Islamic State strategy jump-starts conservative 2016 presidential hopefuls
Following Pres. Barack Obama’s announcement this week of a strategy to target Islamic State militants with airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, his potential successors have scrambled to judge the plan, jockeying for position in the 2016 presidential race.
White House hopefuls, mainly conservative Republicans already preoccupied with publicly opposing as much of the Obama administration as possible, took to the microphones and cameras Thursday to outline why they feel the president’s strategy in combating Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) has been abysmal.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called Obama’s speech “fundamentally unserious,” and said that likening the new IS strategy to the US government’s counter terror measures in Somalia and Yemen does not inspire confidence.
“Surely one must question anyone who holds up the nations of Somalia and Yemen as models for any kind of success — especially if he is the United States President,” Cruz said in a statement Wednesday. “To this day, these nations remain hotbeds of terrorism.”
Prior to the Wednesday speech, Cruz advocated a robust military response to IS strongholds in Syria and Iraq, urging the Obama administration to execute a plan “to keep Americans safe, and that it is not laden with impractical contingencies, such as resolving the Syrian civil war, reaching political reconciliation in Iraq or achieving ‘consensus’ in the international community.”
He also took the opportunity to call for a tightened US-Mexico border, as did 2012 GOP candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) during remarks made on Capitol Hill earlier this week concerning Pres. Obama's strategy.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) echoed some of these sentiments recently in wondering why the president would appeal to American missions in Yemen and Somalia, both places where the US uses unmanned drone strikes to level areas supposedly harboring suspected militants.
“I think it was a mistake to equate this conflict with what we’ve done in Yemen and Somalia,” he said. “We’ve certainly had success in those places but those remain very unstable and dangerous places and real threats to our national security. I also think that [ISIS] poses a risk that is very different from the risks posed by terrorists in those two countries. Isis is a terrorist group, but it also has insurgents elements to it … They pose a much different risk.”
Rubio added that he’s glad the Obama administration has seemingly moved away from its previous strategy, to downplay the effect of Islamic State’s actions in Syria and Iraq. But Rubio questioned Obama’s resolve to ultimately suffocate IS, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda that is reportedly having success in recruiting around the world, including from the US.
“What I didn’t hear the president say last night is that ‘We’re going defeat them no matter what it takes,’ and that’s important. … But what if that doesn’t work? Does that then mean that ISIS gets to stay … to continue to expand? It was important for the president to say that ‘No matter what it takes … ultimately we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.’”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, considered an early outsider to receive the Republican nomination for president in 2016, has garnered attention for straying from militaristic posturing in his foreign policy stances. Yet Paul took to Fox News to say he supported “whatever it takes to take out ISIS,” and that allies in the region need to have a role in the process.
“I think that there was one important point that he was making, about [ISIS] not being Islamic or a true form of Islam,” he said. “Ultimately, civilized Islam will have to step up. We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves – I’m all in for saying we have to combat Isis, but … ultimately we do need … the long-term victory is going to require allies who are part of the civilized Islamic world, which is the majority of the Islamic world, but they have to step up. Because frankly, they’ve been allowing too much of this to go on.”
Paul said that current situations in Syria, Iraq and Libya are all disasters of Obama’s foreign policy, while adding that some problems in the region were encouraged when the US toppled “secular dictators” like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the Gaddafi regime in Libya.
“But the one thing we need to remember about all of this, while I do support doing whatever it takes to take out ISIS, we need to remember how we got here. And the reason we got here is because we took it upon ourselves to topple secular dictators who were the enemy of radical Islam.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered the frontrunner to receive the Democratic Party’s 2016 nomination, has not commented on the revamped strategy just yet. Though she did make headlines a month ago for calling Obama’s moves in the region as a “failure.”
"The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against [Syrian President Bashar] Assad —- there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle -— the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled," Clinton said.
A Clinton spokesman later denied that she was attacking Obama, “his policies or his leadership,” but that there were “honest differences” between the two on some contentious issues.