U.S., NATO annoyed as Libya war drags on

08:40, June 20, 2011      

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Ninety days after they launched strikes against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces on March 19, the United States and its NATO allies seemed to be losing their initial confidence and become frustrated as the war wasn't proceeding exactly as planned.

On June 12, Gaddafi, dressed all in black and wearing dark sunglasses, played chess in Tripoli with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, visiting Russian head of the World Chess Federation. His "composure" seemed to be a deliberate show to embarrass his Western rivals.

In Washington, President Barack Obama has recently been at odds with many members of the Congress over his war power. The lawmakers, including both Republicans and Democrats, said the president should have sought congressional approval before ordering military actions against Libya.

On June 3, the House of Representatives voted to reprimand Obama for keeping a U.S. role in NATO's Libya operations. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, told the president Tuesday that his administration would violate the 1973 War Powers Resolution unless Libyan operations end by Sunday or the White House gets congressional mandate.

But the White House argued that as U.S. forces are merely playing a supporting role in the NATO-led mission, and therefore are not facing the hostilities that would require the president to seek such congressional consent under the War Powers Resolution.

The spars may eventually turn out to be just another formality of the intensified Washington power play ahead of the 2012 elections, but what makes U.S. decisionmakers more annoyed about Libya is the question of war funding.

The Obama administration has reportedly spent more than 700 million U.S. dollars in fighting Gaddafi. A ballooning war budget at a time of economic downturn would undoubtedly become a political liability to the president's reelection bid.

Across the Atlantic, Washington's NATO allies also fretted over the Libya war, with growing unwillingness to become the "subcontractor" of the war as the United States had wished.

In late March, the Obama administration thrust NATO to the center stage, hoping its European allies would "take more responsibilities."

Washington, however, has found it difficult to turn its smug calculation into reality: NATO members either choose to just stand by or confine themselves to "limited participation."

On June 10, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned NATO allies that the bloc risked "collective military irrelevance" unless they bear more of the burden and boost military spending.

He said NATO-led operations and Libya had exposed significant shortcomings in "military capabilities" and "political will."

It is true that the European allies have been slashing defense budgets since the end of the Cold War. Statistics show that the yearly defense budgets of NATO allies in Europe total no more than 220 billion U.S. dollars, less than one third of U.S. military spending.

Gates warned that there is "a real possibility for a dim, if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance" if European allies fail to halt and reverse the current decline in their defence capabilities.

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