Republicans supported President Barack Obama's pledge on Wednesday to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State (ISIS), but slammed his speech to the American people for lacking specifics on how to eliminate the terrorist group that beheaded two U.S. journalists.
"A speech is not the same thing as a strategy," said House Speaker John Boehner. "While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which the president intends to act."
The Ohio Republican added that he was concerned that Obama "appears to view the effort against [ISIS] as an isolated counterterrorism campaign, rather than as what it must be: an all-out effort to destroy an enemy that has declared a holy war against America and the principles for which we stand."
"Obama is a great speech-giver," Rep. Matt Salmon told Newsmax. "It's the follow-through I have problems with.
"There's a lot of cynicism out there," the Arizona Republican said. "We all believe that it is a top priority to completely eradicate any threat from ISIS and do whatever it takes, but a lot of us are very, very sick and tired of the speeches that don't really translate into any real meaningful action."
New York GOP Rep. Peter King praised Obama for developing "a strategy to defeat ISIS, but I'm disappointed that he continues to say what he's not going to do.
"It's the right goal, but he gets too defensive by saying that he's not going to use combat troops," King told Newsmax. "I also felt that his heart wasn't really in it."
In a prime-time speech from the Pentagon
, Obama declared that the United States would "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State in an effort that would rely heavily on expanded airstrikes in Iraq — and into Syria for the first time — but that would not require U.S. combat troops on the ground in either Iraq or Syria.
"Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy," Obama said in a speech lasting just under 15 minutes.
While adamantly ruling out any possibility of sending American troops into combat, Obama said he would send nearly 500 more soldiers to Baghdad to aid the country's besieged security forces.
Obama also called on Congress to authorize a program to train and arm rebels in Syria who are fighting both the Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Saudi Arabia, a crucial U.S. ally in the Middle East, offered to host the training missions, part of Obama's effort to persuade other nations to join with the United States in confronting the militants.
"This is not our fight alone," Obama said. "American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region."
The United States began airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq in August, though many Republicans and other critics called for bombing Syria, from where the group launched its terrorist effort to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.
The Islamic State recently beheaded two American journalists, James Foley, 40, of Rochester, N.H., and Steven Sotloff, 31, of Miami. Their executions were posted on the Internet.
Obama's speech came one day before the nation marks the anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks that sent the United States into war against Iraq and Afghanistan 13 years ago, and of the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens and two former Navy SEALs, at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.
The address also came amid testimony from U.S. intelligence officials
on Capitol Hill that Islamic State militants have discussed infiltrating the country through the Mexico border, where thousands of illegal immigrants have been apprehended since late last year in anticipation of comprehensive reform.
But Republicans charged that Obama's speech was simply too vague and too late.
"The president has been operating from a leadership deficit on how to deal with this threat," said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. "That's left a lot of uncertainty among the American people, as they see the ruthless acts of terror carried out by these extremists.
"The time for delay and indecision has passed," Grassley said.
"It was like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again," Florida Rep. John Mica said.
"This should've been done months ago as they gained strength," he told Newsmax, referring to ISIS. "I consider this one of the greatest intelligence failures since 9/11.
"Now, it's sort of a catch-up game, and the president has finally realized the threat that ISIS poses," Mica said.
Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino said "the president's very bad polls changed his rhetoric, though I'm not sure that the very bad polls changed his mind, based on what he said. It remains to be seen if he follows through.
"The speech was nothing beyond what I expected," Marino said.
Texas Rep. Lamar Smith said Obama's speech made it clear "the president has greatly underestimated ISIS, just as he underestimated that terrorist groups would be emboldened by the accelerated removal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
"We have heard strong words before, but words alone are not enough," Smith said.
Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn said that Obama "didn't speak to our allies, and he didn't define the coalition."
She told CNN that she wanted the president to seek authorization for the airstrikes from Congress and be very aggressive about them — "not go at it halfway."
In his Newsmax interview, King said that he did not expect Obama to fully detail his plans for the Islamic State because "whatever he says, the enemy is going to hear" — but he is most concerned about his plans for increased airstrikes.
"I wish he had emphasized it more. And as the policy is carried out, I hope that these are not isolated attacks," he said. "Instead, they are massive, sustained, deadly, brutal air attacks against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria, without the president having to apologize for it or explain it or do it again.
"We're at war with ISIS," King said. "We have to destroy them — and that's that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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