I recently attended a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the situation in Libya and the War Powers Resolution. The hearing's main witness was Harold Koh, Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State, who said that President Obama did not need to seek Congressional approval for the conflict in Libya because it did not amount to "hostilities" as defined in the War Powers Resolution. Despite the obvious inter-branch power struggle that was evident throughout the hearing, I think it is important to look at the big picture when it comes to the situation in Libya.
At one point, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, alluded to the most important facet regarding the NATO operation in Libya:
"It is my firm personal belief that America's values and interests compelled us to join other nations in establishing the no-fly zone over Libya. By keeping Gaddafi's most potent weapons out of the fight, I am positively convinced that we saved thousands of civilians from being massacred."
Senator Kerry understands that Gaddafi was committing atrocities against his own people and needed to be stopped. On the other hand, several senators seemed to imply that the U.S. had no compelling interest to intervene to prevent mass atrocities in Libya. In fact, the U.S. does have an interest in promoting democracy in the Middle East and preventing mass atrocities throughout the world. In 2005, UN member states unanimously endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which ensures that the international community will intervene when states fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.