U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) takes questions from reporters after the weekly Republican caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington March 11, 2014.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In Iraq debate, GOP Senators call Obama ‘weak’ and ‘a failure’

Republicans on Sunday continued to pillory the Obama administration’s strategy for dealing with the violent unrest across Iraq and parts of Syria.

Speaking to CBS News, Senator John McCain said the actions of the Obama White House are largely to blame for the political deterioration in Iraq and the territorial gains that have been made there and in Syria by the terrorist organization ISIS and its shadowy leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“I think it’s important to recognize,” the Arizona Republican argued, “that we did have this situation stabilized thanks to the [2007 Iraq war] surge, that we could have left a residual force behind which would’ve stabilized this situation.”

Continuing his criticism of President Obama, the Senate veteran told CBS News host Bob Schieffer, “This is not like a hurricane or an earthquake, this didn’t have to happen.”

“This is a failure of United States policy,” McCain said. “And by the way, there’s still none that I can discern - either a policy or a strategy - to handle this situation.”

Joining McCain - both on the CBS set and in criticizing President Obama - was Senator Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Republican, who is often in lockstep with McCain on foreign policy issues, argued that there is a consensus among federal intelligence officials that ISIS poses “a direct threat to the homeland.”

Graham said, “In Syria, and now Iraq, Americans and Western Europeans are going to help their cause, and they can flow back here.” He continued, “So yes, they’re a direct threat to the homeland, and they’re getting much stronger as we speak.”

Appearing immediately after the two Republican senators, Democrat Dick Durbin downplayed Graham’s grim warning. “I think we need to take them seriously,” Senator Durbin said of ISIS, “but realistically.”

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Calling U.S. forces “the best military on Earth,” Durbin also said that America’s military might cannot make up for the leadership problems of the Iraqi government. Durbin pointedly criticized Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s embattled prime minister who recently announced he would be seeking a third term despite a growing chorus calling for him to step down. “Maliki has not unified Iraq,” Durbin stated bluntly. “And our American forces can’t change it.”

The Illinois Democrat continued by asking, “Do we honestly believe that sending airstrikes in is going to change a 14-century-old battle within the religion of the Muslim people?” Senator Durbin then answered his own question, “That is not going to happen.”

Durbin argued that the United States would be better served by calling for a “counter-terrorism partnership” with Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations united in stopping ISIS and its violent land-grabbing campaign.

“This go-it-alone, call-in-airstrikes is not going to solve the problem,” Durbin said. “Haven’t we learned our lesson?”

Durbin’s counterpoints were echoed across the airwaves by Democratic Senator Bob Casey who appeared on “FOX News Sunday.” Senator Casey said that he believes, given all of the unknowns in Iraq, that the White House has “taken the right steps so far.”

Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, who was debating Casey on the FOX News program, argued that Iraq’s woes represent an overarching foreign policy failure by the Obama White House. “I believe,” the senator said, “that President Obama is projecting worldwide U.S. weakness.”

Senator Casey was not asked to respond directly to the allegation made by his Republican colleague, but made a point to return to it anyway. After giving his own criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Democrat added, “I think [President Obama] has shown strong leadership in the region.”

Iraq, Middle East and Syria

In Iraq debate, GOP Senators call Obama 'weak' and 'a failure'