While they're of a mind that additional U.S. military involvement in Iraq may not be the wisest choice, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes invited feedback on the issue from constituents Monday.
Himes and Murphy, both Democrats from Connecticut, held a forum at Westport Town Hall regarding the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and what U.S. response to it should be.
"We have a chance at keeping a lid on the conflict, but that can't be a solution in the long run," Murphy said of escalating conflict among factions throughout the region.
"The question is: Can the United States stop it, and will we do more damage ... if we send back in an invading force?" he said.
"There is a large argument that injecting -- God forbid -- new U.S. troops ... would just fan the flames of sectarian war, rather than quell them," Murphy said.
"A lot of times our policy is made by fear," he said. "Let's inject some facts," noting that ISIS was composed of a relatively small number of people -- around 10,000.
"They're an awful, awful group of people," Himes said, but he said the Iraqi military had around 400,000 soldiers by comparison, and it might be prudent to let them work through the conflict independently.
Taking an informal poll of the 50 or so attendees, the congressmen heard only one person favor $500 million in moderate aid to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while half of the room said the U.S. should provide 200 additional military advisers.
Residents were vocal in their opposition to sending in U.S. troops.
"We bear some responsibility for what is happening there now," Murphy said, "(but) I believe that there are serious limitations about what the United States can do. I worry that we have not necessarily learned the limits of U.S. military power in terms of trying to influence."
Murphy and Himes said the worst thing the U.S. could do at this point would be to appear to take sides.
"We need to be very, very careful about not being perceived on one team or another," Himes said.
"As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I've been watching the situation quite closely ... I will tell you that it is unbelievably complex," he said, noting that there were several extremist groups involved. "It's very complicated."
"I think what you're telling us is that no one has been able to articulate a successful path," said Brian Stern, who serves on Westport's Board of Finance. "This is the way we get into trouble, guys ... We want you, as our representatives, to stop this progression."
"Subject to your thoughts, my premise is that we have two very clear interests in the region," Himes said -- developing a relationship with an Iraqi government that abides by certain international laws and practices, and dissuading transnational terrorism.
Several people got very emotional in stating their opinions, including Richard Duffee, of Stamford.
"I fail to see that we're not repeating ourselves and repeating history and the failures of the past," he said.
One man in attendance claimed the U.S. is training the Islamic State.
"We are in no way, shape or form training (the Islamic State)," Himes said.
After the meeting, several people said they were very pleased with Himes' and Murphy's responses and information.
"I think they made a very good presentation," said Phyllis Behlen, of Greenwich. "This is very complicated. This is very difficult."
"I'm honored to have these guys representing us," said Joe Gilgan, of Fairfield. "They are well-informed. That's a very complex region, and they listen to their constituents."