By Andrew Clevenger

The Bulletin

WASHINGTON — Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation expressed cautious support Thursday for President Obama’s plan to deal with the growing threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant by training Syrian opposition fighters and continuing airstrikes, but they said they would not approve a major, open-ended deployment of U.S. troops.

On Wednesday, Obama addressed the nation, laying out his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terrorist organization called ISIL or ISIS, short for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and asking Congress to authorize the military action.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” Obama said. “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said he is leaning toward approving the president’s request.

“I think the president has come a long way, and did a much better job articulating the threat that faces us as a homeland if it’s not stopped over there,” Walden told The Bulletin. “It was important that he made the case that this is going to take time, because you can’t train up the people that we need to train up overnight or in 90 days or even 6 months.”

Had the administration taken more decisive action regarding ISIL a year or more ago, when the group was marshaling forces in Syria against the backdrop of that country’s bloody civil war, the U.S. would have better options now, Walden said. Instead, ISIL has consolidated its power and seized territory and weapons in Iraq, where it operates as a pseudo-government.

“There were things that could have been done, and I think they really fumbled it,” he said.

“The result has been not a (junior varsity) team that’s showed up, but a really bad championship team that’s showed up, with money and barbarism and with the ability to not only take ground, but to begin to act like a state, in that they have secured oil wells and are producing and crudely refining oil and selling it on the market,” Walden said. “They are able to acquire weapons, because they have an unprecedented amount of money for a terrorist organization. They have an incredible messaging capability to attract fighters to their cause, and we know that they are attracting people from the West who have Western passports (from the U.S. or England) and can easily come and go.”

Congress well understands the mistakes made in going into Iraq and Afghanistan and during the withdrawal of U.S. troops, he said.

“I think we have a better idea going in what questions to ask and what accountability this demands,” Walden said. “There’s a general consensus that we will watch very closely over this. There will be a pretty clear understanding of how the money is going to be spent, what the partnerships are, and really what the plan is, and is it sufficient to get the job done?”

In a prepared statement, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., noted he was one of 23 senators to vote against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and shares the frustrations of many war-weary Oregonians. But the anniversary of the attacks on 9/11 serves as a “searing reminder of what can happen when violent extremists are given safe haven to plan, train, and launch attacks,” he said.

“I support the President’s use of targeted air strikes and his extremely limited commitment of American troops to train the Iraqi army, the Kurds, and others fighting to drive ISIL out of their country. It is in America’s security interest to root out these terrorist forces before they can establish a beachhead from which to launch attacks on the United States and our allies,” he said.

Wyden added that in his view, any president must get permission from Congress before a large-scale deployment of combat troops to Iraq.

“I would view such a request with great skepticism,” he said. “The president has shown America and our allies can respond forcefully to the threat posed by ISIL without sending in hundreds of thousands of troops.”

Oregon’s junior senator, Democrat Jeff Merkley, said in a prepared statement that the U.S. must not, under any circumstances, be drawn into a ground war in Iraq. Instead, it must coordinate with European allies and Middle Eastern partners and regularly evaluate its progress and the appropriateness of further involvement, he said.

“The United States has a role to play in this effort, but that role must be limited. Ultimately, stakeholders in the region must be responsible for taking the military and political steps necessary to rein in ISIS,” he said. “Based on what I have heard from President Obama and our top military and intelligence leaders, the Administration’s plans appear consistent with a limited American role, coordination with our European allies, and front-line commitments from Middle Eastern partners. We need to proceed carefully and make sure that the American role is limited in scope and time.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, also pointed to his vote against the Iraq war and said if his stance had prevailed, the U.S. would not be in this position.

“This group presents a clear regional threat, and an increasingly destabilized Middle East is a direct threat to U.S. security,” he said, but noted the threat is not so immediate that it precludes congressional debate on how to best proceed.

“Congress must explicitly authorize military force in compliance with the War Powers Resolution. This must be narrow and limited. Absent an authorization with reasonable limitations, this could be expanded into yet another expensive, deadly war,” he said.

DeFazio said he had to review the details of the president’s request before he could indicate whether he would support it.

Paul Gage, chief of staff for Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, said the congressman had attended briefings on the issue Thursday and was also waiting to see the language of Obama’s request.

In a prepared statement, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, said she supports the president’s strategy of building an international coalition to target and dismantle ISIL.

“However, there are still many unanswered questions. I am glad Congress will vote on whether to extend funding to arm moderate Syrian forces. I will not make a decision on this without gaining a clearer picture of who these forces are, what their mission will be, and what we expect for the country as they drive out and dismantle ISIS,” she said.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, did not respond to a request for comment.

Congress is expected to vote on Obama’s request for authorization next week.

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com

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