By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans are calling for more aggressive U.S. action to defeat Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, accusing President Barack Obama of policies that have failed to thwart potential new threats on U.S. soil.
Representative Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House of Representative Intelligence Committee, urged the administration to work with Arab partners on robust steps to disrupt the operations of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He said the group is drawing support from Europeans and Americans who could travel undetected to Western countries to carry out attacks.
“They are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores,” Rogers said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
“We have the capability to defeat (ISIS). We now have to have the political will and we have to have the policy to do it. We have the first. We don’t have the second two.”
Rogers and other Republicans including Senator John McCain have been relentlessly critical of Obama’s security policy, including accusations that the president has shown a lack of leadership against terrorism since ordering the military operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
But a leading Senate Democrat cautioned against overstating the dangers ISIS could pose to the United States.
“I don’t think we can simply dismiss them. But to jump from what they have done, which is horrific … to the assumption that they’re going to be an immediate, and within days, a threat to us here in our homeland, I think you don’t jump to that,” said Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
“The proper strategy is a comprehensive strategy, and its foundation is political, not just military,” he added.
U.S. officials have identified ISIS as a major threat since it emerged from Syria’s civil war and swept into Iraq this summer. Obama has ordered limited air strikes against the group in northern Iraq. But alarm raised by the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley has been followed by calls for action to defeat ISIS, including attacks on its operations in Syria. Officials have not ruled out escalating military action.
“The president has to articulate the challenge, what we need to do to meet it and describe exactly to Congress what those missions are. And unfortunately, so far, he seems to be strangely detached,” McCain told Fox News on Sunday.
“I am heartbroken about what has happened to the Syrian people and a lot of that is due to our total inaction, and that’s going to be one of the more shameful chapters in American history.”
Rogers blamed Obama for a change in policy that he said has inhibited the ability of U.S. intelligence and defense agencies to “disrupt” ISIS operations and other militant groups overseas.
“We have missed dozens and dozens of opportunities to take really bad people off the battlefield,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the president to take a step back, change his presidential guidance on how we disrupt terrorism around the world.”
(Additional reporting by Alina Selyukh and Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler)