Republicans on Wednesday slammed the stark contrast in responses by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to the second beheading of an American journalist by the Islamic State (ISIS), charging that it further proved the administration lacked a strategy for battling the terrorist group.
In Estonia, Obama said the United States would seek to diminish ISIS to "a manageable problem" after the beheading of two American journalists, while Biden declared in New Hampshire that "we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice."
"These blatant inconsistencies further underscore this administration's admitted failure to have a coordinated plan or stated objective to combat ISIS," Ohio Rep. Michael Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Newsmax.
"The Obama administration has continually made conflicting statements as to whether or not even they see ISIS as a threat to the West or the United States," Turner said. "The president continues to waffle on what the threat is and how to approach it, making it incredibly difficult to galvanize the American public, and certainly Congress, without a plan.
"You can't manage terrorists, only defeat them," Turner said.
"We shouldn't be trying to contain or manage ISIS," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters at the University of Houston. "We should be using overwhelming airstrikes to take them out now, while they're vulnerable, while they're extended.
"Before they consolidate power, before they consolidate billions of dollars of oil revenue and use those resources to launch terror attacks to murder Americans here at home," Cruz said. "Now is the time, and what is missing is what's been missing for six years: presidential leadership."
Former House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax that "what I am hoping I'm seeing is a difference in style and not a difference in content."
"I'll give the administration the benefit of the doubt here and just say that it's a matter of style and not content," he added. "I personally am more comfortable with the rhetoric from the vice president. It is what I would like to hear the president saying.
"I'd like to see a little bit more urgency" from the president, Hoekstra said.
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIL, broadcast a video of journalist Steven Sotloff's murder on Tuesday in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. The posting came two weeks after one showing journalist James Foley's beheading.
U.S. and British officials examined the Sotloff video, which shows the same British-accented executioner as in the earlier beheading, and concluded it was authentic.
The United States resumed airstrikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the pullout of U.S. troops in 2011, and Obama has said the strikes are already proving effective.
Sotloff appeared at the end of the Foley video, which was posted on Aug. 19.
Foley, 40, was from Rochester, N.H., and Sotloff, who was 31 and from Miami, attended school in New Hampshire. Biden spoke
at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in the Granite State.
"We take care of those who are grieving, and when that's finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice," Biden said. "Because hell is where they'll reside."
Biden had used "gates of hell" before, however, invoking it in an October 2012 vice presidential debate when talking about the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
By contrast, Obama
— who came under intense pressure for admitting last week that "we don't have a strategy yet" to deal with the Islamic State in Syria — said in Estonia that "our objective is clear and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States.
"Whatever these murderers think they will achieve with killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed," Obama said. "They failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated."
But when Obama was asked about a specific strategy, he backtracked on his earlier remarks.
"We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL's sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its military capability to the point where it is a manageable problem
," he said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sought to clarify Obama's remarks in an interview with CNN.
"This is the point the president was making: You've got to destroy it. Because if we don't destroy it, it will get worse, and it will get deeper."
When pressed for a strategy, however, Hagel was not specific.
"I know this ... about this president, this vice president ... We will do everything possible that we can do to destroy their capacity to inflict harm on our people and Western values and our interests," he said.
Obama is sending Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, and counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco to the Middle East this week to work with regional partners on ways to battle the Islamic State group.
Republicans attacked the statements, saying the inconsistencies pointed to the lack of a White House plan for defeating the Islamic State group.
"The United States must destroy ISIL now so that this dangerous terrorist organization cannot continue to carry out attacks against Americans or on American soil," said Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"That's why I'm extremely disappointed in the president's comments today indicating his goal to make ISIL a 'manageable problem.'
"His statements and mixed messages failed to show the strong leadership and clear strategy needed to eliminate ISIL as a growing threat to the West," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox Business Network
that he agreed with Biden's comments.
"I think the vice president's got it right," the Kentucky senator said. "The two beheadings of American journalists, in case we had any doubts, ought to convince us they want to kill us. They're already killing us. And they have to be stopped."
He called on Obama to "come up with a strategy, present it to Congress, address the American people, and tell us how he believes we should stop them.
"This is not, in my view, a manageable situation," McConnell said. "They want to kill us."
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Islamic State group was "clearly prepared to perpetrate contemptible boundaries that are unacceptable to Americans, and hopefully all civilized worlds."
"Terrorists who behead Americans are not 'manageable,'" he said. "They must be stopped, and we need President Obama to communicate a clear strategy and goals on how he plans to eliminate this threat."
At the University of Houston, Cruz called ISIS "bullies" and likened them to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his recent incursion into Ukraine.
"If there's one principle that has been true over time, it's that bullies and tyrants don't respect weakness," Cruz said. "Appeasement doesn't work.
"Part of the reason ISIS believes they can push the United States around is the same reason President Putin in Russia believes he can push the United States around," he added. "Because for six years under President Obama, America has receded from leadership in the world, that has created a vacuum, and into that vacuum have stepped in bullies, tyrants, like Russia, like Iran, like China.
"The only way to deal with terrorists like ISIS is with clear, unambiguous force," Cruz said. "And unfortunately, President Obama has been unwilling to act decisively to defend this nation."
In his Newsmax interview, Hoekstra pointed to the realities of the comments by both Obama and Biden.
"With the president saying 'manageable,' what he's maybe doing is being a little more realistic in saying 'we can do whatever we want, but to eliminate this, this is going to last well beyond my presidency. I can't eliminate this in the next 28 months, but I can sure put us on the path to confronting it and containing it.'
"I believe the threat is real," Hoekstra added. "The thing is, the president has the bigger microphone. People are going to pay more attention to what the president says than what the vice president says.
"I want the president articulating a message that's educating the American people about the real threat that the Islamic State poses to America and why we have to engage it and why we have to defeat it."
Hoekstra, who served eight terms in the House of Representatives before stepping down to run unsuccessfully for Michigan governor in 2010, noted that Biden had more foreign policy experience, having been chairman and a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"Biden does have the experience of living through 9/11 in Washington and through some of the other horrendous actions, while the president was not in Washington. It's a difference of background, experiences and style that I think is what generates this disconnect.
"When you speak with the kind of clarity of the vice president, and the language he is using, it's easier to get other people to follow and align with you," Hoekstra added. "The vice president is talented, and he does have a lot of background in this area."
Biden, 71, is considering a White House run in 2016. Hoekstra chuckled at the suggestion that the vice president may be sowing the seeds for a possible bid.
"Let's get through 2014," he told Newsmax. "Let's deal with this threat.
"I'm hoping that one thing this president and vice president can do before they leave office is to give us a bipartisan, long-term strategy to contain and defeat the Islamic State."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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