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Rep. Colleen Hanabusa Headshot

America Must Examine the Merits of Further Involvement in Iraq

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The news and images coming from Iraq are disturbing. ISIL, a militant force intent on deposing the country's elected government and imposing Islamic rule, has captured the major city of Mosul, moved south across the country, and is threatening Baghdad. Along the way, reports are that it has conducted waves of mass killings. The country appears to be on the brink of civil war.

It is easy to imagine why there is a significant temptation to intervene. Some make a humanitarian argument, that we need to end the killing. Some focus on the political picture, that we must support a duly elected government against rebels. And for some it is primarily a military matter, the danger of a destabilized Iraq alongside Syria, threatening the entire region.

President Obama has announced, under an invocation of the War Powers Resolution, that he has sent 275 American troops and plans to send an additional 300 military advisers to Iraq in a non-combat role. However, what we have yet to hear in the president's announcement -- and the reason I cannot support it -- was a clear outline of how further involvement in Iraq would serve America's national security interests. After a decade of war, people are weary and suspicious of any further involvement abroad. They want an answer to the fundamental question of how this serves their interests. What do we intend to accomplish? How do we plan to accomplish it? And what is our exit strategy?

What we do know is the dangers of entering a conflict without adequate planning and analysis. Our nation's last foray into Iraq was based on a series of comforting platitudes and baseless assurances. The Bush administration's misguided conviction that an invasion was an absolute necessity trumped our nation's desire to understand the complexities of the mission, while Congress' desire to show strength following the attacks of 9/11 distracted it from its duty to demand answers.

However, when President Obama chose to invoke the War Powers Resolution, he delinked further action in Iraq from 9/11 and the outdated authorities that still exist as a result of the attacks. Now, one of our greatest concerns must be whether military operations in Iraq would appear to be taking a side in a longstanding sectarian conflict.

We have the responsibility to determine how our further involvement would affect regional relationships, and a duty to question how foreign powers have been involved in the shifting politics of the country following the U.S. withdrawal. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki chose not to extend a Status of Forces Agreement, which is why we pulled our troops out of the country. This was followed by a strong shift to a non-inclusive government in Baghdad with close ties to Iran. Having been asked to leave, we now have to seriously examine why we would return and get involved in a religious civil war.

While the president's power to involve our troops in a foreign conflict is constrained by the War Powers Resolution, Congress must make a priority of ensuring that he complies with the terms of the Resolution and does not involve U.S. troops in combat operations. I was proud to join my colleague John Garamendi of California in introducing an amendment to the House Defense Appropriations Act that ensures that the president does not circumvent his granted authorities to unilaterally commit U.S. forces to operations in Iraq. The amendment passed without opposition, which indicates to me that we are in broad agreement that we must act responsibly and with due concern for the men and women who have volunteered to defend our nation.

I have opposed U.S. involvement in Iraq since 2002, and I continue to oppose it today. I believe a majority of Americans, including my colleagues in Congress, now share that view. However, my goal is not to have everyone share that opinion; it is to ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes, that we show greater foresight than we have in the past, and that we never again witness a procession of flag-draped coffins and ask "Why?"

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa represents the First District of Hawaii in the United States House of Representatives. She is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.