Now That Obama Has a Strategy for ISIL, Do Politicians Like It?
Three weeks ago President Barack Obama could probably have chosen his words better when asked about Congress and going into Syria. “We don’t have a strategy yet,” he said, among a slew of other things (the full context can be read in the press transcript here). It’s one of those quotes in the middle of a long answer that can easily be taken and fit into the title of every publication out there — or at the very least provides fodder for Congressional hopefuls looking to take aim at the president’s foreign policy.
“I think the reason it’s a potent issue is because it speaks to a lack of presidential leadership, and the lack of leadership is becoming a character issue for the president,” said Republican pollster Greg Strimple to Politico. In his public address this week, the president quieted these critics by announcing his strategy against ISIL and handling the conflict in Iraq. He discussed the airstrikes executed over the last month, efforts to aid ISIL targeted minorities like the Yazidis, and the importance of relying on cooperative international aid and Iraq’s own government and military.
He carefully emphasized that America would be sending a limited number of troops to Iraq in order to aid the military there through training but not combat; that he would not be leading the U.S. into another ground war. Air strikes would continue, as would conditional aid to Iraq’s new government. The president finally outlining “what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL” only sparked off a whole new set of controversies though, which we’ll look at next.John McCain’s shouting match with Jay Carney
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney drew quite a bit of attention in a televised debate on CNN. “I think it was a very weak argument,” said McCain of Obama’s speech, before launching into a critique of Carney. Carney had suggested that U.S. intelligence is better informed on Syrian capabilities now than in the past, which McCain quickly took issue with — but like much of the rest of the debate, this went basically nowhere.
After that discussion the two disintegrated into talking over each other for a time, Carney eventually resorting to “We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” and McCain over-focusing on assigning blame rather than ever examining Obama’s latest remarks.
When he finally did get to the president’s plan in a practical sense, McCain said, “Now the president is saying, basically, that we are going to take certain actions — which I would favor,” before launching into more general criticism about the president’s ability to comprehend the dangers ISIL poses. In summary, the debate doesn’t really get into future plans so much as go over past problems, while attacking and defending the president in a back and forth tennis match. Jeffrey Goldberg, from The Atlantic, hit the nail on the head when he tweeted:
I enjoyed the McCain/Carney wrestling match as much as the next guy, but shouldn’t CNN put on a military expert, or a Syria expert?
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) September 11, 2014
Sen. Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took a more sympathetic angle in discussing the president’s new plan with on Fox News’ Hannity. For one, he agreed with Obama’s statement that ISIL “is not Islamic” because “no religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.”
“I think there was one important point that he was making about them not being Islamic or a form of true Islam. Ultimately, civilized Islam will have to step up,” said Paul. “I don’t know that he was trying to diminish their importance. I would say that he was trying to make the point … that this isn’t a true or accurate depiction of Islam.” He did take issue, much like McCain, with the suggestion that America is safer today — in particular with the “success” examples Obama gave of Yemen and Somalia.
He also found Obama’s order of operations problematic. “He should have come before a joint session of Congress, laid out his plan as he did tonight, and then called for an up or down vote on whether or not to authorize him going to war,” said Paul. “Now this is an intervention — and I don’t always support intervention — but this is one I do support. But I think the president would be more powerful, the country would be more united (if Congress voted on the issue).” Even if he agrees with the actions Obama has suggested, he says deciding things without a vote “isn’t the constitutional way.”
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was surprisingly tepid on Obama’s plan, even positive at times. “He has finally begun to make the case the nation has needed him to make for quite some time,” said Boehner in a statement, and indeed, Gallup polls reported earlier this week that respondents trust of the federal government had dropped to a record low of 43 percent just prior to his speech.
Still, he wasn’t wholly positive, especially when it came to filling in the specifics of Obama’s plan. “A speech is not the same thing as a strategy, however. While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which the president intends to act,” he said, questioning the timeline training and equipping Iraqi troops might follow.
Harry Reid versus Ted Cruz
Predictably, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had very different things to say about the president’s speech, compared to more balanced commentary from Paul and even Boehner. Reid mostly reiterated the president’s thoughts, summarizing and praising where appropriate. But he also discussed what so many Republicans have taken issue with — Congressional involvement. Unfortunately, he didn’t address the problems so much as highlight them. “The administration has consulted with Congress, and I expect that cooperation to continue,” he said.
“Senators will be briefed on the situation tomorrow, hearings will proceed next week, and I expect continued consultations between Congress and the administration as events unfold,” said Reid. Republicans like Paul would likely consider this too little too late. Still, he points out that the president is awaiting Congressional permission for aiding Syrian troops fighting ISIL, and it does seem probably that bipartisan support will be achievable on careful steps against the militants.
“I think the president should come to Congress and ask for authorization,” said Cruz on Fox News, demanding Congressional review on more than just aid to Syrian troops. “You want a demonstration of presidential hubris? Look no further than this speech tonight.”
More from Politics Cheat Sheet:
- Obama: Americans Be Prepared to Defeat ISIL, Not for War
- Obama, Don’t Take This Public Opinion Poll Too Seriously
- Obama’s Middle East Choice: Time to Use America’s Power?
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS