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McCain: Obama Assertion on ISIS 'Embarrassing'

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain criticized President Barack Obama’s defiant defense of the administration's strategy to combat the Islamic State terror group.  

Speaker with reporters Tuesday, the Arizona Republican took umbrage with Obama’s assertion that GOP hawks have failed to offer an alternative plan for fighting the violent extremist groups. He also said building the Arab ground force he envisions is possible as long as Obama pledges to help it take down Syrian President Bashar Assad. “It was an embarrassing performance by the leader of the free world yesterday,” McCain said.  

In remarks Monday at the conclusion of the G20 summit in Turkey, Obama claimed his counter-ISIS strategy “is working” and charged his critics with trying to score political points from the Paris attacks. As commander-in-chief, he said, he “cannot afford to play the same political games.”  

“It’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later,” Obama said. “It’s important for us to get the strategy right, and the strategy we’re pursuing is the right one.”  

McCain, whom Obama defeated in the 2008 election, bluntly called the president’s assertion that others have not put forth alternatives to counter ISIS “an outright lie.” He and 2016 White House hopeful Lindsey Graham, among others, have proposed options such as “safe zones” in Syria to help train rebel forces there, McCain said.  

Another part of the plan pushed by McCain and other Republican hawks is to build a force composed of several Arab countries with the goal of assisting rebel forces in the country’s years-old civil war.  

When asked by CQ Roll Call why such an Arab-only force is not already fighting the Syrian strongman’s military, McCain said, “Because we will not go after Bashar al-Assad."  

“The reason why the Turks won’t do it is because we have said, ‘ISIS only,’” McCain said. “Assad is the one who has killed 240,000 people. Assad is the one who’s caused the refugee crisis.”  

Obama and some of his top foreign policy advisers have argued toppling Middle Eastern leaders with military force is unwise largely because, in many cases, it is unclear if a functioning government would fill the subsequent power vacuum.  

Is there a post-Assad plan locked in a top-secret safe in Washington or an Arab capital?  

“There can be,” McCain said. “But first, you’ve got to get rid of him.”  

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