WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the Obama administration wrestles over what to do about Libya, the voices on Capitol Hill offer no consensus on military action.
Influential senators John McCain, a Republican, and John Kerry, a Democrat, have kept up a drumbeat for U.S. military action such as a “no-fly” zone to aid the rebels fighting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
But other senior lawmakers, like Republicans Senator Richard Lugar and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are warning against getting the United States into a Libyan war.
The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has suggested possibly arming the Libyan rebels, but other leaders in Congress have been more vague.
Analysts say Congress may be waiting for a clear steer from the commander in chief, President Obama.
“It seems very clear there is not a consensus about what to do, and that is natural. Any time you have a crisis like this you are going to look for leadership from the executive branch,” said foreign policy analyst Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute think-tank in Washington.
“My guess is that Obama will not authorize a no-fly zone without clear support from Congress and allies,” said Henry Nau, political science professor at George Washington University. Obama “has not taken a clear lead in arguing for that with either Congress or NATO.”
‘NATIONAL SECURITY INTEREST’
Ros-Lehtinen, a foreign policy hawk and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters the situation in Libya was rapidly evolving. “At this time, I do not believe it is in our national security interest for the U.S. to intervene militarily,” she said.
Although she is a big critic of Gaddafi, Ros-Lehtinen also called proposals to arm opposition forces in Libya misguided, saying the U.S. knew very little about them and this could have “grave consequences for U.S. interests.”
Some of Obama’s Democrats, like Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, also say United States should avoid any military involvement in Libya.
“We’re in two other wars. There are problems in Iraq. There’s an expected major spring offensive in Afghanistan, we have problems with Pakistan ... It’s a civil war within the country (Libya),” Feinstein said outside the Senate.
“Even a no-fly zone would technically be an act of war,” she said.
Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that any major military action to support anti-Gaddafi forces would require a vote of Congress.
On Thursday, the top U.S. spy chief told lawmakers Gaddafi’s forces were likely to prevail in the long run against rebels fighting to end his 41-year rule. National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s assessment may lead to louder calls in Congress for Obama to take swift military action to help the rebels.
Kerry, who has advocated taking out runways used by Gaddafi’s forces, told Reuters he feared Washington would look “feckless” down the road if it did not try to help the rebels.
He and McCain have endorsed preparing a no-fly zone, in which the United States and its allies would stop Gaddafi’s aircraft from firing on the rebels.
Some congressional leaders have issued cautious statements that condemn Gaddafi but don’t endorse or oppose military action for now. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has stressed that any action that the U.S. takes must be in line with broader U.S. interests in the region.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the United Nations and the international community should be committed to “examining all options - including a no-fly zone - that may be necessary to protect innocent civilians and ensure the democratic aspirations of the Libyan people are heard.”
Editing by Doina Chiacu