Solving the Iraq Crisis: Maine Delegation Weighs In

Jun 20, 2014

Sen. Susan Collins was questioned about Iraq at an event today in Biddeford.
Sen. Susan Collins was questioned about Iraq at an event today in Biddeford.
Credit Patty Wight

Now that President Barack Obama has said he will send 300 military advisers, rather than combat troops, to Iraq, members of Maine's congressional delegation are weighing in on that decision. All four say they share the public's fatigue with the war.  But they disagree on the president's overall strategy, and next steps.

The Islamist militant group ISIS has gained control of the northern part of the country. And Republican Sen. Susan Collins  says she's deeply concerned about the situation.

"We've invested so many lives and so much money to try to bring stability to Iraq," Collins says. "And yet in the space of a week, an Islamic terrorist group has taken over half the country."

It's a humanitarian disaster for Iraq, she says. And she agrees with President Obama that it also poses a threat to the U.S. and other western countries. "The problem is that it gives an Al Qaeda-like group a safe haven from which to plot attacks against Americans," Collins says.

Collins supports President Obama's decision to limit U.S. involvement to an advisory role versus combat.  But she thinks the president made a mistake when he withdrew all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 at the end of an eight-year war.

"Last week at a hearing, I raised this question with our nation's top military leader. He said that he advised the president to have a residual force in Iraq to ensure stability and to continue training Iraqi troops, but that the president did not take his advice," Collins says. "I think we're seeing what happens because of that now."

"We can second guess this if we want," says Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree. Pingree, who represents Maine's 1st District, says it was the Iraqi government's decision to decline residual U.S. troops. And she's wary of future military action.

"President Bush signed the 'Status of Forces Agreement' with the Iraqis promising that we would leave," Pingree says.  "The Iraqis wanted U.S. forces out, and then, we just really didn't have any choice."

The Obama administration says the current situation in Iraq is, ultimately, in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's hands. And that's a sentiment independent Sen. Angus King shares. "I'm very skeptical of our ability to intervene in any meaningful way in this," King says. "This is really Maliki's ball game."

King says the Shiite prime minister created the current problem by failing to adequately include Sunnis and Kurds in the Iraqi government.  King agrees with President Obama that the solution needs to be political. And there is a current opportunity: The Iraqi parliament is currently choosing a new government after elections this spring.  

King says he thinks al-Maliki could salvage his political career and his country - if he channels his inner Nelson Mandela.   

"Mandela's genius was, when he took over in a situation where there was a huge transfer of power, he was generous to his opponents.  He was generous to the people who kept him in jail for 27 years," King says. "That's the only way Iraq can survive as a country, is if it has an inclusive government."  

Maine's congressional delegation say they share the public's fatigue with war.  In a written statement, Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud says, "We cannot commit ourselves to another open-ended military action in Iraq. That is why I expect President Obama to consult closely with Congress, and I believe he must seek congressional authorization for any future military action."

Sen. Angus King says it's time to develop a new strategy to deal with these kinds of situations.

"You know, we've got Al Qaeda and al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, Al Shabab in Kenya, Boko Haram in Nigeria," he says. "I mean, it's coming up all over the world, and we need to figure out what our strategy is, because trying to kill them all isn't going to work."

Secretary of State John Kerry plans to travel to the Middle East to help find a diplomatic solution in Iraq.