Republicans are plainly nervous about President Obama’s Middle East policy. To be more precise, they are worried he doesn’t have one. Speaker of the House John Boehner at a press conference today observed: “You know, the situation in Iraq continues to worsen by the day. The terrorists have seized control of border crossings in Syria and in Jordan. And their march toward Baghdad continues. The president has a number of options in front of him, which, if part of a larger regional strategy, I would support. But my concern is whether the president will make a decision in time to reverse the terrorists’ momentum as it sweeps toward Baghdad.”
Boehner rejected the notion that we have no dog in the fight, saying that “we can’t pretend that this isn’t our problem as well. Allowing terrorists to gain a safe haven in Iraq from which to plan and launch attacks on Americans and our allies is a serious problem. We’ve got to be engaged in Iraq; it’s in our national interest to help reverse the momentum and the spread of terrorism. Retreating from the world stage, in my view, is not an option. It only undermines our allies and leads to more chaos that puts Americans at risk.”
His colleagues are equally nervous. After briefings by the administration, both GOP senators and House members have expressed alarm. The Hill reported on the Senate Iraq briefing:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria]’s goal was to create an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, and drive the U.S. out of the region by striking the U.S. at home.
“No member of the Senate could have left that briefing believing that the homeland is not in danger if these people are successful, so I don’t think you’re going to hear much pushback if the president has to act,” he said.
“There was no doubt in any body’s mind who briefed us that, eventually, the people who are trying to conquer Iraq and make it an Islamic caliphate . . . is trying to drive us out of the Mideast, and they see us as an impediment to their agenda, and they will hit us at home,” he added.
After his briefing on the Iran negotiations, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (Calif.) put out a statement suggesting the administration was hiding the ball from Congress and giving up too much to Iran:
It is clear that many Members of the Committee are concerned about the direction of these negotiations, asking tough questions of the U.S. negotiators. Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is the Committee’s highest priority, as it has been for many years.
Members emphasized the need for the Administration to consult with Congress on any potential sanctions relief for Iran. Ranking Member [Eliot] Engel and I are currently circulating a letter with well over one hundred signatures calling on the Administration to do just that. . . . With the deadline for international negotiations surrounding Iran’s nuclear program approaching, Members were focused on the enormous challenge of monitoring and verifying any potential final agreement with Iran. These questions are all the more important given Iran’s history of deception, covert procurement, and construction of clandestine facilities. Indeed, during a recent Committee hearing, all of the witnesses agreed that there is no monitoring and verification system that could ensure that Iran will not pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Royce stressed that Iran “has not been fully cooperating with the [International Atomic Energy Agency]’s attempts to clarify evidence the international observer group has on the ‘potential military dimensions’ of Iran’s program.’ ” If that’s the case, you wonder why negotiations haven’t stopped and why Congress hasn’t voted on new sanctions. Moreover, he rightly is concerned that the administration seems already to have given up the “get out of jail fee card”: “Under the agreement, after a relatively short period (to be determined by the negotiations) of good behavior, Iran would be freed from sanctions and any intrusive inspections measures — being converted from ‘nuclear pariah to nuclear partner,’ as one witness recently testified in front of the Committee. As noted in the agreement, after the ‘duration’ of this ‘final step,’ the Iranian nuclear program is to be ‘treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT’ – in other words, just like Japan or Germany.”
All of this follows the almost inexplicable Taliban trade. Letting out five high-level terrorists seems, in the wake of ISIS’s overrunning of Iraq, exceptionally foolhardy.
In short, whether it is on Iran, Iraq, Syria or anyplace else in the region, there is a growing sense of distrust of the president. The worry is palpable that he is in over his head, lacking a strategy for dealing with multiple threats. If that is the sense in the United States, imagine the reaction of both friends and foes in the region.