Lawmakers voice support for strikes

Greg Nash

Lawmakers from both parties offered broad support for President Obama’s decision to authorize airstrikes against extremist Sunni fighters in Iraq and deliver humanitarian supplies to refugees.

“The president’s decision to use force in Iraq was appropriate given the circumstances,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) in a statement Friday. 

{mosads}McKeon said his “thoughts and prayers are with U.S. forces in harm’s way, as they do a difficult and dangerous mission.”

The top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) had cautioned against relying on a military solution, but also expressed strong support for the president’s action.

“The Iraqi people face a significant threat in [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] and I support the administration’s decision to provide assistance to protect innocent civilians,” he said Thursday. “I applaud the administration for taking this opportunity.” 

The airstrikes and humanitarian aid come as ISIS, an al Qaeda offshoot, continued to make gains in Iraq. Obama stressed Thursday that he was not returning combat troops to Iraq.

Two weeks ago, the House voted 370-40 to require the president to seek congressional approval for any sustained presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. 

Obama, though, faced pressure to act after ISIS fighters came close to seizing a dam in Mosul that controlled electricity and water for northern Iraq. The group’s offensive has driven tens of thousands of Iraqis belonging to a religious minority, the Yazidis, fleeing to Mount Sinjar in the region, where they were without food or water.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also backed the president.

“I support the actions President Obama announced tonight. There are a number of justifications for these actions, but the reasons he cited are surely sufficient,” he said in a statement.

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman said he was “pleased” with the humanitarian relief mission and targeted airstrikes. 

Although Congress is in recess, administration officials said they were able to reach “a good number of members and leaders of Congress” Thursday before publicly announcing the president’s decision. 

Lawmakers, though, remained divided over whether the U.S. should expand those airstrikes or provide more military assistance to Baghdad.

Some lawmakers called for Obama to target ISIS all over Iraq, not just in the country’s north and in Erbil, the site of a U.S. military joint operations center. 

Senior administration officials on a background conference call with reporters late Thursday, though, said the president’s decision “was not an authorization of a broad-based counterterrorism campaign against [ISIS].”

“It had two very narrow and specific objectives: One, the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities; and two, alleviating the huge humanitarian crisis faced by the Yazidi people,” one official said

Both the airstrikes and the humanitarian missions are open-ended, and it is not clear when they will end. 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) called for the U.S. response to ISIS to be “overwhelming,” and a “direct blow,” according to CNN. 

Republican lawmakers said the airstrikes alone would not be enough to defeat ISIS and urged President Obama to re-think his policies in the Middle East.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who have been vocal advocates of striking ISIS fighters throughout Iraq and Syria, called for a “comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS.” 

“This should include the provision of military and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS,” they said in a joint statement. 

“It should include U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces, and positions both in Iraq and Syria. It should include support to Sunni Iraqis who seek to resist ISIS,” they continued.

McCain and Graham said that additional military support should not be contingent on Iraqi leaders forming a new unity government.

“If ever there were a time to re-evaluate our disastrous policy in the Middle East, this is it,” they warned. 

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) also said the “targeted military strikes should be expanded to wherever these terrorists are training and fighting.”  

Some Democrats, though, warned against expanding U.S. involvement.

“Getting involved in airstrikes moves us a dangerous step closer to direct involvement in Iraq’s sectarian civil war, an entanglement we must avoid,” said Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii). 

“We cannot allow a humanitarian crisis to draw us into a war that would again cost the Iraqi people far too much in destruction and lives lost,” she said.

Tags Adam Smith Carl Levin John McCain Lindsey Graham Rob Portman Tulsi Gabbard

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