ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While national leaders continue to debate U.S. involvement in a growing al-Qaida-inspired insurgency in Iraq, neither of the New Mexico candidates for U.S. Senate is calling for ground troops to be sent to the renewed conflict.
The Republican challenger in the Senate race, Allen Weh, helped organize the Iraqi army as a Marine colonel after the U.S. invasion in 2003, while the incumbent, Sen. Udall, D-N.M., voted against Congress’s use-of-force authorization as a House member in 2002.
Their opinions on the renewed conflict in Iraq come as Sunni militants, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have rapidly seized territory across northern Iraq, and security forces of the Shiite-controlled government in Baghdad have struggled to contain the sectarian violence.
President Barack Obama last week said the U.S. would review ways to help the Iraqi government but would not send U.S. troops to address the growing conflict. Then on Monday, Obama notified Congress of his intent to send about 275 U.S. soldiers to Iraq on a mission to provide security for U.S. personnel and aid in training of Iraqi troops.
Addressing the rapidly changing situation in Iraq on Wednesday, Udall said he’s opposed to sending ground troops and wary of re-engaging U.S. forces in Iraq after eight years of costly war.
“The crisis is rooted in the destabilizing decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 and centuries of sectarian conflict,” Udall said in a statement. “I believe we have an obligation to maintain a strong diplomatic presence, work with our allies in the region and provide well-founded, strategic support.
“… I do not support sending ground troops. Our nation went to war in Iraq on false information, and we must learn from our lesson,” Udall said.
Weh said U.S. intervention is necessary, but he would not speculate on whether a broader use of American troops is warranted because he doesn’t have access to the intelligence briefings available to members of Congress and other national leaders.
“I’m not going to say that U.S. troops should be a part of the solution at the moment,” said Weh, a retired Marine colonel who spent a year in Iraq.
“…We’ve got to do something, but I can’t recommend a specific something until I’ve had an intelligence briefing,” he said.
But Weh said the action the U.S. takes in Iraq must be aggressive to ensure gains established by U.S. forces since 2003 aren’t lost, he said.
“It’s got to be appropriately aggressive,” Weh said. “It’s got to involve both diplomacy and if not the American force of arms, the imminent threat of force of arms that make the diplomacy work.”
Udall and Weh disagree on the roots of the Sunni insurgency.
Udall called the renewed conflict “the result of the Iraqi government’s inability to overcome sectarian divisions.”
Udall added that the Middle East is “no more stable and secure” than it was before the U.S. engaged in the Iraqi conflict more than a decade ago.
Weh said the U.S. effectively “set the conditions for what’s happening here” by not pushing harder to reach an agreement with Baghdad about keeping an extended U.S. troop presence in the country. U.S. troops exited Iraq in 2011 when no agreement was reached and left a void of power that Sunni fighters now are attempting to seize, he said.
Weh criticized the proposal by Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. work with Iran to address the Sunni insurgency.
“We don’t need to be doing anything in conjunction with Iran,” Weh said. “The last thing in the world we need is doing a joint military operation with Iran.”