In a USA Today op-ed, Senator Bob Corker excoriated the Obama administration for their response to the rise of ISIS. The scathing critique of Obama’s policy in Iraq and Syria touched on a number of criticism coming from Republicans in Congress.
Part of Corker’s critique centers on Obama’s decision to not seek congressional authorization for the use of force against ISIS. “After making the case to the American people that we must confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the president chose not to include the buy-in of the American people through their elected officials in the decision to use force.”
Corker also criticized the administration for taking too much time to respond to the events in Iraq and Syria, writing “Today, more than 200,000 Syrians have been killed and Syria, along with Iraq, has become the headquarters of ISIS, one of the most barbaric and well-financed terrorist groups of our time. This threat should not come as a surprise. For more than three years, the civil war in Syria has raged, creating a perfect environment for ISIS to grow stronger and more sophisticated.”
Corker’s argument echoes criticism of Obama leveled by members of both parties who believe he took too long to form a comprehensive strategy to combat the terrorist group. Obama has taken significant criticism over comments made in 2012 when he referred to ISIS and other militant Islamic groups as the “junior varsity team” of terrorism and even more criticism when he stated, “We don’t have a strategy yet.” Critics also point out that Obama has been briefed on the threat posed by ISIS for over a year. Sen. Corker even went on to state, “The president bears great responsibility for these developments,” referring to the rise of ISIS.
Since June, the US has significantly escalated its involvement with the ISIS threat. On June 19, 300 troops were sent to Iraq. On June 30, an additional 200 were sent. On August 12, 130 more. On September 2, an additional 400 troops were deployed. And 475 additional troops were sent to Iraq on September 10, bringing the total number of US military personnel to 1,505. Meanwhile, the US has escalated its military air campaign to over 170 airstrikes, including strikes outside of the capital city of Baghdad on September 17.
On a bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives passed a bill on a 273-156 vote that would aid Syrian rebels with military arms and training to help fight ISIS. The next day, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure as well. Critics of the policy believe this idea could ultimately backfire, given the fact that some Syrian rebel groups are also violent jihadists. Others worry the armed rebels will have their weapons taken from them from ISIS in combat. Potential 2016 candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) all voted “Nay” on the measure while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) voted in favor.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently stated in an interview with NBC that Iran is open to sending ground forces to Iraq in order to fight ISIS and concluded the decimation of ISIS could not be done without the use of ground forces. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed support for the idea at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
ISIS reacted to the new global debate being spearheaded by the United States. It released a propaganda video last week featuring yet another western journalist, this time a Briton named John Cantlie reading prepared remarks. “Hello. My name is John Cantlie. I’m a British journalist who used to work for some of the bigger newspapers and magazines in the UK, including the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph. In November, 2012, I came to Syria, where I was subsequently captured by the Islamic State.”
Cantlie continued, addressing the fact he was a prisoner of ISIS, “Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘He’s only doing this because he’s a prisoner. He’s got a gun at his head and he’s being forced to do this, right?’ Well, it’s true. I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. I have nothing to lose. Maybe I will live and maybe I will die, but I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify. Facts that, if you contemplate, might help preserve lives.”
The video then focused on a message aimed directly at the American public with Cantlie claiming, “After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict? I’m going to show you the truth behind the system and motivations behind the Islamic State. There are two sides to every story.”
Cantlie ended the video by stating, “It’s very alarming to see where this is all headed and it looks like history repeating itself yet again. There is time to change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events, but only if you the public act now. Join me for the next few programs and I think you may be surprised.”
The video was not the only high profile ISIS incident in the last week. In Australia on September 17, a terror plot was foiled after the Australian government discovered ISIS was planning to kidnap and behead random civilians in Sydney. Prime Minister David Abbot issued a response stating, “The regrettable reality is that to mount the kind of attacks which ISIL in Syria and in Iraq has in mind for Australia, all you need is a determined individual who will kill without compunction, a knife, an iPhone and a victim.”
As the midterm elections near, ISIS continues to dominate the news and Sen. Corker is playing a key role in the debate over how to deal with the militant group in the Senate.