By Bruce Alpert
The weekend loss of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to Islamic militants is prompting criticism of President Barack Obama and calls for major changes in U.S. strategy from Louisiana congressional Republicans and Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Most aren't offering specific policy recommendations. One exception is Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, who is calling for sending 10,000-30,000 troops, "not putting them on the frontlines,'' but to work with the Iraqi military and local militias to take on ISIL.
"Despite what you think about our going there (to Iraq), what mistakes we made while we were there and when we left (for which he faults Obama), ISIL or whatever name we're using today, is a major threat," Fleming said. Fleming said he understands why members of Congress and most GOP presidential candidates aren't offering specific proposals, acknowledging most Americans are war weary after the long and costly Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The conflicts caused significant loss of life, devastating physical injuries to thousands of U.S. soldiers who survived and generated huge financial costs.
But Fleming said action is needed because ISIL has shown depravity in terms of slaughtering even women and children and, in his view, represents a grave threat both to the United States and Europe. It may take a major ISIL terrorist hit on the United States to prod America's political leaders and the public to support more aggressive efforts to combat the militant group, Fleming said.
Jindal, a likely GOP presidential candidate, said in an interview with reporters on Louisiana Public Television last Friday that President Obama is responsible for the current problems in Iraq. Not to blame, he said, was the decision by President George W. Bush -- with concurrence of Congress -- to go to war to oust the nation's longtime dictator, Saddam Hussein. It turned out the justification for the war -- intelligence reports that Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction -- turned out to be wrong.
"The problems we face in Iraq today I don't think were because of President Bush's strength but have come about because of President Obama's weakness," Jindal said. "President Obama didn't listen to his military and other advisers and instead, he withdrew all of the troops without a status forces agreement, without some kind of remaining, residual ability to keep stability in Iraq."
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a candidate to replace Jindal as governor, is also critical of the administration, as are Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette and Ralph Abraham, R-Alto.
Said Vitter: "President Obama's current campaign isn't working. He has no active long-term plan to confront the growing threat from al-Qaeda or ISIS, and his recent proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force request to Congress did nothing to articulate any clear, cohesive strategy. Reacting to setbacks is not a strategy."
Abraham said the president showed the wrong priorities when he told Coast Guard Academy graduates this week that climate change is the greatest threat to the United States.
"His administration is in the complete denial and disarray in the way it is handling ISIS/ISIL and terrorism in general," Abraham said. "I am completely against putting large-scale American boots on the ground until this president has a strategy and then comes to Congress for proper authorization for force."
"For now, we need forward air controllers in place to provide us with specific, timely targets so that our air strikes can be more effective. Right now, too much of our Intel is old. Second, we need to give the special ops forces who are there now training the Iraqis more authority to direct a war. This will allow the resources and ground troops in place now to combat the enemy, rather than retreating at the first sign of trouble."
Said Boustany: "While targeted airstrikes and special operations raids have been successful in individual instances, the president has failed to incorporate these into a coordinated strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL. The president must demonstrate greater leadership with our Arab coalition partners to ensure American air support and special operations strikes are used to augment an Arab-led ground campaign that will achieve victory over ISIL and an ultimate political solution to the chaos in the region."
Back in February when President Obama asked Congress to grant him authorization to take military action against ISIL, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, called for more detailed plans from the president. "It is necessary for the president to put forth a clear strategy to fight and defeat ISIL and its affiliates," Scalise said.
The authorization request is yet to be acted on by Congress, and there's little indication it will be taken up anytime soon.
President Obama's press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday Obama opposes those who "support changing the strategy and sending U.S. military personnel to go take care of this problem."
"There is no doubt that through the bravery and capability of our men and women in uniform, that that would make a substantial difference." said Earnest said, adding that such recommendations "almost always" come from Republicans.
"What this administration will continue to do is to implement the strategy that the President has laid out, which is to build up the capacity of local fighters on the ground in Iraq and in Syria to take the fight against ISIL in their own country," he said. "But they will have the strong support of the United States and the coalition of 60 countries that the president leads, and they'll have that support in the form of offering training and equipment to those local fighters. They'll be able to get some battlefield advice from coalition personnel that are deployed to Iraq. And they will importantly have the support of coalition military airpower that has enhanced the effectiveness of these local fighters on the battlefield in those areas where it has been implemented."