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Obama accused of diminishing U.S. standing in fight against terrorism

President under fire for cautious approach to Islamic State threat in Iraq, Syria

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2014

President Obama found himself under fire Sunday for his cautious approach to beating back the Islamic State's march through Iraq and Syria and stamping out other diplomatic fires around the globe, with a top House Republican suggesting his foreign policy was in free fall and that Western allies no longer view the U.S. as a leader in the fight against bad actors.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the administration is sitting on its hands while radical Islamist fighters grow in influence, recruit from abroad and seize more territory in Iraq and Syria.

"Europe has obviously stood up and said, 'We have a huge problem.' [British Prime Minister] David Cameron came out and said, 'Not only do we have a problem, here's my plan to deal with it,'" Mr. Rogers told "Fox News Sunday."

"And so the United States seems to be in this malaise of not being that concerned," said Mr. Rogers, taking an implicit shot at Mr. Obama as another Jimmy Carter.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was more forgiving but suggested Mr. Obama has been too cautious in addressing the threat posed by well-funded Islamic State fighters intent on expanding their reach.

"They have announced that they don't intend to stop," she told NBC's "Meet the Press." "They have announced that they will come after us if they can, that they will, quote, spill our blood. This is a vicious, vicious movement, and it has to be confronted."

Mr. Obama raised eyebrows last week by acknowledging that the U.S. does not have a strategy to defeat the brutal Islamic State, which has grown to an estimated 10,000 members and employed savvy recruiting tactics in its bid to set up a caliphate with a strict adherence to Islam's Shariah law.

An Islamist-allied militia in control of Libya's capital seized the U.S. Embassy and its residential compound, a commander said Sunday, as onlookers toured the abandoned homes of diplomats who fled the country more than a month ago.

The breach of a deserted U.S. diplomatic post in Tripoli — including images of men earlier swimming in the compound's algae-filled pools — likely will reinvigorate debate in the U.S. over its role in Libya, more than three years after supporting rebels who toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The images have surfaced just before the second anniversary of the slaying of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, an incident that remains under investigation by a select congressional panel.

Over the same weekend, high-level officials such as the president of Lithuania and Sen. Robert C. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said the situation in Ukraine had erupted into a full-scale war involving Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taunted Mr. Obama as feckless, and Mr. Obama has compared Mr. Putin to a petulant child who has not stepped into the 21st century.

Republicans toggled Sunday between pointing the finger at Mr. Obama and proposing what he should do.

The president has earned plaudits for beating back the Islamic State at the Mosul Dam, a strategic part of Iraq, but has been dogged by questions about his next moves and whether he needs to open a Syrian battle front.

He fanned the flames among his critics Thursday with six words: "We don't have a strategy yet."

"You have to have a specific strategy to defeat ISIS, and that means, among other things, understanding that ISIS has obliterated the boundaries between Syria and Iraq — main headquarters being in Syria," Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "So we have to get better weapons to the [Kurdish] Peshmerga. We have to have airstrikes in Syria as well as Iraq. We have to arm the FSA, the Free Syrian Army."

On Sunday, Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen broke a six-week siege imposed by the Islamic State on the northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli, and a suicide bombing killed at least 14 people in the western province of Anbar, officials said.

Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an army spokesman, said the operation started at dawn and forces entered the town shortly after midday.

Speaking live on state TV, Gen. al-Moussawi said the forces suffered "some causalities" but did not give a specific number. He said fighting was "still ongoing to clear the surrounding villages."

Breaking the siege was a "big achievement and an important victory" he said, for all involved: the Iraqi army troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias.

Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said the forces entered the town from two directions and were distributing aid to residents.

With much more needed to turn the tide in Iraq, the message Sunday from some U.S. lawmakers was clear: It's time for the White House to step up.

Taking it slow and coalescing around a plan with NATO is "not wrong; it's just very, very late in the game," Mr. Rogers said.

Even so, Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said the U.S. and its allies must wage the fight in a thoughtful way.

"I think, frankly, there's way too much emphasis on acting now and doing something immediately instead of being smart about what we do," the Oklahoma Republican told ABC's "This Week." "I think the elements of a strategy are already there. We know we're going to use air power. We know we're going to use special operators. We know we're going to have to build alliances on the ground."

He said Mr. Obama and Nouri al-Maliki, as Iraqi prime minister, allowed Islamic extremism to fester in Iraq and Syria for too long, but that finger-pointing needs to give way to cooperation.

"I think the important thing for the president here is to move with Congress," he said."That is, to not do this on his own, to make everybody put their fingerprints on the decision and say yea or nay and go home and justify it."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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