For years, Pentagon officials have publicly grumbled that sequestration, combined with the removal of some $600 billion from the defense budget over the next decade, would decimate the military’s ability to confront enemies around the world. Now, with Russia and Ukraine on the verge of war and as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria plunders the Middle East – and presents a bold new challenge to the U.S. in the wake of its brutal murder of American journalist Jim Foley – some in Congress are buying into their argument.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) revealed that he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would attempt to repeal the defense cuts mandated by sequestration.
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In a broad critique of President Obama’s strategy to confront ISIS, McCain said that he and Graham would make the “repeal of defense sequestration … our first goal, hopefully in September.”
McCain’s comments are the first to indicate that budget cuts, the culture change and the shift from a large-war model to a smaller one that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was brought in to implement are not set in stone. For months, DOD brass, including Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, have been warning the cuts would make the military unable to deal with global threats. Now, he has an ally on Capitol Hill.
Other Republicans are also now demanding a more comprehensive strategy to confront ISIS – suggesting everything from greater support for the Kurdish Peshmerga to partnering with moderates in Syria.
“A containment strategy is not going to cut it,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning. “We need a strategy that’s going to expand the airstrikes, support the Kurds further…[and offer] more support and enhancement for the moderate opposition in Syria to deal with the sanctuaries in Syria. We have to do that if we want to defeat ISIS.”
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“What I want to hear from the president is that he has a strategy to finish ISIS off, to defeat ISIS,” added Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a potential contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nod, on Face the Nation. “I would reference the fact that [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin] Dempsey [said] that to do this correctly, Syria is going to have to be part of this equation.”
Not all critics of the Obama administration’s current policy are partisans. Retired Gen. John Allen echoed the Republican concerns.
“It’s going to take more than what we’re doing right now, There’s just no question of this,” Allen said on ABC’s This Week. “We need to give the American public more clarity in terms of our commitment solely using the terms ‘boots on the ground.’”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned that if the White House did not do more to confront ISIS, the group would attempt to strike the west.
“It's about time now to assume the worst about these guys rather than underestimating them — they're not the JV team anymore," Graham said on CNN's State of the Union. "They're the most prominent terrorist organization in the world, but they’re not the only one. They're in competition with the other jihadist groups, and the gold medal will be awarded to the group that can hit America."
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