Congress Is Divided Over the Way Forward in Iraq

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., walks to a train after a closed door meeting on Capitol Hill.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., walks to a train after a closed door meeting on Capitol Hill.

There’s support on the Hill for military strikes, but many say President Obama needs a long-term strategy in Iraq. By Clara Ritger

Just hours after President Obama’s announcement late Thursday that the U.S. would strike limited targets in Iraq, there already appear to be some divisions in Congress about whether the intervention is warranted—or not enough.

On recess until Sept. 8, Congress will have little formal say in Obama’s Iraq policy. But the president vowed to continue consulting lawmakers, and a number of key leaders quickly voiced their support for the air strikes against the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and his counterpart in the House, California Republican Rep. Buck McKeon, said the president’s actions were justified by the events on the ground. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland described the airstrikes as “appropriate” and “necessary,” reiterating the need for the Iraqis to form a more inclusive government.

But congressional hawks were quick to point out that Obama wasn’t doing enough, arguing that the goal of U.S. intervention should be to defeat ISIS. Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina issued a joint statement calling on the president to leave behind the attempt to contain ISIS and present a “strategic approach” for stopping them.

The president needs to devise a comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS,” the senators wrote. “This should include the provision of military and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS. It should include U.S. airstrikes against ISIS leaders, forces, and positions both in Iraq and Syria. It should include support to Sunni Iraqis who seek to resist ISIS. And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad.”

House Speaker John Boehner also called for a comprehensive effort.

The president needs a long-term strategy—one that defines success as completing our mission, not keeping political promises—and he needs to build the support to sustain it,” Boehner said. “If the president is willing to put forward such a strategy, I am ready to listen and work with him.”

Alabama Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne said the danger ISIS presents to the American people warrants greater involvement.

While I want U.S. involvement to be limited, we can no longer sit on the sidelines while Iraq falls back into the hands of terrorists,” Byrne tweeted.

A few were more cautious about getting re-involved, however. House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel said only that he supported the “relief effort” and made no mention of the airstrikes. And Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson took to Twitter to push a “No New War” petition, which opposes U.S. military intervention in Iraq and has garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

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