Sen. Tom Cotton Wednesday slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin on reports of airstrikes in Syria, accusing him of protecting President Bashar al-Assad — not destroying the Islamic State.
"Putin's defense of the Butcher of Damascus has begun," the Arkansas Republican said. "This is not an offensive to defeat ISIS, but a naked effort by one dictator to protect another and crush moderate Syrian opposition forces.
"Putin has this opening because of the absence of any U.S. strategy in Syria," Cotton said. "The U.S. must reject Russia's interference and rally our partners to do the same."
The Russian president took his biggest step in the Middle East since first elected in 2012 by authorizing airstrikes that hit targets in Syria, while telling the U.S. air force to steer clear while its warplanes carried out his orders.
Moscow's assertion that it had attacked Islamic State terrorists was immediately challenged by Washington and by rebel sources in Syria.
A U.S. official said Moscow gave Washington just an hour's notice of the strikes, which the Kremlin said were designed to help Assad, its closest regional ally, push back Islamist militants.
Notice of the attack came from a Russian official in Baghdad who asked the U.S. air force to avoid Syrian airspace during the mission, said State Department spokesman John Kirby
Other Republicans on Capitol Hill also attacked Putin's move and charged it to President Barack Obama's feckless foreign policy and weak strategy to defeat the Islamic State.
"It appears that we have stepped back in time," said Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. "This troublesome move along with the ongoing humanitarian disaster is the worst case in an already bad scenario.
"President Obama's failure to fight ISIS directly and his failure to enforce the redline he drew have created a political and military vacuum that Russia is filling. With the knowledge that the Russians are targeting the Free Syrian Army rather than ISIS, there is no doubt that Putin’s ultimate goal is to aid the brutal Assad regime and establish a beachhead in the Middle East.
"In the absence of American leadership, chaos, violence, death, poverty follows suit," Kinzinger added. "What we're seeing in the Middle East is a lack of American leadership and a situation spun out of control."
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