Minnesota delegation cautious about US involvement in Syria


Members of Minnesota's congressional delegation generally support U.S. airstrikes to disrupt the Islamic militant group in Syria and Iraq that has massacred thousands and beheaded two American journalists – a plan President Barack Obama laid out in a speech to the nation Wednesday evening.

Obama said he will expand U.S. military airstrikes to Syria to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (often referred to as ISIL, the Islamic State, or ISIS) and protect national security, and doesn't believe he needs formal approval from Congress to take that action.

The president also said he will send an additional 475 U.S. service members to Iraq to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces there. But he made clear that U.S. troops will not be placed into combat roles.

U.S. military airstrikes have helped Iraqi forces regain some ground against ISIS, which controls territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, reports say.

Although Republicans and Democrats rarely agree on policy issues, members of both parties say something needs to be done to control the escalating situation in Syria. Minnesota members of Congress echoed those sentiments, but are cautious about getting the U.S. too involved in the conflict.

Where Minnesota lawmakers stand

We're collecting reactions from members of Minnesota's congressional delegation to the president's speech.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has called ISIS "pure evil," said in a statement that she approves of Obama's strategy.

"I support targeted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well as training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition, and I also think it’s critical that we work with our allies in the international community so we are united in our effort to defeat this terrorist organization," Klobuchar said.

At least two Minnesotans have been killed in Syria while fighting with ISIS in recent weeks.

DFL Sen. Al Franken supports airstrikes in Syria.

Franken has also been outspoken about disrupting the Islamic militant groups' recruitment of Americans, including in Minnesota.

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison represents the 5th District which includes Robbinsdale, where the two men who were killed fighting for ISIS grew up. He issued a statement along with other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus saying Congress must weigh in when it comes to using military action against the Islamic militants.

Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents the 8th District, expressed similar reservations earlier this week. He is urging Obama not to increase the country's military involvement in the Middle East without approval and consent from Congresshe said at a news conference in Duluth.

Nolan said, "Once we become re-involved militarily in the region, finding the solution becomes our problem. And when we fail – as inevitably we will – we only breed more hostility against the United States."

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of the 6th District was critical of Obama's plan.

Earlier this week, Bachmann introduced a measure that would revoke passport and re-entry privileges for U.S. citizens who fight for Islamic militant groups overseas.

Other members of the delegation weighed in on the subject earlier in the week.

Mike McFadden, the Republican candidate for Senate who is challenging Franken in the upcoming election, has criticized Obama for his lack of strategy against ISIS, and has criticized Franken as well for supporting the president's foreign policy "blunders."

McFadden also came out in favor of Bachmann's proposal.

Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 7th District, said he supports action in Syria, but not ground troops. He said last week, "I think if it's something that's going to get us into a ground war then I think that's a deal breaker," according to MPR News.

Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican who represents Minnesota's 3rd District, supports air strikes, but like Nolan, recognizes the risks involved.

"We need to make sure we understand if we're helping anyone [that] we know who we're helping and it can't in the end be turned around and used against us," Paulsen said, according to MPR News. "That's one of the challenges with Middle East politics in general."

He spoke with WCCO over the weekend, saying "we should be concerned [about ISIS's threat in the Middle East]."

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