Congressional Leaders Back Iraq Airstrikes; Hawks Push for Broader War on ISIL

Updated 11:22 a.m. | Congressional leaders are backing President Barack Obama's decision to authorize air strikes in Iraq as the first bombs began falling, although hawks are pushing for a far broader military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also knowns as ISIS.  

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, announced Friday morning that the U.S. had dropped bombs on assets of the group.  

"Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located," Kirby said. "The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief."  

Aimed at thwarting the growing power of the insurgent terrorist organization, the air strikes were largely applauded on both sides of the aisle.  

Republicans, however, added a certain degree of finger-wagging that Obama had not acted sooner or with a clear endgame, and general accusations that the administration's attitude toward violence in the region has been too lax.  

"The president's authorization of airstrikes is appropriate," said Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement, "but like many Americans, I am dismayed by the ongoing absence of a strategy for countering the grave threat ISIS poses to the region. Vital national interests are at stake, yet the White House has remained disengaged despite warnings from Iraqi leaders, Congress, and even members of its own administration. Such parochial thinking only emboldens the enemy and squanders the sacrifices Americans have made."  

"The President's decision to use force in Iraq was appropriate given the circumstances. We must all understand that ISIS threatens both the Iraqi people and poses a clear and present danger to the United States," said House Armed Services Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., in a statement Thursday evening following Obama's announcement of the plan of action.  

But McKeon added: "It is regrettable that ISIS' rise was preventable."  

House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, also weighed in with a statement. "The current crisis in Iraq is symptomatic of this Administration’s willingness to defy the reality that terrorism is metastasizing throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East. Over the past year, the White House has been continually warned about the growing threat of this terrorist organization that is too extreme for al Qaeda. Now, ISIS has created the largest terrorist safe haven since 9/11, massacring civilians along the way, and poses a threat to the United States."  

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina issued a joint statement shortly after Obama's announcement Thursday night, calling for broader action.  

"A policy of containment will not work against ISIS. It is inherently expansionist and must be stopped. The longer we wait to act, the worse this threat will become, as recent events clearly show," McCain and Graham said. "We need to get beyond a policy of half measures. The President needs to devise 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. 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. And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad."  

Senior Democrats were more supportive, lauding Obama's actions and putting the onus not on the administration's foreign policy vision but on the Iraqi government to address the region's unrest.  

"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," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "I was pleased by the President's continued assurances that he will not send U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq."  

Sen. Carl Levin. D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee said in a statement that he had called for increasing assistance to the Kurds.  

"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," Levin said. "It is helpful that the government of Iraq has requested our assistance, and it would also be helpful under the circumstances, though not necessary, for a number of neighboring countries to publicly support our actions."  

Washington Democrat Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services panel, agreed.  

"We must continue to remember that the U.S. militarily alone cannot resolve this conflict. For years, we had tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, yet the sectarian conflict continued. In order for real and lasting peace to take hold, the Iraqi people must create an inclusive and fully representative government," Smith said. "It is long past time that the Iraqi government step-up and confront ISIS, both militarily and politically."  

There was one early opponent from the president's party — Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida tweeted out his opposition and started a petition to oppose it.

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