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Fall of Ramadi Prompts New Questions About Obama's ISIL Strategy

McCain says Obama's "shameful" decision to pull troops from Iraq years ago led to the loss of Ramadi and the rise of ISIL. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle called for action from the White House after the Islamic State terror group's victory in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Al Anbar province.  

While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted Tuesday that President Barack Obama's leave-the-ground-fighting-to-locals strategy has been a success "overall," he hinted there could be tweaks after Ramadi. Lawmakers, meanwhile, ramped up their concerns about how the war they have yet to explicitly authorize is going.  

“Alarm bells should be going off” about the White House’s strategy, said Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligence Committee.  

Unsurprisingly, Republican hawks such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and likely presidential candidate Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are torching the president's handling of the war, with Graham on Monday calling for Obama to send 10,000 troops to help fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, and McCain agreeing with his buddy.  

McCain called Obama's decision to withdraw troops years ago "shameful" and said it was the cause of today's troubles.  

"Ramadi fell because of the president’s failure to leave a residual force behind, which is one of the most shameful acts in recent history," said McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said to reverse ISIL's gains, "that means more of most everything: more boots on the ground, more forward air controllers, more training, more equipping."  

McCain said Obama didn't have a strategy to win in Iraq and Syria.  

"What’s even more disgraceful is they’re basically papering over what is a significant and impactful loss of the capital of the Anbar Province," McCain said. "Now if it’s Shiite militias that come in, it’ll permanently estrange the Sunni population from Baghdad."  

But more boots on the ground would face certain resistance in Obama's own party.  

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., entirely dismissed the idea.  

"On the ground? U.S. [troops]?" asked Cardin, who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "No. That’s an easy no."  

Cardin said the fall of Ramadi is a "major concern," and said the president needed to work very closely with the Iraqis, to manage the Sunni/Shiite conflict.  

"It’s a sensitive issue between the Sunnis and the Shiites," Cardin said. "You’ve got to have confidence among the Sunnis that they can maintain control of their own areas."  

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., declined to offer suggestions to Obama, including whether to commit more troops. But Corker, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said the fall of Ramadi is evidence ISIL is more of a factor in Iraq than previously thought.  

"It’s very disappointing," Corker said of the Ramadi situation. "I was there not long ago and I know that the discussions at that moment were about Mosul, which is a much bigger undertaking. And I think it calls into question, a big question, whether there are the resources there to deal with what needs to be dealt with in Mosul."  

Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Ramadi situation was a "disgrace," but was also hesitant to urge more troops on the ground, and he said the U.S. needed a clear strategy first. But he said airstrikes alone were not working.  

Last week, reporters asked many of the candidates for president whether they thought going into Iraq initially was a mistake. But Cornyn suggested that question was the wrong one.  

"People are asking the candidates for president if it was a mistake to go into Iraq, but they should be asking the president of the United States, 'Why did you pull the plug on Iraq and squander the money and the lives of the people who fought to give the people of Iraq a chance?'" Cornyn said.  

But not everyone was convinced that Obama was taking the wrong approach. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said ISIL is constantly looking for areas to counterattack, "to disrupt momentum and to get headlines."  

Reed said while these types of events will be "constant over the next several months," the White House should stick to its approach and not add troops on the ground.  

"We should be committed to building up adequate Iraqi forces on the ground using air power we have," Reed said.  

Earlier Tuesday, on the other side of the Capitol, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the president should start over with a new strategy  and a new proposal for an Authorization for Use of Military Force to take on the terror group. Earnest dismissed that, saying Boehner, as well as other lawmakers in both parties had been “AWOL” on an AUMF against ISIL. He said Boehner has given “excuse after excuse” instead of doing his job and considering the AUMF.  

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., agreed with Earnest.  

“After ten months of the House avoiding the responsibility to even have any meaningful debate on the current war on [ISIS], the Speaker's plea for the President to submit a new authorization is clearly an admission that the House cannot initiate discussion of an issue of this magnitude," Kaine said in a statement.  

He suggested the Senate take it up instead.  

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