WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday faced escalating criticism of US strikes on Libya from lawmakers worried about an open-ended conflict and possible retaliation modeled on the Lockerbie bombing.
But amid broad support for moving against Moamer Kadhafi, it was doubtful that congressional leaders would demand an official debate and vote to authorize military action, as provided for under the US Constitution.
On the left flank of Obama's Democratic party, one lawmaker charged that Libya's vast oil reserves, not human rights concerns, had motivated the strikes and sharply criticized the president for skirting formal congressional approval.
The move "sends the message to the world that American democracy is deeply dysfunctional," said Democratic Representative Michael Honda, who noted the US Constitution gives only the US Congress the power to declare war.
Honda, a senior member of the liberal "Progressive Caucus," charged the Pentagon had acted "based on energy security considerations, which is particularly apparent given Libya's 7th-ranked oil reserves."
That "sends the message that America cares little about the human rights and freedoms of people in countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sudan, or Ivory Coast, without critical energy resources," he said.
"I demand a serious conversation in Congress before new countries are incautiously invaded and before America's legislative branch is eviscerated further," said Honda.
Republican Representative Candice Miller, a senior member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said it was "very troubling and unacceptable" that Obama had acted without formal consent from Congress.
The president, who left Latin America after discussing the crisis with 18 key lawmakers on Friday, "should immediately return home and call Congress back into session so that this action can be fully debated," she said in a statement.
"What other internal conflicts might President Obama decide to engage American armed forces? What standard is he using when making a decision to engage American power? These are vital questions that demand answers before we get further drawn into this and other conflicts that have uncertain outcomes."
"With regard to Libya, we say what's the goal? What is our role?" Republican Senator John Barrasso asked on MSNBC television, cautioning that "mission creep" could see US forces involved for "weeks and months."
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez noted on the same network that Republicans had assailed Obama for moving too slowly against Kadhafi, stressing: "You're damned if you do, damned if you don't."
"I'm sure that if we had allowed the continuous slaughter of innocents, we'd have many of our Republican colleagues saying the president should have acted," said Menendez, who refused to call the conflict a war.
"On Libya, is Congress going to assert it's constitutional role or be a potted plant?" Republican Senator John Cornyn said late Sunday in his Twitter stream, @JohnCornyn.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said Obama had "yet to clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya."
"In assessing US security interests and objectives, the president must also keep in mind Kadhafi's attacks on Western targets resulting in the deaths of Americans in the 1980s," she said.
That would include the bombing of Pan AM Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988 that killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
A House Republican leadership aide, asked whether Speaker John Boehner would seek a formal debate and vote, told AFP that "at this point...we want them to respect the need for genuine consultation with Congress."
Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, said Sunday that the White House would be "working quite directly with Speaker Boehner and the members of Congress who have responsibility here on this as we go forward."
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