Obama's liberal problem
President Barack Obama is pitching airstrikes in Iraq as a moral imperative, but some members of his own party on Capitol Hill aren’t sold.
Liberal Democrats fear the targeted airstrikes could ultimately spiral into the kind of deep military entanglement that Obama pledged to unwind when he ran for president. And while they aren’t in open revolt, the apprehension suggests Obama might not have much cover in Congress if the operation proves not to be as limited as he hopes.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the lone lawmaker who voted against authorizing military action in Afghanistan in 2001, said she supports “strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.” But she’s still concerned the situation could escalate into a larger conflict.
“There is no military solution in Iraq,” she said in a statement.
The skepticism is more complex than the hard-line opposition of many liberals a decade ago when President George W. Bush launched a military campaign in Iraq with heady expectations. Today, liberals seem open to Obama’s appeals to provide aid to religious minorities who he says are victims of genocide. But — among this set of lawmakers — that doesn’t translate into support for significant military intervention.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), one of the biggest anti-war advocates on the Hill, said in an interview Friday he was concerned the airstrikes could signal broader U.S. involvement, and urged Obama to have a “very, very clear definition” of the United States’ goals in Iraq.
“We are on a slippery slope,” said Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Where this ends, I don’t think any of us know. But the president has to be very, very clear about timing and purpose. Thus far, it’s insufficient from my point of view.”
Obama, who has repeatedly said U.S. combat troops won’t return to Iraq, didn’t seek congressional authorization for the strikes. But if he turns to Capitol Hill at some point down the road to approve broader action, liberals could be a key voting bloc. Almost exactly a year ago, they demonstrated their strength by joining with Republicans to stymie Obama’s efforts to win congressional approval for military action in Syria.
Lawmakers from both parties were concerned about the prospects of conflict in Iraq long before the airstrikes began Friday.
In July, the Republican-led House overwhelmingly backed a resolution that would prohibit sustained U.S. military action in Iraq without congressional approval. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), one of the authors of the resolution, said Friday that if the airstrikes were still ongoing when lawmakers return in September, Congress should vote on whether the bombings should continue.
“These strikes do involve the United States directly in hostilities, regardless of how limited they are and regardless of whether there’s a humanitarian purpose involved,” McGovern said in a statement. “The president is acting according to the powers of his office — and Congress must do the same.”
Though last month’s resolution in the House, written by McGovern, Lee and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and passed 370-40, was primarily symbolic, it signaled the resistance on Capitol Hill for deploying U.S. combat troops in Iraq once again.
The Senate hasn’t approved a resolution similar to the one passed by the House, but the concern among liberals is just as deep there. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said he has been “assured” by the White House that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed in Iraq, but “I still have concerns.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), warned that Obama’s airstrikes could become an “open-ended” commitment in Iraq.
“Humanitarian relief is necessary to prevent genocide and provide food and water to meet an urgent emergency, but the president owes the American people a better, fuller explanation of the scope and strategy of military actions,” Blumenthal said. “I am deeply concerned that these actions could lead to prolonged direct military involvement, which I would strongly oppose.”
The liberal resistance comes as Obama is being pushed in a more hawkish direction by congressional Republicans, who are urging the president to do more to blunt the rise of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“The president’s authorization of airstrikes is appropriate, but like many Americans, I am dismayed by the ongoing absence of a strategy for countering the grave threat ISIS poses to the region,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement Friday.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), two of Obama’s biggest foreign policy critics, said Obama’s actions “are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS poses.”
And while the Republicans have backed Obama’s authorization for airstrikes, they say it’s a move he should have made much sooner. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the airstrikes “long overdue.”
The Obama administration got some of its strongest endorsements from top Democrats — such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — and Democratic lawmakers who lead key national security committees in Congress, providing some cover from the criticism of anti-war liberals.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who voted against authorizing the war in Iraq in 2002, said he backed Obama’s decision and said the reasons the president outlined for the airstrikes are “surely sufficient.”
And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said she “strongly” supports Obama’s authorization for airstrikes — warning that ISIL was a “terrorist army” that was quickly broadening its influence in the region.
“It takes an army to defeat an army, and I believe that we either confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future,” she said. “Inaction is no longer an option.”
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he backed the administration’s decision to protect innocent civilians, citing the threat of genocide that Obama referenced on Thursday.
“In this case, the U.S. military has the ability and the capability to confront ISIS, protect an innocent population under threat of genocide and provide some relief,” Smith said in a statement. “I applaud the administration for taking this opportunity.”
Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, another vocal liberal in Congress, also defended Obama’s action, saying in an interview Friday that the commander-in-chief’s decision was “appropriate restraint with appropriate action.”
And other lawmakers used Obama’s announcement to rake in a little cash.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said in a tweet Friday morning: “There is no such thing as humanitarian bombing, in Iraq or anywhere else.” It linked to a petition on the website NoNewWar.com, which is paid for by his campaign committee, with a fundraising link.
Read this article in its original form here.