Obama to Send 300 Military Advisers to Iraq


This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. on June 19.

The news: Amid all the alarming news coming out of Iraq, there is one particularly salient worry on Americans' minds: Does this mean we are going back to war?

President Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to set up joint operation centers and help the Iraqi government stabilize the country. In remarks delivered to reporters at the White House, Obama was careful to emphasize that "American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again."

Obama also noted that "targeted, precise military action in Iraq" was "still an option." Baghdad has asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes against ISIL militants running amok in Iraq, urging Washington to help halt the instability gripping the country.

The Obama administration had previously indicated that no options are off the table when it comes to addressing the threat imposed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a radical Sunni insurgency that has taken over a large chunk of Iraq in a disturbingly quick fashion. And according to the latest reports, members of Congress are worried that President Obama might take unilateral action against ISIL without congressional authorization.

On Wednesday, Obama held a meeting with leaders in Congress to discuss "options for increased security assistance" in Iraq — and it didn't quell the worries that the country might be thrust back into war. According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who attended the meeting, the president "indicated he didn't feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take."

Image Credit: BBC

On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats have said that the president has authority to carry out executive action in Iraq, given previous congressional authorization to use force in Afghanistan and Iraq. "I do not believe the president needs any further legislative authority to pursue the particular options for increased security assistance discussed today," said Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the top Democrat in the House, adding that Obama promised not to send U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.

Moreover, the case for intervention is stronger now that the Iraqi government has specifically requested it. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki officially asked the U.S. for targeted air strikes against ISIL, which attacked Iraq's biggest oil refinery on the same day. And as history has taught us, when oil is on the line, everyone pays attention.

Image Credit: The New York Times

Are there other options? The U.S. is certainly not alone in wanting to see an end to ISIL' frightening advance. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the U.S. government would be willing to work together with Iran if they can stop ISIL, which he described as "an existential challenge to Iraq itself." In turn, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that he is similarly receptive to the idea.

But coordinating with Iran is not a popular option among many in Washington and Iraq has made it clear that it is looking to the U.S. for help. The American government has already sent an aircraft carrier and three other Navy ships to the Persian Gulf to protect American lives in the area. Obama has also deployed up to 275 military personnel to Iraq.

Is there support for another military engagement? Republicans have criticized Obama in the past for his decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq, which has led to crucial intelligence gaps in the Middle East. Members of the Bush administration have also come out against the move, arguing that it has weakened the United States' position in the world.

But most of the American public doesn't feel the same. Last year, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 60% of Americans believed the Iraq war was not worth it. And according to a new PPP poll released on Tuesday, 74% of Americans are against sending American troops back to Iraq, while just 16% are in favor. That's about the same number as a Gallup poll from 2011, which found that three-fourths of Americans supported Obama's decision to pull troops out of Iraq.

Given the fact that Congress could not rustle up support for intervention in Syria — another massively unpopular option among the American public — lawmakers may be hesitant to come out in full support of another lengthy engagement in Iraq. Air strikes and drone action remain much more popular options in Iraq and they increasingly seem to be the next step for the American government.