WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) insisted Sunday that Congress has no appetite to escalate U.S. involvement in Iraq.
During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," host David Gregory asked Durbin what would happen if the limited airstrikes Obama has authorized fail to stop the advance of the militant group Islamic State, which has terrorized people in the country as it seeks to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
"I can tell you this: Escalating it is not in the cards," he insisted. "Neither the American people nor Congress are in the business of wanting to escalate this conflict beyond where it is today. I think the president has made it clear this is a limited strike. He has, I believe, most congressional support for that at this moment. To go beyond is really a challenge."
Since announcing that he had authorized airstrikes in Iraq on Thursday, Obama has repeatedly stated that U.S. involvement in the country will be limited and will not involve ground troops, reflecting deep reluctance on the part of the public to get bogged down in the country again. In a letter to Congress on Friday, Obama said military operations would be "limited in their scope and duration as necessary to protect American personnel."
Still, on Saturday, the president admitted to reporters that involvement may not be over anytime soon.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” he said. “This is going to be a long-term project.”
The U.S. airstrikes come as the Islamic State is threatening the Kurdish capital of Irbil, where American officials and forces are located. The group has also recently driven thousands of Iraqis belonging to the minority Yazidi sect onto a barren mountain.
In a "Meet the Press" interview immediately following Durbin, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) disagreed with the senator's call for limited engagement, warning of another attack on the U.S. homeland if more is not done.
"They are more powerful now than al Qaeda was on 9/11," he said, referring to the Islamic State, adding, "I lost hundreds of constituents on 9/11. I never want to do that again. We see this coming. For the president to say we're doing airstrikes, we're not doing anything else. We're not going to use American combat troops, not going to do this, not going to do that. What kind of leadership is that? You should never let the enemy know what you're going to do."
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