WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A growing number of Republicans are criticizing President Barack Obama for failing to lay out a clear plan on Libya and mounting costly military operations at a time when America’s budget deficit is gaping.
Republicans largely backed Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan. But senior party figures including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are questioning the Libya air assaults.
The disagreement could further sour relations with the Republicans at a time when the Democratic president needs them to agree on levels of federal spending at home to avoid a government shutdown and potential debt default.
Ros-Lehtinen expressed concern that Obama has not yet clearly defined for the American people what vital U.S. national security interests are at stake in Libya.
“Deferring to the United Nations and calling on our military personnel to enforce the ‘writ of the international community’ sets a dangerous precedent,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Ros-Lehtinen last week defended Obama’s surge strategy in Afghanistan against a bipartisan resolution to pull out. It failed in the House on a vote of 321-93.
Some of the loudest Republican voices of dissent over the U.S. role in the attacks on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are from rank-and-file Republicans with support from the conservative Tea Party movement.
“We are currently involved in two wars right now and I don’t think we really need to be involved in a third war,” said Senator Rand Paul, a fiscal hawk and founding member of the Tea Party caucus in the Senate, referring to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other Republicans are unhappy at what they see as the lack of consultation on Libya from Obama.
Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate. Obama and Republicans are fighting over short-term government spending levels and disagree on how to get gaping U.S. budget deficits under control over the longer term.
They must agree by April 8 on a spending bill, or face a possible government shutdown. Republicans are seeking deep government spending cuts, and the Libya operations may make a bigger hole in the budget.
Some Republicans are calling for a congressional debate and possibly even a vote on U.S. action in Libya.
“Americans will pay any price to secure our country. But if there’s no clear and present danger to the United States of America, I think cost does become an issue,” Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who was re-elected last November with Tea Party support, told Reuters. He favors a congressional vote on the Libya action.
Obama and Republicans are at loggerheads on a variety of issues, but have not differed as much on military matters. Most Republicans backed his “surge” decision adding 30,000 more U.S. troops to the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been calling for action to stop Gaddafi from crushing Libyan rebels.
But analyst Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute think tank said she did not see a contradiction between supporting the Afghan surge and doubting the Libya strikes. Nor did she see a clash between the attitude of McCain and the skepticism of other Republicans.
“Most Republicans supported the surge in Afghanistan because they understand the stakes, they understand what is going on, that it has been going on for a long time and we must win,” Pletka said.
But Obama has not made a convincing case for the Libya action to Congress, Pletka said. A meeting he had with some lawmakers last Friday was too “last minute,” she said, adding that he should have had an Oval Office address to explain the action to the public.
Obama sent a letter to Congress saying the U.S. purpose in Libya was to enforce a U.N. resolution authorizing the protection of civilians from attacks.
Obama said in Chile on Monday that Gaddafi “needs to go.” He also said the United States will transfer control of the air assault on Libyan forces within days.
“There needs to be a plan about what happens after Gaddafi,” Republican Senator Richard Lugar said. “Who will be in charge then, and who pays for this all? President Obama, so far, has only expressed vague hopes.”
Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Will Dunham