Senators: ISIS threat demands policy shift
Two Republican senators said Sunday that threats to the United States from Islamic extremists are real and require a policy shift by the Obama administration.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan, said the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a direct threat to the United States and is only getting stronger.
“It is important to recognize that we did have this situation stabilized thanks to the surge, that we could have left a residual force behind which would’ve stabilized the situation,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“This is not like a hurricane or an earthquake,” McCain said.
“This didn’t have to happen. This is a failure of United States policy and, by the way, there still is none that I can discern, either a policy or a strategy that can handle this situation.”
Concerns have ramped up in recent days after the release of a video that is said to show ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calling on his followers to obey him and join the fight.
CBS reported on Sunday that an Iraqi government spokesman said the video is a fake, and al-Baghdadi was injured in fighting earlier in the week.
But Graham and McCain said they believe it shows the ISIS leader.
McCain said “of course we could” go after al-Baghdadi, “but that’s not the point here, and if al-Baghdadi goes, somebody else is going to take his place.”
“It’s the situation that we have allowed to deteriorate because we didn’t leave troops behind,” he said.
“There’s a long series of events that have taken place, which have caused us to be where we are today.”
Meanwhile, ISIS militants released photographs of what they say shows the destruction of upward of 10 Shiite and Sunni mosques and shrines in the territory they now occupy in Iraq, as part of an effort to spark more sectarian violence, CBS said.
McCain said the largest and richest enclave of radical terrorism in history now encompasses parts of Iraq and Syria.
“So we have to look at this as a Syria-Iraq problem,” McCain said.
McCain said the United States wants to see a change in leadership in Iraq away from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said on Friday he wants a third term.
But he said that first, ISIS must be stopped, and “that means we’re going to have to do airstrikes, and we need to step up our support for the Free Syrian Army that is really right now getting very badly beaten.”
McCain argued Iraqi leaders were ready to sign an agreement that would have kept U.S. troops there, but the Obama administration was determined to leave.
He said President Obama refused to provide troop and mission details to Iraqi officials, essentially dooming any chance that an agreement would be signed.
McCain warned that the same result would happen in Afghanistan without a change in policy.
“We just came back from there — they feel abandoned,” McCain said.
Graham said that, if the U.S. presence in the region is reduced to 1,000 troops by 2017, it would “dismantle our eyes and ears in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’ll haunt us far worse than Iraq.”
“The counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan is a front-line defense” for the United States, and it is “being destroyed by this idea of leaving completely in 2017,” he said.
“Mr. president, reverse your course keep our counterterrorism capabilities in effect to protect us here at home,” he said
Graham said the groups operating in Iraq and Pakistan are “lethal.”
McCain said he’s not advocating for combat troops but is “advocating for sustaining capability.”
Meanwhile, McCain said the $500 million that Obama has asked Congress to provide to Syria is too little and too late to do any good.
“Now it’s not enough, unfortunately.”