As vacation winds down, Obama faces calls for stronger leadership on ISIS
President Barack Obama speaks in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, about the killing of American journalist James Foley by militants with the Islamic State extremist group.
August 24th, 2014
03:41 PM ET
8 years ago

As vacation winds down, Obama faces calls for stronger leadership on ISIS

(CNN) Washington - On President Barack Obama’s last day of a troubled vacation, politicians criticized his leadership and called for action in the growing threat of terrorist group ISIS.

“The President has got to come forward with a cohesive, comprehensive strategy, not only in Iraq, but also in Ukraine, also in other parts of the world. This is an administration - which the kindest word I can use is feckless - where they have not outlined a role that the United States of America has to play, and that’s a leadership role,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

In the wake of the beheading of American journalist James Foley, administration officials made clear that they are shifting from defensive operations against ISIS in Iraq to weighing an attack on ISIS where they are strongest, in Syria. But politicians on both sides of the aisle are impatient for the President to construct a plan and consult with Congress on what many see as an imminent threat from ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State and is called ISIL by some U.S. government officials.

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“Do they have the capability to hit the homeland? I would say yes. It's about time now to assume the worst about these guys rather than to underestimate them,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“They're in competition with the other jihadist groups, and the gold medal will be awarded to the group that can hit America.”

However, as Republicans call for increased force, some Democrats caution that extensive intelligence gathering and strategizing is essential for any offense to be effective.

“Develop the intelligence and the targeting, so that if we're going to take a line of communication out or we're going to take out an individual, it's very carefully established - the intelligence - so we're not just, you know, dropping bombs blindly.” Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, said on CNN.

Reed also emphasized that any U.S. strategy needs to include political stability in Iraq.

“ISIL is taking advantage of the alienation of the Sunni community in Iraq, to move through them to get support, to get assistance. We have to separate that, and that can only be done through the leadership in Baghdad through the Iraqis themselves.”

Sens. Graham and McCain also recognized work must be done before taking action in Syria but called on the President to accept that the administration’s counterterrorism policy is failing.

“My concern is that the President's strategy of leading from behind and light footprint has failed. He has to realize as President Bush did that his strategy is not working. President Bush adjusted his strategy when it was failing, and he brought about a surge that worked. President Obama has to admit to himself, if no one else, that what he's doing is not working,” Graham said on CNN.

The administration has defended the strategy and questioned partisan hindsight, pointing to the success of ongoing airstrikes in Iraq and partnership with Iraqi forces on the ground.

“We’ve been watching this group for quite a long time here - assessing its strength and working with partners on the ground particularly in Syria, the moderate opposition, to help them develop capabilities to go against ISIS,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told CNN.

“We are actively looking at what other options we have, what other tools we can use now to try to degrade this terrorist group's capability.”

However, the video showing Foley’s death has served as proof for many politicians that far more robust actions against ISIS are needed.

“This has been festering for the last year, and now it's culminating with the killing and beheading of an American journalist, which I think is a turning point for the American people. It has sort of opened their eyes to what ISIS really is, the true character of ISIS, how savage they really are, and their intent to harm Americans,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

For McCain, the video served as condemnation not just of Obama’s handling of ISIS but of wider international security concerns.

“I think that the terrible beheading was sort of the catalyst on what was already brewing out there, whether it be in Ukraine or whether it be in Syria or whether it be in Iraq,” McCain said on Fox News.

This response to the video was not limited to American officials, as British Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Westmacott said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The brutal murder of James Foley has to some extent galvanized opinion, and maybe governments, to make us feel that we have got to actually look afresh at what more we can do with our regional partners - not just on our own - to fight back.”

While European and Middle Eastern countries assess the threat to their own citizens, the administration will have to work with Congress as it formulates any sort of long-term plan against ISIS. Some congressional Republicans have indicated that they are open to a dialogue with the White House.

“We have to address as the Congress where the defense budget is right now, because there is a disconnect with sequester from the threats that we face around the world and the resources we are going to need to fight this threat,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“I do think Congress can be brought together. First it starts with presidential leadership, but the Congress has to recognize and listen to what our defense officials are saying.”

Filed under: ISIS • Jack Reed • John McCain • Kelly Ayotte • Lindsey Graham • Mike McCaul • Obama administration • President Obama
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Tampa Tim

    The entire civilized world, with the exception of republicans, has come together to condemn ISIS. McCain is living in la la land.

    August 24, 2014 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  2. aaron

    Then, if Obama takes action in Syria, they'll criticize that. He was a bit slow in Iraq, but right to hold off on attacks in Syria. At the time the Repubs were demanding action in Syria, the U.S. would have been attacking the Assad regime, which would have only made ISIS stronger. Assad doesn't seem so bad in comparison to ISIS.

    August 24, 2014 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  3. J.V.hodgson

    I believe the current administration in communications to congress refers to ISOL ( Not ISIL or ISIS, the latter being an erroneous nemonic at best.) ISOL has a meaning historically in this area of the world when the Islamic caliphate governed from Constantinople ( Now Istanbul) by The caliph, a monarchical type absolute dictator which at one time ruled 1million sq. kilometers of the globe stretching from the Europe to Eygpt.
    McCains simplistic," the president has got to come up with a cohesive, comprehensive strategy," is pure meaningless rhetoric and merely a critique of the president & what he says the president has been doing nothing ( as well as all the efforts of Kerry). and the various pronunciations of the NSC and military.
    The policy and strategy on Ukraine is clear and supported by the EU allies. McCain, may and will disagree. but offer no alternate strategy. that's real weakness and lack of leadership.
    The Sunni minority in Iraq will align more with ISOL than any majority Shiite government in Iraq, and the Kurds Peshmurga and Turkman (PKK) all want some separation from thier current governance.
    Unlike McCain I have an idea:_
    To defeat ISOL we have to get Assad to concentrate on closing his border into Iraq by his army and attacking ISOL in Syria we can help air cover wise targeted bombing after intell cooperation. The Kurds and Peshmurga and PKK are re-armed and they must take back Mosul and Tikrit and Kirkuk. The Shite South and Baghdad government helps close the other supply routes out of Syria and attack the closest pockets of ISOL north and east of Baghdad, and western border crossings with Syria
    Timing of these attacks on a coordinated basis in large numbers avoids US boots on the ground but by virtue of sheer numbers size of areas to be defended and adequate fire power to attackers should overwhelm the what maybe 30,000 ISOL soldiers.
    The point is McCain, Graham et all have no alternative strategy either.... partly because they have no idea of the complexity of the problem and never mention Turkey which ISOL will want to retake for its caliphate, because that's where all the Historic center existed and still has meaning today.... at least to ISOL.


    August 24, 2014 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  4. Name uche agonsi uche agonsi

    What's happening to the various assistance countries all over the world promised Nigeria to defeat BH threat. Why do we have to wait endlessly to eradicate the threat or wait until it costs the nation enormous resources to contain. While President Obama's measures in Iraq and middle east deserve some thumbs up for well guided responses contrary to criticisms, Nigeria terror situation deserves equally very urgent and effective actions. Because contrary to what Americans might think, strategically, Nigeria should not be a haven for terrorists.

    August 25, 2014 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  5. portlandtony

    Irony here is if we take on the IS in Syria, we are actually violating the old adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"!

    August 25, 2014 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  6. Zoro

    If the surge had worked why are we now dealing with ISIS? HMmmm?

    August 25, 2014 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  7. Name uche agonsi uche agonsi

    President Obama must exercise serious caution over being lured by the Repubs into undue use of force against ISIS. This is because ISIS as an organization is not dumb. They should know that any direct attack on US by them might involve full scale war with US. The killing of the US journalist is a one off situation that would not be allowed to involve further death of Americans. Besides US has killed many ISIS. Equally is the fact that there is no country in the world that is not a plain ticket from US soil. What Mr. President need to do is watch the result of his current action against ISIS, reappraise his intel report and reset his responses. HE DOES NOT NEED TO REVERT TO GWB POLICY HE CONDEMNED WHICH IS WHAT THE REPUBS ARE AFTER.

    August 25, 2014 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  8. wizzababy

    Republicans and Democrats are promoting the same stories across all major news networks (MSNBC, CNN, FOX, etc). There is no difference between the two parties.

    Is there a political alternative to fear, big government, surveillance, and war? What party will promote fear and big government the least in 2016?

    August 25, 2014 02:16 am at 2:16 am |
  9. Clay

    I have an idea send scar face McCain and soft man Linsey Graham to Syria to fight Isis . They are always beating the war drums. McCain can fly an old P2 bomber and sweet Graham can fight in tights and high heels.

    August 25, 2014 03:53 am at 3:53 am |
  10. Gurgyl

    Is this scare tactics from Rethuglicans? Nonsense, did they forget 9/11 happened during their regime? Listen this president is much more smarter than any one we had in WH. I am very confident of pres. Obama. Lindsey Graham has no clue as to what he is talking. Nonsense to SC. Get rid of that guy, SC.

    August 25, 2014 07:22 am at 7:22 am |

    Let hair on fire Guns Over People tea potty wingnuts stew in their lies. Can't wait to see Miss guys like Hayley Barbour stuff Jeb Bush down their throats EXACTLY like they stuffed Romney down. Straight no chaser.

    August 25, 2014 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  12. salty dog

    The only thing the gop offers is fear, and of course filling their military contractors pockets close to election time, perfect.

    August 25, 2014 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  13. an Iowan

    Can anyone explain why ISIS was not considered to be such a threat until they started getting too close to the major oil areas of Iraq?

    August 25, 2014 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  14. denny

    First move should be to protect our borders so the terrorists can't just waltz in. Then beef up the airstrikes to get them in their own countries.

    August 25, 2014 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
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