Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday exhorted President Obama to broaden the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after the group released a second video that appeared to show the beheading of an American journalist.
While the authenticity of the video has not been confirmed, lawmakers said the presumed execution of 31-year-old Time journalist Steven Sotloff demands a forceful American response.
“Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty,” said Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied NASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy FAA unveils new system to reduce planes' times on taxiway MORE (D-Fla.) in a statement.
Nelson announced he would offer legislation next week that would give Obama clear authority to strike ISIS in Syria.
“This will ensure there’s no question that the president has the legal authority he needs,” Nelson said.
Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, similarly said the threat posed by ISIS warrants an air campaign in Syria.
“Target them and target the terrorist training camp where they’re bringing thousands of fighters from around the world, putting them through training over a period of weeks to teach them how to conduct terrorist activities,” Royce said on CNN. “Those camps and the munitions should be targeted as well.”
“ISIS is obviously across the border, into Syria and into Iraq, and they really have to be defeated,” Engel added.
ISIS published the video of Sotloff’s slaying just before Obama boarded a plane to Europe for a NATO summit, and two weeks after the release of a similar video of the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.
“If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said of the Sotloff video.
Lawmakers said the new ISIS killing upped the ante and urged the White House to respond decisively.
“It is time we act decisively against ISIL wherever it resides,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE (R-S.C.) said, using an alternative abbreviation for the group. “Whenever American air power has been employed, in coordination with reliable partners on the ground, ISIL has been devastated. It’s a tactic that should be aggressively pursued both in Syria and Iraq.”
The calls to action come after a weekend that saw the leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence committees batter the president’s response to the ISIS threat.
“I think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious. Maybe in this instance, too cautious,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Jane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California MORE (D-Calif.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said the president’s foreign policy is “in free fall” and that the president’s indecisiveness had emboldened other enemies such as China, Russia and North Korea.
“It’s all related,” Rogers said. “The world sees the United States as withdrawn.”
Obama has done himself no favors as he deliberates how, if, or when to expand the military operation against ISIS. During a press conference last week that was intended to calm speculation that airstrikes on Syria were imminent, Obama conceded that the White House had “no strategy” yet for targeting militants in that country.
The unforced error intensified calls for the administration to develop a plan for targeting Syria — and fast.
Separately, a former Pentagon official told Fox News that the president had been receiving detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of ISIS for more than a year, long before Obama dismissed the group as “jayvee” in an interview.
The official also accused the president of delaying an ultimately unsuccessful Special Forces operation intended to rescue the now slain American journalists.
The criticism indicates that some in the intelligence and military communities are also looking to pressure the administration into action.
Still, the White House continues to plead for patience. Aides say Obama has little appetite for expanding airstrikes unless he can be certain they will be effective and enable favorable political transitions in the region.
Press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday the president and his team were “still working” on how military action in Syria fits into the White House’s “comprehensive strategy” for combating the Islamist group.
“The president is only going to do this consistent with our broader strategy” for dealing with ISIS, Earnest said.
Former administration officials insist that the president won’t have his hand forced.
The president has always been “deliberative about these sorts of decisions,” said one former senior administration official.
A second former official said Obama would “take the time he needs to make a strong and appropriate decision.”
“But I’m sure this will further his resolve to deliver the most effective response to ISIS,” the official said.
The president made clear last month that the execution of Foley would intensify the American efforts against ISIS. At the time, he vowed a “relentless” pursuit of “justice.”
“I think that the pulsing and scaling of the planning was triggered by Foley,” said a former National Security Council official. “That was the shot of adrenaline. The challenge for Obama is sending a balanced public message. But he’ll continue to send a message that he’s not letting up while he waits for further plans and additional actions.”
Obama has suggested he will only expand the use of American military force if he’s able to get allies and regional partners to share the burden.
The White House has said that engaging European leaders on ISIS is central to the president’s agenda at this week’s NATO summit.
“I think the president is forward-leaning on getting NATO more involved in the Middle East and, in particular, dealing with the threat from ISIL, dealing with the humanitarian urgencies in the region,” said National Security Council senior director for European Affairs Charles Kupchan.
Critics concerned about the president’s admission he did not yet have a strategy for military strikes in Syria should remain patient, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.
“We are putting the features in place, developing a broader regional coalition, a broad international coalition, working to get a new Iraqi government stood up, working to get our plans in place,” Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, told CNN. “So stay tuned.”