In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded American journalist James Foley (shown) — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (Nicole Tung)
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WASHINGTON — Republicans are using the beheading of an American journalist in Syria to mount new attacks on President Barack Obama, urging him to get tougher on a radical Sunni group.
Social media exploded Tuesday afternoon when an Islamic State video surfaced showing militants beheading American photojournalist James Foley. Inboxes and cable news soon exploded with GOP lawmakers and potential 2016 presidential candidates hawkishly weighing in.
On Wednesday morning, popular MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Florida GOP congressman, called the Islamic State a “scourge that needs to be wiped off the Middle East. ... This is something the president cannot ignore.”
He also urged Republicans to publicly applaud Obama for ongoing airstrikes that he ordered against the Islamic State.
So far, however, his GOP mates are going the other way.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, rumored to be mulling a White House bid, said the Islamic State “cannot be reasoned with, they can’t be negotiated with, and their view of the world is irreconcilable with civilized society.”
Rubio, a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, pulled no punches in criticizing the man he might want to replace at the head of the Situation Room table.
“I remain deeply concerned that despite the preponderance of evidence that proves [Islamic State] is a fundamentally evil and dangerous terrorist threat to the United States, President Obama continues to appear unwilling to do what is necessary to confront [the group] and communicate clearly to the American people about the threat ISIL poses to our country and to our way of life,” Rubio said.
He suggested Obama is taking “a piecemeal approach” in combating the organization.
Earlier this month, Obama green-lighted US airstrikes in northern Iraq against Islamic State vehicles and operatives, saying it was necessary to protect minority populations and American personnel based there.
Rubio and other Republicans, however, say that won’t be enough.
Obama’s limited approach “will not eliminate the growing threat to the United States and our allies,” Rubio said. “If we do not do more to assist our Iraqi partners and those moderate Syrians who are fighting [the Islamic State] and directly target [its] leadership and networks in Iraq and Syria, I fear that James Foley will not be the only American to die at their hands.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is said to be thinking about a 2016 run amid urging from so-called “establishment Republicans,” took to Twitter to weigh in on Foley’s apparent murder.
“Genocide of Christians, threats to the US, now the beheading of an American. The ISIS are thugs and must be stopped,” Bush tweeted on Wednesday morning.
The White House said the US intelligence community was reviewing the video, attempting to determine its authenticity. Obama was briefed about the video aboard Air Force One as he returned to his Martha’s Vineyard vacation after meetings here.
“If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” the National Security Council said in a statement.
The White House issued a statement midday Wednesday after the review was complete.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff. We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic. We will continue to provide updates as they are available.”
The beheading video surfaced hours after US Central Command announced American fighter jets had conducted two strikes on Islamic State targets near Iraq’s Mosul Dam, a key strategic chess piece. One strike hit its intended target, the other was unsuccessful, the command said.
Bush’s tweet sounded like a condensed version of what a list of Republican — and some Democratic — members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have been calling for: a broader plan from Obama for how to take on the Islamic State.
These members and potential candidates want Obama to do more than conduct, as he has called them, “limited” airstrikes, and arm Kurdish forces.
“These actions should now be expanded into a broader strategy to degrade [the Islamic State] both in Syria and Iraq, as we have been advocating,” SASC members Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday. “Without a sustained effort to retake Mosul — a center of [State] activity in Iraq — and to degrade their home base in Syria, we will lose momentum.
“Our senior military, intelligence, and national security leaders have all stated that [the State] is a direct threat to the United States,” the senators said in a joint statement, “and we should delay no further in taking the necessary actions to counter it.” ■