There’s precious little that Republicans and Democrats in Washington can agree on these days. But in a rare show of unity, members of both parties blasted President Obama Sunday morning for not being quicker to take action on Russia’s apparent invasion of Ukraine and on the continuing depredations of the Islamic State (ISIS) movement in Iraq and Syria.
Last week, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reported that Russian troops, armor, and artillery had all crossed the border into Ukraine and that Russian troops are now fighting alongside Ukrainian rebels in the eastern part of the country. In remarks to the media Thursday, the president characterized the development not as an escalation of hostilities, but as a continuation of a process already underway.
Speaking from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, seemed incredulous when he appeared on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning.
“This is a watershed moment,” he said. “Thousands of Russian troops are here with tanks, missiles, heavy artillery and are directly engaged in what is clearly an invasion.”
Menendez argued that the U.S. ought to be supplying Ukraine’s government with defensive weaponry – something the Obama administration has so far declined to do.
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin has felt free to act in Ukraine because he doesn’t believe Western countries will act to stop him. “We have to prove him wrong,” Menendez said.
The Russian president “only understands strength,” Menendez continued. “That’s strength either because of the economic consequences that we can levy upon Russia … and also the cost to Russians as they send their sons and daughters back in body bags … and Russian mothers say, ‘What is happening here?’”
Appearing on Face the Nation, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “We’ve got to realize what Vladimir Putin is. He’s an old KGB colonel who wants to restore the Russian empire.”
The senator continued, “For God’s sake, can’t we help these people defend themselves?”
Lawmakers were no less frustrated by the president’s limited response to ISIS, and many latched onto his much-mocked statement Thursday, in which he said that his administration does not yet have a strategy for dealing with the group.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claimed that the administration’s lack of a strategy to fight ISIS is not due to a lack of options.
“There have been plans on the table,” he said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “The president just did not want to get engaged in any way.”
Rogers said that the impression that the president is dithering on both Ukraine and ISIS has not gone unnoticed by the world at large. “His foreign policy is in absolute freefall,” Rogers said. “Our traditional allies are now standing up and saying maybe America is not the best ones to lead us through these troubles.”
Rogers’s opposite number in the Senate, Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), also criticized the White House for its tepid response to ISIS.
“II think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious. Maybe in this instance too cautious,” she said on NBC’s Meet the Press. She also criticized President Obama’s characterization of ISIS, which he made in an interview published early this year, as a “JV” team. “I think it's a major varsity team, if you want to use those kinds of monikers.”
To be sure, not everyone was angry with the president for failing to go after ISIS and the Russians with guns blazing.
With regard to ISIS in particular, there were several strong voices of caution.
“It’s extremely urgent, but you don’t just rush in because the media is talking about it; you don’t just rush in because ‘other countries aren’t going to tell us what to do,’” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence panel. “When we do it, we’re going to end game. We’re going to get it done. And we will do what we have to do to protect us from ISIS.”
Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of U.S. Central Command and a one-time Navy SEAL who was among the first Americans into Iraq during the invasion, said, “We want to be very deliberate. You want to be smart in how you go into these things.”
Even Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), no fan of the Obama administration, said there is “too much emphasis on acting now.” He added that Obama is right to wait for Congress to return from recess and come up with a bipartisan plan. “At the end of the day, he should move with Congress,” Cole said. “Make everybody put their fingerprints on this.”
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