GOP on Iraq: We told you so
By: Jeremy Herb and Burgess Everett
June 12, 2014 11:38 AM EDT
Sen. John McCain said Thursday that President Barack Obama’s entire national security team should resign over the resurgence of Islamic militants in Iraq.
“Everybody in his national security team, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ought to be replaced,” the Arizona Republican told reporters ahead of a classified Senate Armed Services Committee briefing on the deteriorating situation in Iraq. “It’s a colossal failure of American security policy.”
The Sunni militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, vowed Thursday to march into Baghdad after overrunning Iraq’s government forces in Tikrit and Mosul.
The offensive is sparking a wave of Republican criticism over Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2011 — and concerns that the U.S. gains in the Iraq war were about to completely evaporate.
Less than three years after the end of the U.S. war in Iraq, the Obama administration and members of Congress are now mulling whether the U.S. has to re-engage militarily in order to save the gains made during the eight-year war that saw more than 4,000 U.S. troops killed.
“There is no scenario where we can stop the bleeding in Iraq without American air power,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “It is my worst fear come true. If the president is willing to adjust his policies, I’m willing to help him.”
Inside the secure briefing room in the Capitol’s basement, lawmakers were reported to be shocked by administration briefers who said that up to four entire divisions of the Iraqi military folded in an instant — allowing insurgent troops to pour into the city of Mosul and other cities near the border with Turkey.
“It’s a desperate situation. It’s moving quickly. It appears to me that the chickens are coming home to roost for our policy of not leaving anybody there to be a stabilizing force,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership.
He said senators were informed of the instant “collapse of four of the 17 divisions without any apparent effort to push back.”
“Some Iraqi troops have gone to work with their uniforms on with civilian clothes under their uniforms,” Blunt said. “That’s a bad sign.”
Both the president lawmakers of both parties have uniformly refused to rule out air strikes in Iraq, as has been reportedly requested by the prime minister.
“We will be weighing all options. I’m not ruling anything in or out at this point,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
“It might be the only way that we can go in to give some support so they can hold off until they can regroup, the Shiites can regroup and the Iraqi Army can get itself together,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) urged his colleagues away from inflammatory statements — after McCain urged Obama to dump his entire national security team.
“We shouldn’t knee jerk anything. The Iraqi government a few years back, when they had a chance to sign an agreement that would keep some of our presence there, refused to do it. So we’ve got to be very careful and thoughtful before we do anything,” Levin said.
At the White House, Obama told reporters the White House has been working “around the clock” on options for how to respond and, at this point, “I don’t rule out anything.”
“What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates Iraq’s going to need more help” from the United States and from the international community, Obama said in the Oval Office. “We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria for that matter,” Obama added.
For McCain and other GOP defense hawks, the latest developments were a condemnation of the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011.
“We’ve got another Benghazi in the making here,” Graham said after leaving the classified briefing. “What I heard in there scared the hell out of me.”
After attending the briefing, both McCain and Graham took to the Senate floor to blast Obama over the latest developments in Iraq. McCain said those who were right in Iraq — like retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA director who as a general carried out the “surge” — should be directing U.S. policy there.
“Lindsey Graham and John McCain were right,” McCain said. “Our failure to leave forces on Iraq is why Sen. Graham and I predicted this would happen.”
The U.S. should consider providing air power in Iraq, as the Iraqi government has reportedly requested, McCain said, but ruled out putting U.S. troops on the ground there.
“No, I don’t think we should send troops back there,” he said. “We should explore all the options in air power, get a team over there to advise them. It’s so serious I’m not sure exactly how it can be done. Al Qaeda is now the richest terrorist organization in history.”
But McCain said that he believed “airstrikes alone will not be enough.”
On Wednesday, the White House urged Congress to work to provide funding for “flexibility and resources to help Iraq respond to emerging needs as the terrorist threat from [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] continues to evolve.”
“The situation in Iraq is grave, and we’re actively working with Iraqi leaders in support of their efforts to implement an effective and coordinated response to address this crisis. We’ll continue to provide all appropriate assistance to the government of Iraq,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
With Iraq falling into chaos, Republicans said Iraq’s deleted security forces bode poorly for the president’s path forward in Afghanistan, where he said that all U.S. troops would leave by 2016.
That would still keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after security operations are handed off to the Afghans at the end of this year, but the GOP lawmakers argued it still provided the Taliban an end date for U.S. forces.
“The president’s announcement exactly when we’re going to withdraw from Afghanistan — instead of making it based on conditions on the ground — to tell the Taliban, is a mistake,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “I would hope that the president would take some of the lessons that we’re seeing happening in Iraq and not repeat them in Afghanistan.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee was briefed Thursday by Elissa Slotkin of the Defense Department, Paul Wolfe, a Defense Intelligence Agency expert on Iraq, DIA terrorism analyst Patrick Pryor of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Lt. Gen. John Bednarek, chief of the Office of Security Cooperation for Iraq.