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Republican Sen. Richard Lugar warns against a no-fly zone over Libya

Lugar, an expert on foreign policy, says if the Obama administration wants a no-fly zone, it should first have to seek a congressional declaration of war.

March 14, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli and James Oliphant, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — One of the GOP's leading voices on foreign policy on Monday warned against the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, and said the Obama administration must first seek a congressional declaration of war.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said in a statement that the Arab League, which unanimously called for a no-fly zone, should pay for such an operation.

Lugar's position puts him at odds not only with Democrats such as Sen. John F. Kerry, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, but Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Former President Clinton said last week that he would support a no-fly zone.

President Obama has said that such an option, which would require U.S. and allied patrols over sections of the strife-torn country, remains "on the table" to help ensure the safety of rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi. On Monday, he said he was still considering "a wide range of options that can continue to tighten the noose around Mr. Kadafi."

Lugar cited a long list of factors in arguing against such a move.

"Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame, the strains on our military, and other factors, it is doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya," Lugar said.

He also pointed to other anti-government movements in the Middle East, cautioning that the situation in Libya "may not be the last to generate calls for American military operations."

"We need a broader public discussion about the goals and limits of the U.S. role in the Middle East, especially as it pertains to potential military intervention," he said. Requiring Congress to declare war before implementing a no-fly zone would provide for such a debate.

Senior officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, have signaled a reluctance to commit to a no-fly zone. But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the Arab League's vote was "encouraging," and that the administration was "constantly reviewing our options."

A CNN poll released Monday found that 56% of respondents would support establishing a no-fly zone over Libya. Only 22% would support sending ground troops into the country.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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