Minutes after President Obama outlined a new strategy to attack Islamic State forces, Sen. Mark Begich issued a blunt rejection of the proposal.
“I oppose the President’s plan to arm Syrian rebels at this time,” the Alaska Democrat said, warning of rushing “into another decade-long ground war.”
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said many questions remained unanswered. “I will not give this president — or any other president — a blank check to begin another land war in Iraq,” he said.
Begich and Udall are two of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking reelection this fall. Their reluctance to support the commander in chief on a conflict abroad demonstrates just how much the politics of war have changed since the last time Congress was asked to authorize war actions.
In October 2002, with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, still fresh on voter minds, almost every Republican backed President George W. Bush’s request to attack Iraq, along with 40 percent of House Democrats. A majority of Senate Democrats voted for the war resolution.
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Every senator who would later run for president voted for the war — Republicans John McCain (Ariz.) and Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Democrats Joe Biden (Del.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), John Edwards (N.C.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.).
That vote occurred just weeks before the 2002 midterm elections, when national security was the overwhelming issue. This week, lawmakers expect to cast votes just seven weeks before this year’s midterms, on a smaller plan to train and arm pro-Western rebels fighting the Islamic State inside Syria.
Suddenly, war is again the most talked-about issue for lawmakers, but the feeling in the Capitol is markedly different from what it was a dozen years ago.
“We had just been impacted by the deaths of 3,000 Americans,” McCain recalled. “You know, it was one of the most tragic events in history, so everybody rallied.”