Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., right, walk off of the stage following a news conference on the violence in the Mideast on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 24, 2014.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., right, walk off of the stage following a news conference on the violence in the Mideast on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 24, 2014. AP Photo

Republicans Recycle ‘Containment’ Line for Obama’s Iraq Strategy

Republicans once again hit Obama for ‘containment’ – painting the president as weak for not doing more to attack the Islamic State. By Molly O’Toole

Republicans are redeploying the “containment” line against President Barack Obama, rehashing a rhetorical attack with a word that, if too blunt a term for the complex threat posted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, does carry a certain weight.

Last year when conservatives accused Obama of “containment” they were complaining about the administration’s willingness to deal with Iran. Republicans claimed that the president ultimately would permit Iran to retain the capability to create a nuclear bomb, containing their ambitions rather than destroying that capability. Obama has rejected the assertion repeatedly, saying he would take U.S. military action, if necessary. “As president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in March. But the effect was clear:

Republicans called Obama weak and the president has spent valuable time countering the perception.

This month, the day that Obama announced he had authorized air strikes in Iraq, key conservative national security voices instantly revived the containment warning.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a joint statement saying, “A policy of containment will not work against ISIS. It is inherently expansionist and must be stopped.”

“The longer we wait to act, the worse this threat will become, as recent events clearly show,” they wrote, at the time.

On Sunday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said. “[A] containment strategy is not going to cut it,”

“We need a strategy that’s going to expand the airstrikes,” she said, calling for stronger support for the Kurds and also the moderate opposition in Syria. “We have to do that if we want to defeat ISIS.”

McCain and Graham also echoed Ayotte on Sunday, arguing that limited air strikes on Islamic State fighters in Iraq will not defeat the group—only in combination with a broader military campaign that targets the militants in neighboring Syria.

"This is an administration of which the kindest word I can use is 'feckless,’" McCain said. “No more ‘leading from behind,’ no more ‘don't do stupid stuff’ … Mr. President, don't be ashamed of re-evaluating your view of the role of the United States in the world, because we have shown over the last six years exactly what happens when we don't lead and create a vacuum.”

“They’re not the JV team anymore, they’re the most prominent terrorist organization in the world,” Graham said, referring to a comment from Obama widely read as his assessment of the Islamic State, though White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the president was speaking more broadly and not specifically about the group.

“There’s no way you can solve the problem in Iraq without hitting them in Syria,” Graham said.

He followed up Monday afternoon with a series of tweets: “The White House is trying to minimize the threat we face in order to justify not changing a failed strategy” and “The President is becoming derelict in his duties as Commander in Chief … by not aggressively confronting ISIL wherever they reside, including Syria.”

The trio’s criticism of Obama for lacking a strategy on any particular security issue is well worn. Now they are applying it toward defeating the Islamic State, and demanding escalating military action against the group in Syria as well. But by invoking “containment,” they are trotting out a party line that has been more effective in promoting the president as passive, weak and indecisive on issues from Syria to Russia to Iran—a narrative that the administration has struggled to counter.

And in recent days, academics and current and former Obama officials have given Obama’s “containment” critics an opening.

Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in London-based The Spectator on Aug. 16, “So far President Obama has talked only of containing ISIS, of preventing it from massacring Yazidis or taking Erbil. That’s not enough.”

“If left unchecked, this terrorist playpen is likely to generate attacks not only on neighbouring states such as Lebanon and Jordan but on western targets too. The West’s goal should be rollback, not containment.”

James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq under Obama and national security advisor under George W. Bush, with a special focus on Iran, said on Aug. 20 that the president has “a pretty good strategy” for Iraq. But, he added, “We have to lead from the front, containment is defeat for us.”

On Friday, Joshua Landis, author of the Syria Comment blog and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, issued a similar lament.

“Push [the Islamic State] out of Iraq, contain them in Syria. That's been our strategy for the last three and a half years,” Landis told NPR, continuing, “Contain violence in Syria. Don't try to solve it.”

“And chances are Obama's going to stick to his script.”

The day prior, at the Pentagon, CBS News’ Margaret Brennan asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: “Do you believe that ISIS can be defeated or destroyed without addressing the cross-border threat from Syria? And is it possible to contain them?”

“Yes, the answer is they can be contained, not in perpetuity,” Dempsey said, but he noted that the complete eradication of the group would require an offensive in both Iraq and Syria, overt help from friendly regional regimes, and an accompanying whole-of-government interagency attack on the popularity of the group’s ideology across the region.

“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated,” he continued. “To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cited Dempsey on Sunday. “What I want to hear from the president is that he has a strategy to finish ISIS off,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to be an armchair general and tell you how this needs to be done, but I would reference the fact that Dempsey did say that to do this correctly that Syria is going to have to be part of this equation.”

The generals, for their part, argue that the limited U.S. airstrikes in Iraq have halted the Islamic State’s momentum and allowed Kurdish and Iraqi Security Forces to take the lead in pushing back the militant groups’ gains. Pentagon and White House officials are currently preparing recommendations to the president on potential options for a long-term strategy to defeat the Islamic State, but they have emphasized the solution is not strictly military, nor solely the responsibility of the U.S. military.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.