Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) plans to give his response to President Obama’s full ISIS plan at a lunchtime speech tomorrow on the floor of the Senate.
More than two hours before Obama was scheduled to speak tonight, though, Graham said he would back authorizing under Title 10 the equipping and training of Syrian rebels through the Pentagon.
Administration officials led by top White House counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco were reportedly lobbying lawmakers on the Hill today to support the move.
“There are risks associated with any decision, but today the biggest risk is to continue on the current path of doing nothing. ISIL now poses a direct threat to the American people and homeland and must be vanquished,” Graham said in a statement.
“For over three years, brave people in Syria have been fighting against a brutal tyrant, Bashar al-Assad. Nearly 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives as Assad has unleashed his military on his own people. For three years, I have been calling to provide critical military assistance to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to stop the siege. Unfortunately, for three years, the president has rejected this strategy and Syria has descended further into chaos,” Graham continued.
“Seizing an opportunity, ISIL reconstituted itself from a diminished terrorist group in Iraq to become the largest, most well organized terrorist group on the planet, now headquartered in Syria. The ideal time to support the FSA was three years ago, at a time when it would have had the most return on investment.”
Graham added that it’s “clear to me the vast majority of Syrians don’t like Assad and sure don’t want to live under the thumb of ISIL.”
“It’s in our interests to support these Syrian opposition forces in their cause of defeating the ISIL terrorists who are reigning terror on them,” he said. “Therefore, if he makes the request tonight, I plan to support President Obama’s decision to allow the Department of Defense to take over training of the Syrian opposition in place of the CIA. I will also support funding requests for training and arming the Syrian opposition to enhance our chances of success.”
The administration has been reportedly training Free Syrian Army members at a camp in Jordan in a quiet CIA operation.
“Someone has to fight ISIL inside of Syria to keep America safe,” Graham said. “It is my hope that the House and Senate will support this request and provide the authorities and funding necessary to enhance our chances of success.”
“If we do not engage ISIL, the chances of being attacked here at home dramatically increase and I’d rather have willing Syrians do the fighting than have America go it alone.”
Shahid Hamid of the Brookings Institution tweeted that the original $500 million plan “could likely train only less than [a] single brigade of fighters over an 18-month period.”
“So key thing to watch for is whether Obama *explicitly* commits to more than the original $500 million for training/equipping Syrian rebels,” Hamid continued. “If Obama doesn’t commit to anything beyond the $500 million for Syrian rebels, that should be clear enough confirmation we’re not serious.”
The White House released a couple of excerpts from Obama’s address early.
“Tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” Obama will say, according to prepared remarks.
“But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”