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The Nation

March 24, 2011

Welcome back: Big political challenges greet Obama

TOKYO — Returning home to some messy politics, President Barack Obama must contend with a battery of challenges, from a spending standoff that threatens to shut down the government to congressional angst over the U.S.-led war against Libya. Foreign crises rage across Africa and the Middle East, and Americans still want a more quickly improving economy.

The president left behind a wave of goodwill in Latin America as he shored up alliances that the White House said would prove pivotal for years to come. Yet the timing made for political and logistical headaches, as his five-day trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador took place just as the U.S. and allies launched a U.N.-sanctioned assault against Moammar Gadhafi's menacing regime.

Now lawmakers are questioning the costs and objective of the military action while voicing growing frustration that Obama didn't consult with Congress more thoroughly before authorizing the U.S. airstrikes. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, encapsulated much GOP sentiment by asking in a tweet, "Is Congress going to assert its constitutional role or be a potted plant?"

No sooner had Obama touched down on U.S. soil late Wednesday afternoon that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued him a blistering letter demanding more details about the steps ahead on Libya.

"I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America's role is in achieving that mission," Boehner said.

The criticism comes just not from the right. Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has said he intends to offer legislation to block the U.S. from funding military actions in Libya. Moderate Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., an authoritative voice on military issues as a former Navy secretary, said the U.S. strategy lacks clarity and the endpoint is undefined.

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