Should the US use military force to stabilize the country, as requested by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki?
The question is not likely to be settled by President Obama's announcement Tuesday that he will send 300 military advisers to assist Iraqi security forces and gather intelligence.
Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly want to keep US troops out of Iraq. Only 16 percent of Americans support sending combat troops to Iraq and 74 percent would oppose an influx of combat troops, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling released Tuesday. But slightly more than half support the idea of Americans providing intelligence to the Iraqi government.
Who stands on which side of the debate? And sort of action might be taken? Here is a sampling of what influential voices in Washington and beyond are saying about what the United States should do in Iraq.
Calls for action
Former Iraq envoy Paul Bremer made the case for air strikes and even the use of limited combat troops as a necessary assertion of American authority in face of rising terrorist insurgencies in the Wall Street Journal Sunday. “The crisis in Iraq is a flashing warning light about the dangers of a reductionist national security policy that sends a signal of weakness to friends and enemies abroad.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California joined the call for “direct” military intervention Tuesday. “I think most important is that we take direct action now against ISIS, marching down to Baghdad, and prevent them from getting into Baghdad,” the Senate Intelligence chair said, according to The Hill.
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, a leading hawk in the Senate, has voiced concerns that a low level of intervention could prove futile. “My concern is whether we’re going to do anything besides send a few extra Marines, which won’t do anything,” Sen.ator McCain told reporters Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California, certainly not a hawk, pushed for intervention in a statement released last week. But she stressed that the US should not intervene unilaterally as it did in 2003. “I believe we should go after ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] – which poses a threat to the entire world,” she said. “Any US action must be well-considered and well-executed in coordination with our allies and the Iraqi government and military, which we helped to train and arm.”
Calls for caution
Former commander of the US forces in Iraq retired Gen. David Petraeus cautioned that military intervention against the Sunni insurgents rising up against Mr. Maliki’s largely Shia government could undermine the US’s previous efforts to foster unity in Iraq. “This cannot be the United States being the ‘Air Force’ for Shia militias,” General Petraeus told a group at a foreign policy conference in London Wednesday, according to The Spectator.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada spoke out decisively against boots on the ground. "We shouldn't be sending our men and women back to Iraq," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada told reporters. "After a decade of war we have had enough. I do not support putting our men and women in harm’s way in Iraq. Families have sacrificed enough.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testified on Capitol Hill that the current extent of US interests in Iraq does not warrant military intervention. “What I would recommend is that anytime we use US military force, we use it for those things that are in our national interest,” General Dempsey told lawmakers. “Until we can clarify the intelligence picture the options will continue to be refined.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested that the Iraqis made their own bed when Maliki refused to accept additional assistance from US troops after the scheduled 2011 pullout date. “We have done everything we could to help them, but it’s up to the Iraqis – they wanted to manage and govern their own country,” Secretary Hagel told lawmakers. “So I don’t think we should assign the blame to the United States for this.”