The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama foreign policy sparks bipartisan criticism

President Obama’s foreign-policy credentials took another hit Sunday as key lawmakers from both parties criticized his reaction to international turmoil and suggested the administration should be more assertive in addressing conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that Obama’s foreign policy is “in an absolute free fall.” He was reacting to the president’s comment last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for defeating the Islamic State, which has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded an American journalist.

Obama ordered limited airstrikes against the extremist group this month, but Rogers said the president passed up early opportunities to form a coalition with Arab League partners and address the organization’s emergence. “There have been plans on the table,” Rogers said. “The president just did not want to get engaged in any way.”

Several Democrats offered tempered criticism of the president’s policies, but they insisted that the United States should do more to influence the growing conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) suggested on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Obama has not been decisive enough in dealing with the Islamic State. “I think I've learned one thing about this president, and that is: He’s very cautious – maybe in this instance too cautious.”

Feinstein also suggested that the United States was caught off guard by the Islamic State’s rapid advances in Iraq. “I mean, they crossed the border into Iraq before we even knew it happened,” she said. “This is a group of people who are extraordinarily dangerous, and they’ll kill with abandon.”

Feinstein said Middle East countries should form a unified front against the Islamic State, saying nations such as Jordan and Lebanon are in jeopardy. “There is good reason for people to come together now and begin to approach this as a very real threat that it in fact is,” she said.

Another Democrat, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), described Russia’s alleged incursion into Ukraine as a “direct invasion,” applying a term that Obama notably refrained from using during his remarks about the situation last week.

“This is a direct invasion by Russia, and we must recognize it as that,” Menendez said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that “thousands of Russian troops are here with tanks, missiles, heavy artillery.”

The senator said Russian President Vladimir Putin has so far “sized up the West and figured that the most difficult sanctions against Russia and the weapons Ukranians need to defend themselves is not coming from the West.” He said the United States should begin providing “defensive weapons” for Ukraine.

Feinstein called for the United States to begin direct discussions with Putin, expressing doubt that recent sanctions will deter Russia once they start to impact that nation’s economy. “The Russians are very brave and very long-suffering, and they will tough out any economic difficulty,” she said.

Obama's former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, suggested on "Meet the Press" that finding a solution to the Russia-Ukraine tensions should not be difficult.

"I think it's easy," McFaul said. "This is not like other conflicts around the world. It would entail more decentralization in eastern Ukraine, the use of the Russian language, perhaps some international monitors there."

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger defended Obama's foreign policy posture on "State of the Union," saying in regard to the Middle East situation: "It's extremely urgent, but you just don't rush in because the media's talking about it. We will do what we have to do to protect us from [the Islamic State]."

Obama’s approach to dealing with the extremist group has achieved some level of success in recent weeks, with U.S. air strikes helping Iraqi forces liberate the town of Amerli on Sunday and also alleviating an earlier genocide threat against religious minorities who were trapped on Mount Sinjar.