- Filed Under
The words “Iraq” and “airstrikes” were linked Thursday in every Capitol Hill conversation about how the U.S. should respond to reports of Islamic insurgents fighters carving a path toward Baghdad.
Following classified briefings on the deteriorating situation in Iraq, senators emerged with questions about whether targeted air strikes could help save the struggling Iraqi Army or whether such military intervention could drag American troops back into war there.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., presented the most forceful arguments for sending U.S. aircraft into Iraq, noting on the Senate floor that “American airpower appears the only option to slow ISIS,” — the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a successor to al-Qaida groups that fought U.S. troops at the height of the Iraq War.
Graham argued that the rapid advance of ISIS fighters could destabilize the Middle East, undoing years of U.S. efforts there and potentially creating a new safe harbor for ambitious terrorists.
“Without some kind of intervention, Baghdad is in jeopardy,” he said. “I’ve never been more worried about another Sept. 11 than I am now.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blasted President Obama for what he called failed regional policies leading to an unsupported, unprepared Iraqi army, and demanded that Obama’s entire national security team resign.
But he stopped short of supporting military intervention, saying only that a new Iraq strategy is needed quickly to salvage peace there.
Following reports that ISIS fighters had captured several cities in northern Iraq, Obama on Thursday responded to questions about possible air strikes by stating “I don't rule out anything.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney later clarified that officials will not consider any plans to put troops on the ground in Iraq, but are examining a range of military options if the Iraqi government requests aid.
Top Democrats on Capitol Hill warned against any rush to new military action.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said U.S. officials must “go carefully through the available options, none of which are good.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN that the Pentagon must be mindful of “diving into the middle of … a civil war.”
Carney also worked to knock down comparisons between Iraq’s current crisis and Afghanistan’s future. McCain and other Republicans argued a too-quick departure from Afghanistan could lead to the same instability and insurgencies in that country as have now developed in Iraq.
But Carney said McCain’s open-ended timeline ignored the president’s responsible withdrawal plans for U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and said the current situation in Iraq would not affect those Afghanistan plans.