House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday called on President Obama to "get engaged" in securing U.S. interests in Iraq in light of the renewed instability there brought on by a resurgent al-Qaeda.
His comments came as two of Obama's leading Republican foreign policy critics also faulted the White House for failing to negotiate an agreement that would have permitted residual U.S. forces to remain in Iraq to help prevent the recent instability.
Boehner rarely publicly discusses foreign policy but raised the concerns during his weekly press conference with reporters.
"The administration has chosen to spend much of its time and energy trying to explain why having terrorists holding key terrain in the Middle East is not the president’s problem," he said.
Asked later whether U.S. military forces should be once again deployed in Iraq, Boehner said that was not something the American public would support and instead that “equipment and other services” should be provided to the Iraqi government.
The eruption of violence in Iraq is threatening to undo much of what U.S. troops appeared to have accomplished before they withdrew in December 2011, putting the country’s stability on the line and raising the specter of a new civil war in a region already buckling under the strain of the conflict in Syria.
In the western Iraqi province of Anbar, Sunnis are in open revolt against the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Militants affiliated with al-Qaeda have taken advantage of the turmoil to raise their flag over areas from which they had been driven out by American troops, including the powerfully symbolic city of Fallujah, where U.S. forces fought their bloodiest battle since the Vietnam War.
Moments after Boehner spoke, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) accused the speaker of blaming Obama for the recent violence in Fallujah. "That takes a lot of gall," Reid said.
"I wonder if the speaker wants us to send more troops -- or wants to send troops into Iraq now? They're home. The American people are glad. They're coming back from Afghanistan," Reid said. He added later: "We're going to be watching very closely what goes on there, and we'll help them, but there is never any hint of anyone in this administration talking about sending troops to Iraq."
But as Reid spoke, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) were raising the issue on the Senate floor.
McCain said Obama is "falling short" of his administration's own goals of leaving Iraq more prosperous and stable than before the Iraq war began in 2003 and faulted the White House for failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement in 2011 that would have permitted U.S. forces to stay in the country after the majority of troops withdrew.
"The reason to keep around 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. forces in Iraq was not for the sake of Iraq alone," McCain said. "It was first and foremost in our national security interest to continue training and advising Iraqi forces and to maintain greater U.S. influence in Iraq."
The Obama administration tried, but failed to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government in 2011 that would have permitted U.S. forces to remain in the country to provide training to Iraqi military and police forces and protection for the roughly 16,000 U.S. diplomats and private contractors who remained in the country. But negotiations ultimately foundered over U.S. demands that American troops receive legal immunity while in the country, a request Maliki was unable to sell to the anti-U.S. elements of his governing coalition.
In his remarks, Graham said that he understands that most Americans are "war weary."
"Iraq and Afghanistan have been long, difficult wars, cost a lot of money and a lot of American lives," he said. "But the point of the war is to make sure that radical Islam is contained and eventually defeated and that's going to take an effort on our part. Does it matter that the al-Qaeda flag flies over Fallujah and Ramadi? I think it does."