadhafi from power -- as much as can be discussed in this unclassified setting. I think we all understand, however, that there is no easy recipe.
We are all aware of the reports yesterday and this morning about CIA operatives allegedly in Libya with the rebels. Again, this is an unclassified setting, and I wouldn’t expect you to comment on those reports, but can you tell us if the Administration has now made a decision to provide direct military support to the rebels?
We would also like to know what the implications are of the handover of the operation to NATO. Will the transition be seamless? Will the operation look essentially the same as it has over the past two weeks? Will other NATO member-states pick up the operations that we are ceasing to perform? Will NATO be able to maintain the tempo of the operation, once the US assumes a supporting role?
Further, we’d like to hear some of your thinking on the post-Qadhafi era. It may seem premature, but, we must be prepared if the regime rapidly crumbles under the weight of coalition strategy. In thinking about a post-Qadhafi era, we’d be interested in your thoughts about the National Transitional Council – its composition, its viability, its goals, and its level of support among the Libyan people.
Are there any other contenders for power in a post-Qadhafi Libya? If we think the Council is the likely heir to power, what is our hesitation in recognizing it, as the French and Qataris have done? And wouldn’t our recognition help to increase the Qadhafi regime’s sense of isolation and deepen the international community’s sense that his departure is inevitable? Does the Council include elements that should cause us concern? And how are we going to make certain that a successor regime does not resort to the same thuggish tactics that have been Qadhafi’s hallmark?
We have had a long and difficult history with Qadhafi. He has the blood of many Americans on his hands. For a brief period, we were willing, tentatively, to open a new chapter with him after he agreed to give up his weapons-of-mass-destruction-related materials seven years ago. But when we saw him firing on his own people, we had no choice but to act – because we know all too well, from our own bitter experience, about his cynical disregard for human life and his almost casual willingness to commit murder and inflict torture just to stay in power.
Mr. Secretary, before closing, I’d like to raise two specific humanitarian issues of differing levels of urgency. First and most urgently, Qadhafi’s forces have created a humanitarian disaster in Misrata. Why have we not, at the least, established a humanitarian sea corridor to Misrata in order to relieve the terrible suffering? Second, I understand there are some 1,700 Libyan students in this case who can’t get access to their monthly stipends because of our appropriate decision to freeze Libyan funds. Is that accurate? If so, what are we doing to rectify that situation?
Finally, on a different note, I’d like to say how important it is that we keep our eye on the Iranian nuclear ball at all times. I was pleased to see that the Administration imposed sanctions earlier this week against a Belarussian energy company called Belarus-neft. I would be less than candid if I didn’t express some disappointment, however, that we have once again imposed sanctions on a company that doesn’t do any business in the US, so the sanction has no more than symbolic impact. That was also the case when we imposed sanctions a few months ago on the Swiss-based but Iranian-owned energy company NICO. When we do that, I’m afraid we’re sending Iran a signal more of weakness than of strength, and we’re having no impact on their economy. Such impact is the very point of sanctions.