Castor, Cohn hesitant about U.S. involvement in Iraq & Syria

On Monday, Pentagon officials announced that the U.S. was sending another 300 troops to Iraq to increase security at the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in the Baghdad area to protect U.S. citizens and property, bringing the total number of troops there to 750. In what is considered a reaction to the recent events in Iraq, the White House last week requested $500 million to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels.

"We've got to pay attention to the threats that are emanating from the chaos in the Middle East," Obama said last week in Minneapolis. 

"I'm very skeptical," was the first thing that Congresswoman Kathy Castor told CL on Monday when asked about the administration's first direct involvement in aiding Syrian rebels. Pivoting to Iraq, she said "there are certain things we can do when it comes to Special Operations and unconventional help. We've got to protect our interests. That means protecting Americans in the region at the Embassy, but I'm going to be watching what happens very closely because the Congress needs to debate if we're going to become more involved in that region."

Alan Cohn is a Democrat running for Congress in Florida's 15th District, which encompasses Polk and Hillsborough Counties. When asked for his take on what the administration should do on Monday night, he hesitated before answering. "I don't pretend to know the answer," he replied, before saying that he is concerned that the issue with militant groups fighting first in Syria and now in Iraq are making this a regional conflict. 

"If the U.S. could do something, I would support that," Cohn says. "I'm open to hearing what the right answers are. No one wants more boots on the ground. I think there's a calculation of air strikes and whether they could be effective. I'm open to hearing more about that ... the question really is: what can actually be done about this?"

Pinellas County GOP Congressman David Jolly said two weeks ago that he believed the main interest for the U.S. in Iraq at that moment was in protecting U.S. citizens working out of our embassy. He also said there was no appetite for boots on the ground.

Representative Castor says she doesn't see much public support for getting deeply involved, and doesn't believe President Obama wants that, either.

"I'm going to give him the flexibility to protect our interests, but I don't want to take a step where that could get us bogged down," the Tampa-based Democrat said. "There are forces in the Middle East — no good options. A lot of the folks are not aligned with American interests and our values, and I'm not willing to say we're going to commit a substantial sum of money when we really don't have a good understanding of the end game," reiterating that she wants to give Obama "short-term flexibility" on handling the situation, for now.

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