WASHINGTON: The growing influence of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria is a threat to Americans, lawmakers from both political parties agreed Sunday even as they sharply disagreed on what role the U.S. should play in trying to crush them.
The congressmen and others, meanwhile, have raised questions as to why a series of atrocities and human rights violations in ISIS in Syria have gone unaddressed by Washington, after President Barack Obama last week approved limited airstrikes against ISIS fighters in Iraq.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the militants threaten not just Iraqis but also Americans. He said Obama’s airstrikes were insufficient to turn back the militants and were designed “to avoid a bad news story on his watch.”
“I think of an American city in flames because of the terrorists’ ability to operate in Syria and in Iraq,” said Graham, a reliable advocate for U.S. use of military force overseas.
“They are coming here,” Graham later added about the militants. “This is just not about Baghdad. This is just not about Syria. It is about our homeland.”
Graham added that if ISIS militants attack the United States because Obama “has no strategy to protect us, he will have committed a blunder for the ages.”
A close White House ally, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, said ISIS fighters were a “growing and troublesome” threat.
But the senator added, “We must not send the troops.”
“The big question is: What can the United States do to stop it?” Durbin asked.
American airstrikes have included fighters and drones near Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, in a bid to limit advances by ISIS and help Iraqi forces take back control.
A breakdown in talks between Washington and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that would have allowed U.S. troops to remain in Iraq collapsed in 2008, and Obama withdrew troops in 2011 after eight years of war.
Maliki now is under mounting pressure to step aside, including from U.S. lawmakers.
“The collapse of Mosul was not a result of lack of equipment or lack of personnel. It was a leadership collapse,” said Democratic Senator Jack Reed. “And so in order to put the situation right, we have to begin at the fundamental core, which is leadership in Baghdad, Iraqi leadership.”
Critics say the Shiite leader contributed to the crisis by monopolizing power and pursuing a sectarian agenda that alienated the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
Lawmakers from both parties largely agreed that a war-weary America has little appetite to send military forces back to Iraq.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said Iraqis need to handle their domestic security.
“There is not a U.S. military solution to this issue,” Cardin said.
“We will not become the Iraqi air force,” Cardin added. “I don’t think we can take out ISIS from a military point of view, from the use of our airstrikes.”
But Republican Peter King said popular opinion should not drive national security decisions.
“I am saying we should do whatever we have to do,” King said.
Graham and Cardin spoke to “Fox News Sunday.” Durbin and King appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Reed was interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” McCain was a guest on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
As for Syria, Republican Senator John McCain Saturday said Washington’s limited military action against ISIS in northern Iraq showed a “fundamental misunderstanding of the threat,” and called for strikes against the group’s positions in Syria, The New York Times reported.
McCain, a frequent critic of Obama’s foreign policy, said the airstrikes are not enough to deal with a growing threat to the United States that he called “the richest, most powerful terrorist organization in history,” the paper said.
“The stated purpose – stated by the president – is to save American lives, not to stop ISIS, not to change the battlefield, not to stop ISIS from moving equipment farther into Syria to destroy the Free Syrian Army,” McCain said.
He said he believed the U.S. airstrikes must extend into “ISIS-controlled territory in Syria,” the New York Times said.
McCain said ISIS “has erased the boundary” between the two countries yet Obama “has failed so far to even mention Syria,” according to The New York Times, which said the Arizona senator was speaking by telephone from Vietnam.
Khatib Badla, a member of the National Coalition, Syria’s opposition-in-exile, expressed surprise that the international community was mobilizing to act against ISIS in Iraq, while “it ignores what ISIS is doing in Syria, and its massacres against the Syrian people, and the rebels.”
“Does the international community consider ISIS a terrorist group in Iraq, and a peaceful lamb in Syria?”
Frederic Hof, a senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said that even though he welcomed Obama’s decision in Iraq, it was inevitable that “those who have called for a similar humanitarian intervention in Syria will wonder why Iraq and why not Syria.”