Debate: U.S. role in Libya

Editors’ note: The College Democrats and College Republicans participated in a public policy debate Monday in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium. The discussion topics included the economy, budget, health care, defense, energy and the environment. TommieMedia moderated the event and will present clips of the debate throughout the week.

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Video by Michael Ewen, chief video editor, and Theresa Malloy, assignment editor

The United States announced Monday that it is pulling warplanes from the front-line and shifting to a more supportive role in Libya.

Debaters answered the questions: What is our role in Libya? And more broadly, what is our duty as a global superpower?


WASHINGTON (AP) — The military force unleashed on Libya by the U.S. and its partners upset several African nations despite the international community’s widespread concerns over Moammar Gadhafi’s use of force against his own people, the top U.S. commander for the continent told Congress on Tuesday.

Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, described the mixed reaction from the African Union to the airstrikes and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, and his imperative to explain the need for swift action to perturbed nations. His comments came as the U.S. military drastically slashed the number of air and naval forces committed to the operation, now under NATO control.

“I think frankly as we proceed I’m going to have the responsibility, as I engage with our African partners, to have a very frank discussion about what U.S. Africa Command’s role was and why we did what we did and just be as truthful and forthright as I can,” Ham told the House Armed Services Committee.

He added: “There is an impact and there will be an impact in the region.”

The war in Libya entered its third week with no end in sight and growing frustration throughout the region. The head of the African Union, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, expressed his support for Gadhafi and demanded an end to foreign interference into what he called an internal Libyan problem. The overmatched Libyan rebels criticized NATO with Abdel-Fattah Younis, chief of staff for the rebel military and Gadhafi’s former interior minister, insisting NATO forces “don’t do anything” even though they have a U.N. mandate to act.

“Although this humanitarian intervention is motivated by a noble impulse, there is a strong possibility of a strategic stalemate emerging in Libya,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “I fear we may find ourselves committed to an open-ended obligation through our participation in NATO operations.”

Diplomatically, the Obama administration’s envoy to the Libyan opposition was in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi for talks with those leading the revolt against Gadhafi, according to the State Department.

The envoy, Chris Stevens, is meeting with members of Libya’s Transitional National Council to get a better idea of who they are, what they want and what their needs and capabilities are, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. His visit could pave the way for U.S. recognition of the council as Libya’s legitimate government, although no decision is imminent, Toner said.

Stevens was the No. 2 at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until the mission was shuttered in February amid escalating violence. He will be discussing humanitarian and possible financial assistance to the opposition, Toner said.

Three countries, including NATO allies France and Italy, along with Qatar, have recognized the transitional council as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, but the United States has yet to follow suit. The U.S. has also not made a decision on whether to arm the rebels.

Militarily, the U.S. forces engaged in the operation have been greatly reduced since the first airstrikes on March 19.

Only three Navy warships and a supply ship remain for the operation, compared with the 11 ships there when the intervention began, two defense officials said Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the data.

The warships are the USS Kearsarge, the USS Ponce and the destroyer USS Barry.

Among those no longer participating in the Libya mission are two submarines, the destroyer USS Stout and the Mount Whitney, which had served as a floating command post for the American admiral who was the on-scene commander until NATO took control Thursday.

There are 90 U.S. airplanes still assigned to the Libya mission. A week ago, there were 170, including 70 strike planes, officials said at the time.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, asked whether special operations forces will be used in Libya for training the opposition forces or other missions, said President Barack Obama has been clear that there will be no boots on the ground.

“The no military boots on the ground is very clear, and I don’t think it needs elaborating,” he said.

Special operations forces, however, have been used in other countries under the authority of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Meanwhile, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday the service has been spending about $4 million a day to keep 50 fighter jets and nearly 40 support aircraft in the Libya conflict, including the cost of munitions.

Secretary Michael Donley told reporters that the Air Force has spent $75 million as of Tuesday morning on the war. He said the U.S. decision to end its combat strike role in the conflict will cut costs, but he could not say by how much.

He said the Air Force has spent close to $50 million on the relief effort for the Japan earthquake, including $40 million to evacuate between 5,000-6,000 U.S. personnel. The total U.S. costs for the Libya air campaign as of March 28 were $550 million, not counting normal deployment spending.

Congressional fury over Libya has largely dissipated. The Senate turned back an effort by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to limit a commander in chief’s authority. The motion failed on a procedural vote, 90-10. Separately, Sen John Kerry, D-Mass., said a resolution on Libya was unlikely this week.

7 Replies to “Debate: U.S. role in Libya”

  1. This country should learn to mind its own business. Libya is in Africa, it is an African problem that the AU was willing to resolve. That is until the oil hungry western powers decided to intervene. 
    If as a global superpower, the US cares so much about Human rights. What has it done in Ivory Coast, Darfur and Congo. 
    I bet having oil and being so close to Europe has its perks.

  2. Durfee gave a nice speech. After that, the discussion goes south pretty fast. Pagano’s comments, regardless of their truth, were ultimately pointless smearing and barely addressed the topic question. Even worse, the College Dem’s actually entertained his comments instead of adhering to the old internet proverb, ‘Don’t feed the trolls’.

    Also, with respect to the France Jokes, leave them in the cafeteria please…

  3. Good Debate.   Except for the part where Zach directly quoted Bill O’Reilly for most of his argument.  Watch the  “Talking Points” clip from March 28th…. Or watch Zach’s argument.  Same words.  I agree with Old Bill,  I just think that somebody should have come up with their own argument for this debate. It is not very hard to make the same arguments without plagiarism. 

  4. “I bet having oil and being so close to Europe has its perks.”

    If it were about oil, wouldn’t we have intervened on behalf of *stability*, i.e. Gaddafi, who has been a stable oil partner for decades?  Nor is Libya a major oil supplier.  Nor is it anywhere near our shores.  No, the United States just happens to *actually care* about civilian lives, and we *pitch in* when our armed forces aren’t stretched too thin and the human rights abuses are blatant and official enough.  I’m very underwhelmed by the case for war in Libya, but find the “war for oil” accusation both tedious AND offensive.

    It’s one thing to be cynical about America, but still another to be cynical in a way that doesn’t even make sense.

  5. “the United States just happens to *actually care* about civillian lives”

    Yeah, tell that to the 10000 plus Rwandese who died while “those who care about civillain lives” were sun bathing on sandy white beaches. Tell that to the thousands who die every year in Darfur, tell that to the hundreds of civillians who die from illegal bombings by the USA. It is not always about how much oil, it is also about the economies of scale involved. it costs about $1 to produce a barrel of Libyan oil (according to 2007 estimates). With over 63 years of oil reserves available, I bet that makes it a very lucrative area for investment. The European powers and US always act when it is in their best interest.

  6. Of-course countries act when it is in their best interest…. Why wouldn’t they?  A countries number one goal should be survival and prosperity.  It just so happens, that by helping the Libyan rebels, it also serves to help America in the long run.  How can you possibly say that is a bad thing?  You are right, there are horrible events that happen across the globe without direct U.S. intervention.  But that doesn’t make U.S. involvement in Libya a bad thing.  Just because we don’t help one country doesn’t make it wrong to help another 15 years later. 

  7. Were you around after Rwanda, when we as a nation and as a world promised “Never again?” Do you think Kosovo and Bosnia were secretly filled with oil? Do you remember the attempted intervention in Somalia, which went so badly wrong that we hesitated in Rwanda? Did you think our military had the resources to engage in a military conflict in Darfur when we were already engaged in liberating the oppressed peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan?

    An infinitely cheaper way to get a few decades’ worth of oil out of the dirt would be to drill in ANWR, drill for shale oil, and drill offshore — and we aren’t even willing to do *that*. And, again, if we were engaged in “war for oil” in Libya, we would be fighting *for Gaddafi* and *against the rebels.*

    Your theory can only work by ignoring all the evidence presented by the words, philosophies, *and actions* of U.S. officials, the military, and the electorate dating back two decades. It is as silly as it is cynical.

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