On one of the most crucial foreign policy and national security issues of our time, where do the members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation stand? Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to determine their positions on the menace that is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As of early this week, three had barely said anything on the issue while the others have been careful not to step on too many toes.
This is to be expected for two reasons. First, all of them are, at their cores, politicians. They all want to position themselves so as to maximize their deniability in the event of a catastrophe. And since they’re not being called upon to vote — not yet anyway — they can get away with it.
Second, Connecticut’s entire seven-member delegation is comprised exclusively of Democrats, so they don’t want to be seen as too critical of one their own. But that reluctance is no doubt limited by President Obama’s weak approval ratings in Connecticut, which last time Quinnipiac polled back in March was 45 percent — only slightly better than his current nationwide favorables of 44 percent.
The senior senator from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, released a statement on Aug. 8 — the same day as several other members of the state’s delegation. He began by stating his opposition to “open-ended military commitments” — a bold move. Really, is there anyone out there who is actually for open-ended military commitments?
Without mentioning ISIS by name, Blumenthal correctly characterized the current situation as “a consequence of the failure of the international community to contain the ongoing civil war in Syria.” And in exchange for continued U.S. military aid, Blumenthal also called for a new Iraqi government that is “inclusive and unifying.” This was the right thing to say and, combined with the similar words of other U.S. officials, surely hastened the departure of the inept and corrupt Nouri al-Maliki.
I’d give Blumenthal, a member of the Armed Services Committee, a B.
On the same day, Chris Murphy, the junior senator from Connecticut and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, showed a little less maturity. Like Blumenthal, Murphy bravely said he could not “support a new open-ended military campaign in Iraq.” Limited operations to prevent “genocide” and to “protect American personnel from imminent harm” were fine. But he did not call for a change in Iraqi leadership and snarkily likened himself to Obama in that both were “elected to end America’s recent history of military hubris in the Middle East.”
Murphy further distanced himself from Obama, predictably opining that “the president needs to better explain how this intervention is strictly time- and scope-limited.” Murphy gets a C-.
In the House, neither Rosa DeLauro, Joe Courtney, nor John Larson could summon the strength to offer a substantive opinion on the volatile and potentially catastrophic situation in Syria and Iraq, where a heavily armed, bloodthirsty terrorist army bent on expansion prompted a U.S bombing campaign and recently beheaded an American journalist, kidnapped and raped girls, and summarily executed 500 Christians who refused to convert to Islam.
By far the most active House member in the Nutmeg State has been Jim Himes in the 4th District, which is perhaps to be expected from a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Unlike Blumenthal, Murphy, and Elizabeth Esty, his 5th District colleague to the north, Himes didn’t wait until Aug. 8 to address the exploding crisis in Syria and Iraq. Back in mid June, Himes addressed the “brutal sectarian conflict” and insisted that it needed to be “resolved by Iraqis” themselves.
Himes applauded President Obama’s statement that he would not send combat troops back into Iraq, but unlike other members of the Connecticut delegation, he wisely urged the president “to work closely with Congress to determine the next steps,” as did Esty. And that was about the only useful thing she said in her brief statement. Larson also has suggested the president needs to work with Congress, and he said he doesn’t think the U.S. should “go it alone.”
It also is worth noting that Congress is in recess until Sept. 6, and we are told that members are not being briefed on ISIS while they are away from Washington. Regardless, based on statements from the White House and news reports, it appears that our military is engaging ISIS already on a limited basis.
Himes also appeared on the Mike Huckabee Show on Fox News — hostile territory for a New England Democrat — and stated flatly that ransom payments to ISIS in exchange for captured Americans should be rejected out-of-hand because it would encourage more kidnapping and provide yet more money for the terrorist army. And he repeated many of these points on a recent tour of his district.
The ISIS problem is of critical importance to both the U.S. and international community. There can be no room for mealy-mouthed statements or outright silence from our elected officials.
Esty gets a C and Himes gets an A. Indeed, if Himes hadn’t been born in Peru, I’d urge him to keep his eye on national office. I’m half tempted to campaign for the repeal of Section 1, Article 2 of the Constitution. But then again, that nativist clause might be the only thing protecting us from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ted Cruz.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this column was written, Rep. Larson’s office released a statement titled “House Should Return to Washington and Work on Serious Situation in Iraq” and offered these comments to Fox Connecticut. We edited this op-ed to reflect his most recent statements.
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