It is not a lack of sympathy with the historic and current circumstance of Iraq’s religious minorities—or of other persecuted peoples in that traumatized country—that leads some of the most humane and responsible members of Congress to say that President Obama must seek approval from the House and Senate before committing the United States military to a new Iraq mission.
Nor is it isolationism or pacifism that motivates most dissent.
Rather, it is a healthy respect for the complex geopolitics of the region combined with a regard for the wisdom of the system of checks and balances and the principles of advice and consent outlined in the US Constitution.
Consider the case of Barbara Lee.
Few members of the House of Representatives have a so long and distinguished a record of commitment to respecting and protecting the interests of vulnerable populations in distant lands than Lee, a California Democrat who has been deeply engaged in international human rights advocacy since her days as an aide to former Congressman Ron Dellums, D-California.
Since her election to Congress in 1998, Lee has been the essential author or co-author of major pieces of legislation dealing with international HIV/AIDS issues, including the measure that created the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. She organized bipartisan coalitions to respond to genocide in Darfur.
She was a leader the effort to establish the position of special adviser for orphans and vulnerable children. She has served as a US representative to the United Nations. And she has argued, well and wisely, that the hard work of diplomacy, the provision of humanitarian aid, the steady support of international institutions and the recognition of distinct regional issues is invariably more likely to help the world’s most vulnerable peoples than war-making.
Of course Barbara Lee supports immediate and intensive efforts to provide vital aid to the Yazidi people, a religious minority facing harrowing threats from the militant forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Of course, she wants to aid and protect religious, cultural and ethnic minorities.
That is why she was one of the first members of the House to express support for “humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.”
Lee praises the president for announcing that “there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”
But she still expresses legitimate concern about “US mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose.”
Within hours of President Obama’s announcement that, in addition to humanitarian efforts, he was authorizing military airstrikes on ISIS forces, Lee called for the president “to seek congressional authorization before any combat operations.”