Despite ISIS continuing to lose territory by the day in Iraq and Syria, Republican Senator Tom Cotton got on MSNBC yesterday to tell the American public that President Barack Obama’s approach to the Islamic State wasn’t working. He didn’t suggest any alternative to defeating ISIS, instead spending the duration of his appearance listing everything Obama had done wrong as president.
“You have to go on offense against the Islamic state in places like Iraq and Syria and Libya and Afghanistan,” he said. “President Obama’s job is to keep us safe. It’s not to minimize the fear that Americans justly fear about terrorism.
“They think we have a disproportionate fear of terrorism in this country even after Brussels and Paris and San Bernardino,” he continued.
But governing by using fear as a political weapon is hardly presidential. And the president has a duty to tell Americans that their fear of terrorism is disproportionate, even unreasonable — when, say, guns kill exponentially more Americans every year than all terrorism combined.
Cotton went on to bash Obama for attending a baseball game during his visit to Cuba in the aftermath of the bombing, something he called “very troubling.” He and numerous other Republican politicians haven’t noticed the hypocrisy of denouncing Obama when President Ronald Reagan rode horses around California for four days before addressing the shooting down of Korean Airlines plane in 1983, which claimed the lives of 62 Americans.
Asked for an alternative plan, such as increasing advisors for allies on the ground, Cotton deflected, saying “That’s a question for our military commanders whether we need more.” He also noted the fact that planes were coming back from bombing missions “with bombs that are not being dropped because of restricted rules of engagement.”
Asides from Cotton, numerous Republicans have criticized Obama’s ISIS strategy while failing to offer an alternative of their own. “After allowing the ISIL threat to grow and strengthen for years, the administration still has no plausible strategy to destroy ISIL on anything close to an acceptable timeline,” said John McCain and Lindsey Graham in a joint statement shortly following the Brussels attacks. No alternative plan was laid out by either of them, except lip service on sending ground troops back into Iraq in, perhaps, a display of extraordinary short term memory loss.
Or they say Obama should do what is already being done: “The only way to defeat ISIS militarily is for Sunnis themselves to be the bulkhead of the fight,” said Marco Rubio last November, despite the Obama administration already planning to provide support to Sunni fighters. Slate provided a good summary of what Republican candidates’ ISIS strategies have entailed, and not offer drastic differences from what Obama has pursued.
Former Washington Post editor Eugene Robinson, who appeared towards the end of the segment, confronted Cotton on his position. “I’m still confused as to what your complaint is” he said, given the recent successes of the anti-ISIS campaign, which has included sizable reductions in territory controlled by the group.
In a smorgasbord of entirely unrelated and historically dubious assertions, Cotton blamed the rise of ISIS on Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq, which he said created the power vacuum that allowed ISIS to take root. The president had also worked with Iran, he said, to “give them the ideological reason to justify their campaign of terror through the region.”
The reality, however, is that the 2003 invasion set the foundation for ISIS’s rise, by shattering Iraq’s governing institutions and created a power vacuum in their place. And it would be a stretch to say Obama “worked with Iran” to destabilize the region, especially coming from a man who led 47 Republicans to publish an open letter telling the Iranian government that the nuclear agreement between their two countries could be ripped up at any time, which was most likely illegal.