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
9 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. Smitty

    Wait a sec I thought Obammy told us these were only JUNIOR VARSITY players. Does this potus ever get anything right ?? Well I hope he enjoyed his vacation at our expense.

    August 24, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |

    CONGRESS, pass a law and CANCEL THEIR PASSPORTS and leave the PORKEATERS STRANDED WHERE THEY ARE , how hard is that!!!!

    August 24, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  3. rs

    Whatever the President elects to propose hardly matters. The spineless GOP in the House and Senate will be too fearful to do anything this close to the elections. Watch- they'll complain and campaign on it, but they won't end their 5 week vacation to actually do anything.

    August 24, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |

    Congress and the DISFUNCTIONAL GOP are part of the problem and the GOP continues to work AGAINEST the American people and the blame Obama for THEIR FAILURE. The IDIOTIC GOP just continues to en courage our enemies. And for that ignorant Moslem rapper , cancel his passport and make him show up in person to get another one, CANCEL ALL THEIR passports. Who caresif these RELIGIOUS FREEKS are stranded in the hell they are in, we don't want the TRATIORS back anyway!!!!!

    August 24, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  5. Blake

    Most of what I see is panicking and fear mongering due to political bias. This is the type of thing that gets you into trouble and making bad decisions. Rushing for the sake of looking as if your "tough" or doing something, when the least flashy thing to do is probably the correct avenue to take. Instead politicians knowing you can't win elections on boring diplomacy or supporting third parties to do the job, because the opposition labels them as weak etc., give in to what gives them a political bang for their buck, which is usually something that looks like a war so they can plant a flag and claim "Victory! Vote for me!" This is where most of the political messes the US ends up fighting (and losing over time) come from.

    The fact is this whole crisis in Iraq was started because a countries army that outnumbered a terrorist group 30 to 1, decided it wasn't worth it to fight for their country and if worst came to worst, the Americans with their pride would probably come to save them. If Maliki hadn't treated Sunnis like garbage the northern Iraqi forces probably would have stood their group and massacred ISIS. That didn't happen. Instead you have a situation thought impossible 6 months ago. Most of the things critics are suggesting should have been done are the same people that would have gone crazy if Obama had done them, because they mostly would involve unapproved airstrikes or boots on the ground in Iraq (umm how was he going to rationalize this when there wasn't an issue a few months ago?), Syria (No one supported Obama when he wanted to take action in Syria, they wouldn't have weeks ago and probably still won't) and Ukraine (Due to pride on both sides any NATO troops or threats probably would have led to WW3 or a major skirmish with Russia. No one likes being Nuked).

    Right now Airstrikes are working. Iraqi forces and the Kurds are turning things around with American support. The Iraqi army still vastly outnumbers ISIS. The Administration is open to more airstrikes to help obliterate ISIS. This crisis is bigger than the 24 hour news cycle and is going to take longer than a week to solve. Sorry media. Although you don't want it solved because it equals ratings. Whining about the current policy and drumming up fear in Americans and beating war drums in Iraq/Syria is good for business.

    August 24, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  6. sylvia

    I am so tired of hearing people pull this President down. I am glad McCain didn't get elected, I can't imagine what a mess the US would be in now. Certainly broke and into more wars.

    August 24, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  7. Marie MD

    Could somebody please tell the old man from AZ that he should look back to when the puppet master and his puppet boy shrub #43 began to destabilize the whole region with their we are going to be welcome as liberators looking for the phantom WMDs?
    As horrible as Foley's death was he is NOT the first American killed in this way nor is Obama the first president who has to deal with this barbaric atrocity.
    The teaklans need to et a life and start acting like Americans instead of the domestic terrorists they have become.

    August 24, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  8. J Anthony

    @blake: thanks for one of the few sensible comments I've seen on this site. Not only is war good for business and a handy political tool, it is also the perfect distraction. It is almost impossible to begin to understand and solve societal problems when there's always a war going on or about to be another one. And the fact that the U.S. is in a state of perpetual war, either directly or by proxy, doesn't seem to concern anyone too much. Scum like Boko Haram, ISIS,, etc should be wiped off the face of the earth, yes. But this is not the Old West. The main reason the hawks are in such a hurry is because of the oil. In fact that is why we have a permanent military presence in the Middle East,, oil, poppies and a few other resources. It's all business now.

    August 24, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  9. anthony78

    Wait a sec I thought Obammy told us these were only JUNIOR VARSITY players. Does this potus ever get anything right ?? Well I hope he enjoyed his vacation at our expense.

    That was 6 months ago. Since then, all the EXPERTS have stated that in that time, ISIS built their war chest from kidnappings, bribes, and Saudi backings... SO YES, things change and situations are fluid.
    But THANK YOU for YOUR expertise on the subject, and the level of quality in your comment...

    Yes, presidents are allowed tax payer vacations (still hasn't caught up to the amount of days Bush spent, care to comment?)
    And his name is "44th President of the United States Barack H Obama". (something you nor your RWNJs will ever be able to accept or change)

    August 24, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  10. king

    mm china minds their business, and they probably has the most powerful economy on the planet, and i don't see it's people telling them to get involved into every country's business. all they do is sit back and watch america drain itself of it's finances and resource, then they just slip by unnoticed, being the most powerful country on the planet. the repubs only see money for their rich donors, and really doesn't care if they hide their monies in off shore accounts, as long as they are donating money to their campaigns. this is why they push our country armed forces into every body's business.

    August 24, 2014 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |

    chicken hawk who like to send other people kids to war. How come politicians never join the military when they are sending other people children to war? To the politicians War is good for business invest your self and own your own children,wife husband!

    August 24, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  12. GonzoinHouston

    If Obama tries to work with Congress, the GOP house will not pass it. If he then acts on his own he's a dictator over-stepping his authority. If he doesn't act on his own he's a spineless wimp. If the House passes something related to this issue it will include amendments repealing the ACA and banning abortion. And if he complains about it in public then he's playing politics with the lives of the poor helpless Iraqi civilians.

    Look at this mess in the context of the greater Sunni-Shiite conflict, which includes Syria. ISIS is a mutant offspring of the Sunni groups fighting Assad. Sunni groups and nations are not going to attack ISIS while ISIS is still fighting against Assad. And people want us to get in the middle of this????

    August 24, 2014 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  13. Pk dustere#e

    Thank god mittens is not in the white house mittens would kill any person he did not like

    August 24, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  14. Smitty

    Same-o, same-o for Obammy supporters, nothing but excuses for the BIGGEST LIAR OF THE YEAR !!

    August 24, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  15. GonzoinHouston

    If we strike in Syria we will hurt ISIS but benefit Assad, and to heck with that. Right now the smartest thing we can do is support the Kurds. Something has got to give before we get any more involved in that conflict. We might be able to make a deal with Iran to bomb in Syria if they agree to give up support for Assad. If Iran pulls the rug out from under Assad, then maybe the various Sunni groups would concentrate on ISIS, assuming they don't secretly support them. If the Sunnis and Shiites work together to destroy ISIS, then we could provide more air support to both sides. But until something gives, it's their problem.

    August 24, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  16. rick

    The president got the troops OUT of there like promised would. Its not his fault the so called army they had dropped weapons and run to hide. And no. Sending back troops to stop them is not good idea either. Remember it was Hillary Clinton who was resposable for intel of terrorist threats. And failed that job miserably.. Many posts are reminding her of it. And being ignored like the questions pertaining to any other than her stupid book. Another failure thats ignored.. Anybody see the future under that again???

    August 24, 2014 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  17. Chris..E.Al

    Friends isis and all terrorist have got to be controlled because they want to take over the world like Hitler . We must protect the oil fields for world economic stability because we have got to pay all the illegals their check and pay back China so we can pay for more you know ? We have got to pay our bills . The dems are working very hard to get WW3 underway by just being weak america must be strong and lead like aways and stand up for good or evil will triumph .

    August 24, 2014 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  18. just asking

    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.

    "dropping bombs blindly"??? what a total democrat moron. does he think this is wwii carpet bombing? these are precision weapons that hit their target. somebody needs to tell this idiot that it is better to say nothing than to say something stupid.

    August 24, 2014 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  19. Obviously Sniffin and Gurgling Ozass in Tampa

    The "Under-Estimator" does it again...
    – Putin steamrolls into Ukraine... Obama golfs.
    – China provokes US Navy... Obama golfs
    – US journalist beheaded by the "junior varsity" ISIS... Obama golfs.

    August 24, 2014 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  20. luke, AZ

    Send chicken hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham over to Iraq since they're some of the republicans that started this mess over there.

    August 24, 2014 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  21. NC Independent

    McCain sounds like a broken record

    August 24, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  22. rs

    The GOP will do exactly what they did when the President called for support from Congress for action on Syria : absolutely nothing ...... Then they'll complain nothing happened.

    August 24, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  23. Are you kidding me?

    Fox News really got into the head of the stupid people out there through their biased reporting. The president is never on vacation and has taken way fewer days than The Bushes or Clinton.

    If you were to tell me he was not getting briefings or making decisions while on this break you need to have your head checked. The papperazo who took the picture should take a trip to see what the Speaker of the House was doing these past 2 weeks. Mr. Tan was doing the same thing – golfing and asking for money. Where is the leadership on the right? They could have taken a chance to put the crap aside and stand with the President to support him but NO. They sat there crying to Fox News.

    August 24, 2014 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  24. Gurgyl

    -if GOP has guts, just tighten the security, airports, airlines etc. Instead these idiots scare. Obama does excellent.

    August 24, 2014 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  25. Len

    All you folks who dislike Obama, please have your sons, daughters, grandkids and maybe yourself enlist in the military. Put your life on the line......stop being gutless and step up if you are so brave.. If you have never seen battle, shut-up!!!

    August 24, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
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