WATSEKA — Retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, endorsed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, for reelection Wednesday but soon afterward the two congressmen aired significant policy differences on U.S military involvement in the Middle East.
Johnson, 66, is retiring from Congress at the end of this term while Kinzinger, 34, is running for a second term in an overwhelmingly Republican district that will include Johnson's former territory in Iroquois County.
The two appeared Wednesday night at a town hall meeting in Watseka, where Johnson announced he is "150 percent in support of Adam Kinzinger." But still he said he differed with Kinzinger, an Air National Guard pilot who has served in the Middle East.
'I think Adam represents the mainstream views of his district a lot better on this than I do," Johnson told a group of about 25 people.
"This is one where Tim and I respectfully disagree," said Kinzinger, who added that he is opposed to entering the civil war in Syria.
"But where I am most concerned in the Middle East, it is with Iran. I believe the United States has to put a real red line in the sand and say that we will not tolerate nuclear weapons, that that is something we will not allow. The last thing in the world I want to see is another conflict in the Middle East. What I worry about is if Israel had to attack Iran and fail. That would be the worst case scenario."
But Kinzinger said "a strong America, a shining beacon of light on the hill, actually creates a more stable world. And when we retreat I think it makes for a less stable world."
Johnson, though, disagreed.
"I believe that the lives that have been lost, the American, Afghan, Iraqi lives and otherwise, not to mention the gargantuan amount of money spent, has not been well directed. I don't believe anyone in Donovan or Watseka is any iota safer" said Johnson.
"I've been in the minority on that issue. And there has yet to be a coalition of people that is sufficiently strong where we can eliminate that money or that involvement. But this is an issue that Adam has a great deal of expertise in and I respect him. It's just one of a very few areas where we disagree."
And although he supports U.S. involvement in the Middle East, including the decision to get involved last year in Libya's civil war, Kinzinger said Johnson "is taking a very brave stance.
"He's been very courageous in what he said and I believe it comes from his heart and I have a lot of respect for him."
Kinzinger also said he wants to see U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, even in the face of recent attacks on U.S. trainers by Afghan troops.
"I'd love to see less troops, I'd love to see us reduce our presence there and step up the Afghan government," Kinzinger said. "But the reality is if we leave there tomorrow and pull all our troops out, chaos will ensue and we may find us back there out of necessity."
He said the so-called "green to blue attacks" on U.S. trainers "is terrorism, and it works. But I think our coalition forces with our Afghan partners are able to root out that kind of crime."