Rep. Mike Turner says lack of US leadership has allowed various world conflicts to worsen. (Courtesy)
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WASHINGTON — A senior GOP House Armed Services Committee member says that as President Barack Obama mulls his options, the situation becomes worse and worse in places like Syria and Iraq.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, expected to seek that HASC gavel next year, says Syria’s bloody civil war continues and a Sunni extremist group steadily destabilizes Iraq “in part because of a lack of a US presence and leadership.
“The problem here is in all of these issues the president is too late,” Turner told Bloomberg Television on Monday. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) “did not just materialize out of thin air. This is a threat that has been evolving and forming.”
Obama late last week green-lighted US airstrikes of Islamic State targets, as well as humanitarian airdrops to assist minority populations that have fled to a mountain in northwest Iraq to hide from the group. The president indicated on Saturday that he views the new Iraq operations as a long-term effort.
As other Republican members have said for months, Turner contends Obama and his administration were asleep at the wheel as the Islamic State gained strength.
“Clearly, with their capability this was something that the United States could have seen and should have reacted to,” Turner said. “But the president’s in a delay in taking action and in showing leadership, [which] makes every situation that much more worse, that much more difficult to respond to.
“And certainly it makes it then that much more of a threat to our own national security,” Turner said.
As have other GOP members, Turner said America’s allies in the Middle East are beginning to wonder if they can count on Washington.
“If you look around the world it’s not just the issue of people wanting to know where America is, but they’re also seeing our allies being less certain and more concerned about American leadership,” he said. “And therefore, even they are being more concerned and less likely to act. If you look in Ukraine, the Middle East, Asia, throughout the world people are saying, where is the United States? Where is our policy and where’s our results?”
A White House spokesman on Monday referred CongressWatch to a recent interview Obama conducted with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Asked why he opted against arming Syrian rebels sooner, which some critics say could have allowed the Islamic State to be defeated there, Obama indicated his administration continues to find it difficult to find opposition forces they can trust with US arms.
“There’s not as much capacity as you would hope.”
During the interview, Obama told Friedman that the US, under his leadership, will not intervene in other countries unless the internal political players and factions there can agree to be inclusive.
To that end, Iraq’s long time prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, reportedly is clinging to power even as its president has named a new prime minister.
“[The] broader point we need to stay focused on is, what we have is a disaffected Sunni minority in the case of Iraq, a majority in the case of Syria, stretching from essentially Baghdad to Damascus,” the president said. “Unless we can give them a formula that speaks to the aspirations of that population, we are inevitably going to have problems.
“Unfortunately, there was a period of time where the Shia majority in Iraq didn’t fully understand that. They’re starting to understand it now,” Obama said. “Unfortunately, we still have ISIL, which has, I think, very little appeal to ordinary Sunnis. ... They’re filling a vacuum, and the question for us has to be not simply how we counteract them militarily but how are we going to speak to a Sunni majority in that area ... that, right now, is detached from the global economy.”
Republicans want Obama to do more in Iraq with a goal of defeating the Islamic State once and for all.
A senior administration official last week told reporters that the Obama-ordered strikes will be “targeted,” tailored to “protect our personnel and facilities specifically in Erbil.”
“What we’ve seen in recent days is further ISIL advances that were beginning to threaten the periphery of Erbil,” the senior official said. “Given our commitment to the security of our personnel and facilities, the president issued this authorization so that if we see further ISIL advances and actions that threaten Erbil, he has authorized the military to take targeted action.
“This is consistent with what he said back in June, when ISIL had begun its advances in Iraq. He made clear then, as he made clear tonight, that the safety and security of our personnel and facilities is a top priority in Iraq, as it is around the world,” the official said. “This principle applies, of course, to our personnel in Erbil. It would also apply to our personnel and facilities, including our Embassy in Baghdad. So if we see actions anywhere in Iraq that threaten our personnel or facilities, we stand prepared to take targeted action to protect them.” ■