National Security

South Carolina pols don’t think much of Obama’s war plan

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in Washington, D.C. Sept. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in Washington, D.C. Sept. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) AP

South Carolina’s Republican delegation is skeptical of the president’s plan to combat the Islamic State, and many say the commander-in-chief’s hastily announced strategy to arm moderate Syrian rebel groups needs to be reconsidered.

The issue is an important one for South Carolina, which is home to six major military bases, including one of the country’s largest, Shaw Air Force Base. Housing both Army Central Command and the Air Force’s Central Command, much of the military logistics for the administration’s ISIS strategy will be decided in the Palmetto State.

But despite an apparent consensus among lawmakers that something should be done to combat ISIS, many South Carolina politicians say the strategy seems ill-conceived, and the Obama Administration needs to more clearly define the true threat it believes the group poses.

“I cannot fathom that this is the best plan, that this is even a good plan. It’s almost detached from reality,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Rock Hill, SC. “You can’t say on one hand that (ISIS) are a threat and then that we aren’t going to use our own military power. I’m lost as to what the administration really thinks (ISIS) is.”

Several of Mulvaney‘s House colleagues share his worry about the government’s intention to arm and train moderate Syrian rebel forces, including the Free Syrian Army.

“I do have concerns in that the president, a year ago was saying that we need to attack the Syrian Assad regime and help the rebels… ISIS was part of the rebel group last year that we were talking about,” said Rep. Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach, SC. “I think we need to be very careful about who we’re aligning ourselves with.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, SC, agreed.

“ISIS is a threat warranting an immediate and overwhelming response, but I have concerns if subcontracting the work out to Syrian rebels is in our national interest,” he said in a statement.

In a posting on Facebook, Rep. Mark Sanford of Charleston, SC, wrote: “I think we should all be skeptical of funding so-called “moderate” rebels when the history of these groups has been anything but moderate. There is no deep-seeded American bias in their perspective, and in many cases, a history of anything but shared philosophies or even common enemies,” .

Sen. Lindsey Graham has pushed for arming moderate Syrian rebels for years. He and fellow Senate Republican John McCain of Arizona in floor speech last week following the president’s Wednesday evening address, slamming President Barack Obama for underestimating how difficult it could be to destroy ISIS. The notion of no U.S. combat boots on the ground, they said, is naïve.

“There is no way in hell we are going to beat these guys without an American ground component in Iraq and Syria . . . you don’t need the 82nd Airborne, but we’re going to need thousands of troops over time on the ground,” Graham said last week.

That sentiment, though, isn’t shared by all of Graham’s fellow South Carolinian legislators.

“We already have boots on the ground. If it was up to me, we would absolutely minimize any people that we have on the ground there in the first place. Our military has borne the brunt of this fight for decades now,” said Rice, the architect of the GOP’s lawsuit against the Obama Administration.

The lawsuit, which accuses the president of overstepping his constitutional authority by way of executive actions, has particular relevance now as Congress debates over whether the White House even needs its approval to go to war with ISIS.

Lawmakers are split over whether the president has the authority to wage the recently announced war with ISIS without their approval. Graham has said he believes Obama doesn’t have to come to Congress, but several members of the delegation, including Rice and Sanford, have said they believe he does.

The House is expected to vote on an amendment this week that would allow the administration to arm and train moderate Syrian rebel groups.

Even if the vote passes, though, Mulvaney said the rush to get the plan out the door doesn’t bode well for perception.

“There was no planning,” he said of the suddenly announced strategy. “It speaks to a complete lack of understanding of what’s going on.”

South Carolina’s sole Democrat in Congress, Rep. James Clyburn, supports the president’s ISIS plan. “I agree, and will support that.”