WASHINGTON -- Congress used to have hawks and doves when it came to Iraq. Now it seems to be filled with ducks.
With a few exceptions -- notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- lawmakers who voted to invade Iraq in 2003 are unwilling to say how they think the United States should deal with the latest fallout, even as Sunni militants who have taken control of key cities in western Iraq seize more territory.
Republicans have been quick to place blame on President Barack Obama, criticizing him for failing to act on the growing threat posed to the region by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. But when asked about what course of action they would propose, they mostly offer up rambling responses about the need for a strategy from the president.
It began last week, most prominently with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said Obama should have taken more aggressive action to keep U.S. forces involved in Iraq and confront ISIS.
"I know what he should have done," McConnell said when asked if he had suggestions for the president. "I'm anxious to hear what he has to say -- he's the president of the United States -- about what we do, confronted with this situation now."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) was similarly reticent to embrace specific proposals Wednesday when pressed on what role the U.S. should play in trying to resolve the crisis.
"One of the things about airstrikes or not airstrikes -- that's a tactic. The president shouldn't be debating over a tactic and neither should we. We should be talking about a strategy," Rogers said at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Airstrikes may be a part of that, it may not be a part of that. A special forces raid may be a part of that, it may not be a part of that."
Obama made clear last week that American combat troops would not fight again in Iraq, but left some military options, such as targeted airstrikes, on the table. For now, the president has dispatched 300 soldiers to the region to assist in training and advising Iraqi forces.
Rogers said he agreed with the president's decision to send the troops to Iraq to serve in an advisory role, but he argued that a lot more needed to be done. Still, his only specific suggestion was to target ISIS command and control and leadership "in a way that's disruptive."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also had plenty of hindsight to offer reporters Wednesday in his weekly briefing. But as far as the future goes, he offered little beyond saying Obama needs to develop an "overarching strategy."
"It's not my job to outline for the president what tools he should use or not use," Boehner said when pressed on whether he and Congress have any responsibility to advance suggestions. "This is the president's responsibility. He is elected president. He is elected to lead."
Republicans aren't alone in being shy about suggesting a course of action.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who has come to deeply regret his vote for the Iraq war, suggested there simply wasn't much the United States could or should do.
"It's not a problem we can solve," Rockefeller told The Huffington Post. "It's not even a problem we can be very useful in because it has nothing to do with our kind of geopolitics. It's a fight that's been going on for 800 years; it'll go on another 1,000. It's vengeance, it's Shiite-Sunni. It's not the kind of thing I think we can have any effect on."
Asked what he would tell the president to do, Rockefeller answered, "I don't know."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week at his weekly news conference that he knew only what the country should not do.
"We shouldn't be sending our men and women back to Iraq. Those who attack President Obama for bringing our troops home are flat wrong," Reid said. "After a decade of war, we've all had enough."
While few members of Congress had suggestions about what Obama should do, some wanted to make sure he asks Congress' permission if he comes up with anything that requires significant action in Iraq.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who was not in Congress at the time the war in Iraq was authorized, took to the Senate floor Wednesday to argue that the old authorization is no longer valid, and the president must seek approval for new combat.
"It must be done if the U.S. intends to engage in any combat activity in Iraq," Kaine said.