WASHINGTON — When President Obama first signaled there could be new military action in Iraq back in June, members of his progressive base howled. Late Thursday night, as the broad outlines of a new American involvement in Iraq unfolded, the anti-war Democratic base said they're prepared to give the president room.
"There is general radio silence at the moment, while some earlier wanted to start the drums against action, folks, as we're learning more, aren't instantly coming out opposed," said one source close to progressive groups that protested back in June. "Speaking as someone from a group who previously came out against bombing and fearing getting pulled back into the mess in Iraq, if there's anything this country categorically stands against and is willing to stand up to, it's a religious minority getting slaughtered on a mountain top."
President Obama and senior administration officials said Thursday that no military action in Iraq has been taken yet, but they made it clear targeted airstrikes were possible to protect American personnel in Iraq and stop what Obama called a looming "genocide" by ISIS, which has seized broad swaths of Iraqi territory.
The president has been careful to emphasize that any new military action in Iraq would not include ground troops, and in his remarks Thursday night he re-emphasized the point.
"I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these. I understand that," the president said. "I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that's what we've done. As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq."
For the moment, the anti-war base appears to be satisfied.
"While there are deep concerns about slippery slopes and being dragged into a sectarian war in Iraq, progressives will not oppose action responding to genocide," the source said. "If that's what's truly happening here, I doubt they'll be meaningful opposition to limited, targeted response."
Progressives did not speak with one voice back in June. Some on the left were outraged when the liberal and closely administration-aligned Center For American Progress called for military strikes Iraq. As the new Iraqi operation unfolds, new progressive protest could unfold with it.
In the minutes after Obama's speech progressives were already talking about pressuring the White House not to take up the new Iraqi engagement without help.
"Many have been saying that, if this is truly humanitarian, response should be multilateral and not just the U.S. responding unilaterally," the progressive said. "If it's genocide, it's a global responsibility to act, not just a U.S. one."
There was a visceral reaction by many on the left when Obama once again turned American attention back to Iraq in June. But the source was quick to say that fear of a new Iraqi entanglement shouldn't be seen as a rejection of all military action under any circumstances among the president's base.
"While there are pacifist elements of the progressive movement, the majority aren't against all wars, just, to paraphrase the President, stupid, unnecessary ones," the source said. "But again, all of us need to know more."