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Libya Vote Highlights House GOP Shift on Use of Military

Libya Vote Highlights House GOP Shift on Use of Military

By Kyle Adams - June 6, 2011

With the passage of Friday's resolution rebuking President Obama over the military mission in Libya, House Republicans took an official step toward making future use of military force more directly tied to U.S. national security interests.

A bipartisan majority (268-154) in the House passed Speaker John Boehner's resolution, which calls on the president to more fully explain the purpose and costs of the campaign and justify his decision to bypass Congress and commit troops to the NATO mission within 14 days. The resolution states that Obama "has failed to provide Congress with a compelling rationale based upon United States national security interest for current activities regarding Libya."

"The American people and the members of this House have questions and concerns that have gone unanswered," Boehner said Friday on the House floor. "The president of the United States is our commander in chief, and I've always believed that combat decisions should be left to the commander in chief and the generals on the ground. But the House also has an obligation to heed the concerns of our constituents and to carry out our constitutional responsibilities."

The resolution came on the heels of a failed proposal from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) calling for an end to U.S. military action in Libya within 15 days. Still, 87 Republicans voted for Kucinich's measure (compared to 61 Democrats). Boehner's resolution garnered the support of 223 Republicans and 45 Democrats, and in total, more than three-fourths of the House publicly questioned the current Libya mission.

Though Boehner's resolution is non-binding, its widespread support within Republican ranks signals the extent to which the party has come to question open-ended overseas military commitments that aren't directly tied to U.S. national security interests.

"I've got 22 years in the military so the thing I look for: What's my mission, what's my goal, what's my objective, what's my instinct? And I don't have that here," freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) told Roll Call.

Notably, skepticism about the Libya mission has emerged from across the party's ideological spectrum.

In a late March interview with the "Today" show's Matt Lauer, potential 2012 presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who voted for both the Boehner and Kucinich resolutions, said that, as president, she would not have intervened in Libya.

"I would not because, again, we do not know enough about who [the Libyan rebels] are," she explained, "and we also have not identified an American vital national interest. That must be done before the United States can intervene in another nation's affairs."

More recently, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China under Obama, came out against the military action in Libya. Huntsman also is considering a presidential bid in 2012.

"I would have chosen from the beginning not to intervene in Libya," Huntsman told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I would say that is not core to our national security interest."

Still, while more and more Republicans are questioning humanitarian interventionism and the military's use for nation-building efforts, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor insisted that the party is not adopting the isolationist stance advocated by hard-core libertarians such as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

"I do think there is a sense among our conference [that] America has a role to play in the world. We're not the ones to have to pay for everybody's problem, but certainly because we are so interconnected internationally, we are going to have to grow and protect our interests, which it requires us to engage internationally," Cantor said.

Kyle Adams can be reached at kadams@realclearpolitics.com.

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