By Ted Goldberg, Mina Kim and Lisa Pickoff-White
President Barack Obama’s airstrikes on Iraq are drawing both support and skepticism from Bay Area members of Congress.
Last week Obama approved limited airstrikes against Islamic State fighters, whose rapid rise in June plunged Iraq into crisis. Obama said the current military campaign would be a “long-term project” to protect civilians from the deadly and brutal insurgents.
American airstrikes are coming from fighter pilots and drones near Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The strikes are aimed at limiting Islamic State fighters’ advances and helping Iraqi forces regain control. U.S. and Iraqi aircraft also have dropped humanitarian aid for the minority Yazidis, thousands of whom were stranded on a scorching mountaintop when the Islamic militants seized Sinjar, near the Syrian border, last week.
KQED reached out to California’s two senators and 12 Bay Area members of the House to find out where they stand on the airstrikes and the president’s stated goals of protecting U.S. personnel from militants known as ISIS or ISIL, as well as preventing what’s being called the genocide of ethnic groups such as the Yazidis.
Find your local representative: Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael | John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove | Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena | Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton | George Miller, D-Martinez | Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco | Barbara Lee, D-Oakland | Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo | Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin | Mike Honda, D-San Jose | Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto | Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose
Dianne Feinstein, Democrat Took Office: Nov 10, 1992 Next Election: 2018
Released statement: “I strongly support the president’s authorization for airstrikes against ISIL. This is not a typical terrorist organization — it is a terrorist army, operating with military expertise, advancing across Iraq and rapidly consolidating its position.
“ISIL is capturing new Iraqi towns every day, is reported to be in control of Mosul Dam and is engaging in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that appears to be attempted genocide. I believe that once this group solidifies its hold on what it calls the Islamic State, its next target may be Baghdad.
“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard. We simply cannot allow this to happen.
“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. Inaction is no longer an option. I support actions by the administration to coordinate efforts with Iraq and other allies to use our military strength and targeting expertise to the fullest extent possible.”
Barbara Boxer, Democrat Took Office: Jan. 5, 1993 Next Election: 2016
Released statement: “I fully support the President’s decision to act against these despicable and barbaric terrorists who pose a threat to the entire world.
“I also support the President’s humanitarian mission and call upon the rest of the world to join us in helping vulnerable victims who are facing terror and death.”
Huffman told KQED: “I’ve offered my support for actions that would protect our embassy in Iraq. This humanitarian and possible genocide issue was not something that I had foreseen, and I think it’s terrible. If we can, as part of an international coalition that doesn’t lead into a longterm quagmire in Iraq, prevent that, I think that’s something I could support as well. I’m very cautious about not going down that slippery slope of mission creep into a war into Iraq.
“Congress gave the president a blank check about a decade ago with a very broad authorization to use military force. Now we need to repeal that. I co-sponsored Barbara Lee’s legislation to do that several times now. The truth is that because of the actions Congress took after 9/11 the president has a very broad authority to do these kinds of things.”
Garamendi’s spokesperson told KQED: “[Garamendi] fully supports the humanitarian air drops that are underway. Regarding the airstrikes: Congressman Garamendi would like more information on the goals of the airstrikes and how we can avoid a slippery slope back into another U.S. war in Iraq. He believes what is most needed is political reconciliation amongst all the ethno-religious groups in Iraq.”
Released statement: “The recent U.S. airstrikes in Iraq were to protect U.S. personnel and innocent Iraqi civilians fleeing Islamic State militants. I am very concerned about expanding the U.S. military role in Iraq beyond President Obama’s stated goal of protecting U.S. personnel and facilities and preventing innocent civilians from being massacred. Any new U.S. military involvement should be debated and voted on by Congress.”
McNerney did not respond to KQED’s question in time for publication.
Told KQED: “I support the airstrike and the humanitarian efforts that have taken place to rescue Yazidis who faced imminent danger. I believe that the Yazidis should be able to return home safely or migrate to other locations and we should continue efforts to ensure their safety. However, I do not believe that this use of targeted airstrikes to protect U.S. personnel and Iraqis at immediate risk of humanitarian catastrophe means that the U.S. should take on a wider military role in Iraq.”
Released statement: “I support the President’s leadership to avert a massacre of the Yazidi people and other religious minorities in Iraq. ISIS’s brutal treatment, depriving Yazidis of food and water in 120 degree heat on the mountain and threatening to slaughter them if they descend, is outside the circle of civilized human behavior.
“It is also appropriate that the President authorized air strikes against ISIS should they threaten U.S. personnel and other interests in Irbil or elsewhere in Iraq.
“As the President reiterated, there is no American military solution to the situation in Iraq. Defeating ISIS will require Iraq’s leaders to see beyond their divisions and come together to fight this common threat. These actions are the only way to achieve durable security and stability for all Iraqis.
“I was pleased by the President’s continued assurances that he will not send U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. I appreciate the briefings provided in advance of the President’s announcement. Congress looks forward to receiving additional information and intelligence on these humanitarian and military operations.”
Released statement: “I support strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.
“While the President has existing authority to protect American diplomatic personnel, I remain concerned about U.S. mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose.
“There is no military solution in Iraq. Any lasting solution must be political and respect the rights of all Iraqis.
“I am pleased President Obama recognized this in his statement last night, when he said: ‘there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.’
“I will continue to call for the President to seek congressional authorization before any combat operations. For too long, Congress has abdicated its Constitutional role in matters of war and peace. The President should come to Congress for authorization of any further military action in Iraq.”
Speier did not respond to KQED’s question in time for publication.
Released statement: “Through brutality, human slaughter, and reckless disregard for international law, ISIS threatens to take control of Iraq and create a terrorist state. This cannot happen. To prevent genocide in Iraq and protect our country and our interests in the region, we must work with international allies to create a political environment where a new, inclusive Iraqi government can take shape. To achieve that outcome, I support humanitarian aid to displaced persons in the region and efforts to protect U.S. personnel who are on the ground.
“Under the current circumstances, however, I oppose using U.S. troops in Iraq for ground combat operations. In doing so, we must be guided by what we have learned from past mistakes in Iraq. It should not be lost on anyone that the reckless decision to invade Iraq, under false premises, has put us in this perilous position today.”
Released statement: “The humanitarian and political situation in Iraq is deteriorating. While I support the President’s efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Northern Iraq, I am concerned with the recent use of airstrikes and military force beyond protecting American diplomatic personnel. That is why I supported H.Con.Res.105, which called for President Obama to seek congressional approval before continuing to expand the U.S. military mission in Iraq.
“I am wary of mission creep and the U.S. being drawn back into major combat operations in Iraq. There is no lasting military solution in Iraq. The only lasting solution is a political solution in which the rights and concerns of all Iraqi groups are respected.”
Released statement: “At this moment, the religious minority communities of Iraq, many of them descendants of the original Christians, are threatened with genocide. In Nineveh, tens of thousands of men, women and children are without food or water and live in constant fear of death by ISIS. Countless others have been tortured, or forced to convert to Islam or be murdered.
“Immediate humanitarian aid is desperately needed to rescue these innocent people. The United States should call on the United Nations Security Council to lead a humanitarian intervention on behalf of victimized Iraqi minorities.
“The situation is desperate. Shortly it will be hopeless. We must act now.”
Lofgren declined to comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.