(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday implored President Barack Obama to take a more active role regarding U.S. policy with Iraq, implicitly casting blame in the direction of Vice President Joe Biden as terrorist elements tied to al Qaeda have overtaken several key areas from Iraqi forces.
“Starting with the president delegating his responsibilities to the vice president, the administration has chosen to spend much of its time and energy trying to explain why having terrorists holding key terrain in the Middle East is not the president’s problem,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. “The United States has and will continue to have a vital national interest in Iraq. We must maintain a long-term commitment to a successful outcome there, and it’s time that the president recognized this and get engaged.”
Shortly after taking office, Obama tasked Biden to be the “high point of contact” in the West Wing for the administration on all issues related to Iraq. Biden’s role there has come under a magnifying glass this week as former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates leveled some undisguised criticism at the vice president.
Biden has made 16 total trips to Iraq as senator and vice president, and just this week has called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki twice to discuss the ongoing situation. President Obama has been to Iraq just once as commander in chief, on a surprise visit in April 2009.
Boehner acknowledged “previous blood” and “national treasure” that was exhausted during the Iraq war, and bemoaned the decision to pull out all U.S. forces in 2011.
“A status of forces agreement with Iraq should have been agreed to, and this administration failed to deliver,” Boehner lamented. “The president himself ought to take a more active role in dealing with the issues in Iraq.”
Still, Boehner indicated it is premature to redeploy American forces into Iraq, but added “there are things that we can do to help the Iraqis that do not involve putting U.S. troops on the ground.”
“I don’t think that is called for at this point in time,” he said. “But there is equipment and some services that would be very helpful to the Iraqis as they develop this counterterrorism strategy that is going to be necessary, especially in this urban environment in Fallujah.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected Boehner’s criticism of the Obama administration, responding that it “takes a lot of gall” to suggest the administration is responsible for the deteriorating state of security in Iraq.
“I wonder if the Speaker wants us to send troops,” Reid pondered, seemingly unaware of the speaker’s response to that question. “They’re home!”
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Allie Malloy and Kevin Liptak, CNN
Mike Price, EastIdahoNews.com
Ruth Brown, Idaho Press-Tribune
Gregory Krieg, CNN