Salem News: Moulton returns to Iraq, Middle East on congressional tour

MA_Bagram_AFB_6.jpg 

SALEM — Congressman Seth Moulton just returned from his first trip back to Iraq since serving there with the Marines between 2003 to 2008.

But the first-term congressman wasn’t going back for a reunion. He was there for a much more serious reason: the Islamic State group’s escalating threat to the region and the world.

Moulton, a Salem Democrat, joined U.S. Reps. Brad Ashford (D-Nebraska), Elise Stefanik (R-New York) and Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) on a week-long House Armed Services Committee delegation. They were there from Feb. 13 to 20.

The delegation stopped in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Along the way, they met with key political leaders, ambassadors and military leaders across the region.

“We were looking at the American mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a particular focus on the mission against ISIL,” Moulton said by phone, hours after landing state-side. “We have good military options to deal with the threat, and we’re working to partner with the Iraqis and other military — and a lot of that is going well.”

But much more is needed to address the threat, Moulton said.

“We need long-term political solutions so we don’t find ourselves back there three or four years down the road,” he said, “fighting the same battle again, perhaps against somebody different.”

On Feb. 11, President Barack Obama sent Congress a request for war authorization against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. They’ll begin debate on the draft authorization this week.

On his trip, Moulton met with American military personnel as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Iraqi President Fuad Masum and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Partners in the fight

In his time in Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, Moulton saw Arab forces working to pull together to address the Islamic State group’s advance on the region, he said.

“They’re partners in different ways in the fight,” Moulton said. “Kuwait is providing the use of their air bases and other things. Jordan is flying missions with our pilots and is eager, really trying, to lead the way on the political front as well.”

The meetings Moulton participated in were critical at this point, he said, adding that Americans and Iraqis alike are grateful for the attention the United States is focusing on the Islamic State group’s threat.

But from Moulton’s perspective, what the coalition needs to combat the Islamic State group is a cohesive plan from the United States, and that doesn’t yet exist.

“The only long-term solution has to be political and diplomatic, and it has to be closely affiliated with whatever military action we and our allies take,” Moulton said. “We just need to have that plan. I’m not sure that plan is in place yet.”

The pressure for a plan harkens back to the United States’ most recent, major campaign in the region — one that he says could have ended better.

The same message was sent to Congress about eight years ago, when Gen. David Petraeus, leader of the multinational force in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testified before Congress on the then-ongoing Iraq war.

“They said we had tremendous military success, but we need more progress on the political side,” Moulton said.

Military trainers needed

Some of that support is in place today.

“People are familiar with how we’re sending American military trainers to partner with the Iraqis. We need those same kind of mentors,” Moulton said. “We had a lot of those in place initially when we had more troops in Baghdad. We didn’t really keep that support up, and some people felt that should actually be increased.

“Now we’re looking at sending young Americans back to fight on the front lines,” Moulton continued, “for a problem that might have been avoided if we had provided more strong political support to the Iraqi government.”

Strong political support can be achieved without sending American troops to fight the Islamic State group on the ground, Moulton suggested. But with or without American military on the front line, Moulton said combat is necessary at this point.

“The political approach would have prevented us from getting to this place,” he said. “But now that we’re here and ISIL has taken over part of Iraq, the first step is military.”

In the weeks ahead, Moulton plans to broadcast that message while the debate heats up in Congress.

“I’ve already reached out to some folks with experience in Iraq to consult with them,” he said. “I look forward to being a strong voice in this debate.”

Read the original story here.