Congressman James McGovern warns of ‘quagmire’ in Iraq; seeks congressional vote on escalation

Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — When Congress returns from its break April 13, U.S. Rep. James McGovern aims to force a discussion about U.S. military escalation in Iraq in the fight against ISIS. In fact, he believes members of Congress are shirking their duties in avoiding that debate.

“I think war is a big deal — I think putting Americans in harm’s way is a big deal,” McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester who represents the 2nd Congressional District, said in an interview with the Gazette Tuesday.

McGovern, who was in Northampton for a number of visits with community groups and constituents, represents a district that spans 63 communities in the central and western part of the state.

“I have a feeling that we are getting sucked deeper and deeper into a quagmire where there’s no end,” he said. “My question is, how do we end this war?”

McGovern has been outspoken in this position since last summer, maintaining that the Obama administration is flat-out wrong in contending that it has authority to send combat troops and engage in air strikes in Iraq based on congressional authorizations dating back to 2001 and 2002.

He also believes the strategy of the United States allying itself with one group to topple another one is highly questionable given the complicated nature of political alliances in the Middle East.

“One of the lessons we should learn from history is that we’ve got to be careful about going after bad guys by putting bad guys in power to replace them,” McGovern said.

“I don’t quite understand what our policies are — yeah, there are bad guys and right now we are bombing them, but we’re also supporting some pretty bad guys,” he added. “I don’t think that’s a remedy.”

He likened the approach to the Dr. Seuss story “The Cat in the Hat,” in which attempts to clean up one mess only make bigger and bigger ones.

“It’s a very complicated situation. What worries me is that our government’s response is the same old, same old — more troops, more bombs, more weapons,” he said. “We ended up getting Osama bin Laden not with 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, but with a small, well-trained unit in Pakistan.”

And while he said he understands the threat ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, poses to the security of the region and beyond, he believes the military strategy could backfire because of the enmity against the United States found in the region.

“We make these crazy alliances,” he said. “I think ISIS desperately wants us to get more involved because then they can turn this into a battle against the West.”

Calls for debate

Last month, President Barack Obama sent a draft resolution to Congress asking for authorization to use military force against ISIS, but to date, Congress has failed to discuss the resolution on the House floor. McGovern thinks that is wrong.

“We ought to have a full debate and we ought to have a full discussion before we enter another war,” he said. “The authorization to go to war in Afghanistan was in 2001 and in Iraq shortly thereafter. It’s time to get a new authorization.”

McGovern said he intends to work with U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, to introduce a so-called “privileged resolution,” a mechanism that allows members of congress to force an issue to the floor of the House in an expedited fashion, taking precedence over other matters. This, McGovern hopes, would force a discussion on the issue of U.S. military escalation in Iraq.

“It would be saying that our rights collectively as a House are being denied,” he said. “I want Congress to do its job.”

McGovern said when he tried to bring the matter out for discussion on the House floor last fall, congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner, said the debate should wait until a new Congress convened in the new year.

That still has not happened — and McGovern contends that it is a failure on the part of Congress.

“I think it is a lack of backbone. It’s Congress’ job, its responsibility to do an authorization. It’s as simple as that,” McGovern said. “If you don’t act, people can blame the White House. That’s cowardice.”

As for Obama’s draft authorization for military use, McGovern said while he’s not in agreement with the request because he believes it is too broad, at least Obama has done the right thing in coming to Congress for authorization to go to war. Now it’s up to Congress to do its job.

“The deal is, Congress can’t complain and then do nothing,” he said. “If people want to go to war, they ought to be on record saying they do, and if they don’t they ought to be on record saying they don’t.”

For his part, McGovern said before he would think about supporting more military action in Iraq, he would need to hear a clear articulation of the specific purpose of the mission.

“It doesn’t take a lot of guts for a member of Congress to stand up and say send in the troops because it’s not us that ends up going, it’s not our kids,” he said. “I think we ought to be more thoughtful about going into war and at the minimum we ought to vote on it.”

Until, then, he argues, the United States should limit its help to humanitarian aid.

“There ought to be a beginning, a middle and an end,” he said. “If we don’t have a clearly defined mission, we’ll be there forever.”

Laurie Loisel can be reached at


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