Hillary Clinton has been invited to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Libya next week, and if committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) recent statements are to be believed, she’ll face some tough questions as to just why America has taken military action. But it’s unclear just what Ros-Lehtinen’s own position on Libya is, having apparently shifted between support and opposition for military operations over the last month.
Before President Obama joined an international effort to defend Libyan rebels under siege with air attacks on Qaddafi’s forces, Ros-Lehtinen unambiguously backed a no-fly zone with a specific mission of protecting Libyan civilians under attack by the regime.
In a February 26 press release, she said that “stronger penalties must be imposed in order to hold the regime accountable for its heinous crimes, and to prevent further violence against the Libyan people. Additional U.S. and international measures should include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone, a comprehensive arms embargo, a travel ban on regime officials, immediate suspension of all contracts and assistance which benefit the regime, and the imposition of restrictions on foreign investment in Libya, including in Libya’s oil sector.”
Ros-Lehtinen’s support for a no-fly zone likely came as little surprise given her harsh condemnation of Qaddafi only days earlier.
“The United States and all responsible nations should show in both word and deed that we condemn the Libyan regime’s actions and that we will not tolerate such blatant disregard for human life and basic freedoms,” she said in a statement on February 22.
But her position appeared to shift dramatically over the ensuing days, and by the time the UN passed a no-fly zone resolution, she was arguing that “the case has not been made for me to be satisfied that this is the right move for the United States at this time,” according to an interview with CBS Miami on March 19, the same day military action against the Qaddafi regime began.
“The bottom line is you’ve gotta ask what is the U.S. security interest in getting involved in Libya,” Ros-Lehtinen said in that interview. “Because there’s unrest everywhere. Today its Libya, tomorrow it will be somewhere else.”
She cited the cost of the war as another major concern, saying that “we are broke and that’s why we have to be selective about where we’re going and why we’re going.”
Her complaints were buttressed by subsequent press releases questioning the justification for military intervention.
“The American people expect the President, as our Commander in Chief, to determine when U.S. national security interests are at risk and what he is prepared to command the men and women of our Armed Forces to undertake in order to protect and defend them,” she said in a March 20 press release, as allied military action got into full swing. “Deferring to the United Nations and calling on our military personnel to enforce the ‘writ of the international community’ sets a dangerous precedent.”
She added that while the US should “stand with those who are oppressed and denied their fundamental freedoms,” such reasons “cannot be the only criteria on which we base U.S. military involvement.”
TPM reached out to a committee spokesman to clarify Ros-Lehtinen’s views on the no-fly zone, but has yet to receive a response.
Update: A spokesman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Brad Goehner, e-mailed a response to TPM. “Suggesting a no-fly zone as part of a range of options is not an endorsement of military action without a clearly defined mission and plan, without Congressional consultation, and without a clear explanation of the national security interests at stake,” he said. “This is the President’s policy, and he needs to explain it to the American people and to Congress.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.