Republicans slammed President Barack Obama Thursday over the swift upheaval in Iraq, charging that his decision to withdraw troops in late 2011 had enabled violent Islamic militants to seize two cities in a move to establish their own state in Iraq and Syria.
"It was something that was avoidable," Sen. Jim Inhofe told Newsmax in an interview. The Oklahoma senator was among several member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to blast Obama for the insurgence of Sunni fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
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The group beat back government forces in Mosul and Tikrit and was within 60 miles of Baghdad late Thursday.
"It was something that we warned the president about over a three-year period," Inhofe said, referencing letters Republicans sent to Obama in 2009, 2010, and last year. "Now, it's worse than it was before. It's very depressing.
"One of the most dangerous battlegrounds during the Iraq war was Fallujah," Inhofe said. "To lose that, after they spent their blood to gain it — this is an America that I have never known before."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who also sits on the panel, said Obama has to make changes in his foreign policy team. "The first thing is to get rid of this national security team, which has been a total failure," Politico reports
. "It’s a colossal failure of American security policy."
Another committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham warned that the U.S. needed to get all embassy staff out of Iraq for fear of a repeat of the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including two former Navy SEALS.
"We’ve got another Benghazi in the making here," the South Carolina senator told Politico
after a classified briefing committee members received from the White House. "What I heard in there scared the hell out of me."
And House Speaker John Boehner charged that Obama was caught "taking a nap" on Iraq despite the Republican warnings, particularly in the last year.
"It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year," Boehner said. "And it’s not like we haven’t seen, over the last five or six months, these terrorists moving in and taking control of western Iraq.
"Now, they’ve taken control of Mosul. They’re 100 miles from Baghdad. And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap."
Since Tuesday, ISIS militants have seized Mosul and Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and other towns and cities north of Baghdad. The Iraqi army evaporated before the onslaught, abandoning bases and weapons that were provided by the U.S.
Security and police sources said Sunni militants now controlled parts of the town of Udhaim, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, after most of the army troops left their positions.
President Obama, who announced in October 2011 that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq, said on Thursday that the administration would need to help Baghdad to counter the escalating violence.
He was not more specific, however.
"We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria for that matter," he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have repeatedly asked the White House for additional support in the past year because of the rising jihadist violence, but the administration has taken no action.
The Iraq War lasted from March 2003 to December 2011. It included the toppling of the ruling Ba'ath Party by American-led forces and Saddam's eventual capture and execution. A total of 4,486 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict.
In 2004, two battles were fought in Fallujah. The second one, in November, was the bloodiest. Coalition forces won the 46-day battle, but 95 U.S. soldiers died along with about 1,350 insurgents. The city, west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River, was destroyed in the fighting.
The current Iraqi violence led 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to cite Baghdad as yet another example of President Obama's inept foreign policy.
"His foreign policy is what has led to these foreign crises all over the world," the 2012 challenger told Fox News
. "Try to recapture the lead and keeping these things from happening is going to be a real challenge.
"This is the result of the president’s missteps over the last several years," Romney said.
Several Democrats also called for a strong White House response to the crisis.
"The way we ought to do this here in Washington is that the president should put a plan on the table and make a suggestion to Congress about what we should do," Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine told MSNBC
. He also sits on the armed services panel.
"The administration has not provided any plan or a suggestion, although they are deeply and constantly engaged now within the United States and with allies to determine what that should be," Kaine added. "They need to come forward with a proposal and bring it to Congress and then let us debate about what we should do."
Graham said U.S. airstrikes were critical to stopping the insurgents.
"There is no scenario where we can stop the bleeding in Iraq without American air power," he said, according to The Hill
. "If American airpower is not interjected into the equation, I don’t see how you stop these people."
But Inhofe told Newsmax that Obama has so depleted the nation's military since taking office that the U.S. probably could not help Iraq on that front.
"Part of our strength is airpower. We don’t have that anymore," he said. "We have a lot of problems right now in terms of our ability just to defend America, leave alone to take care of our allies and the freedom fighters around the world.
"Obama is the commander in chief," Inhofe continued. "He does not have the best interest of America in his actions."
Further, ISIS "are really extreme terrorists," the senator said. "They're so extreme that they are criticized by al-Qaida.
"They're just not a bunch of terrorists out there trying to kill people. They are extremists — and they are the ones out there who are professionally trained. The Iraqis are fighting different people than they were before."
The Iraqi turmoil led Sen. Kelly Ayotte to question the wisdom of Obama's plans to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2016.
"The president’s announcement exactly when we’re going to withdraw from Afghanistan — instead of making it based on conditions on the ground — to tell the Taliban, is a mistake," the New Hampshire Republican, also an armed services committee member, told Politico
. "I would hope that the president would take some of the lessons that we’re seeing happening in Iraq and not repeat them in Afghanistan."
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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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