U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Republican Senate hopeful Thom Tillis blasted President Barack Obama on Friday for ruling out the use of American troops in the fight against the Islamic State.
Tillis, who faces Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in one of the nation’s highest profile Senate races, also accused Obama and Hagan of helping give rise to the militant group by their “inaction and appeasement.”
Tillis said he’s made no decision on troop commitments. But he called it “an utter mistake for the president of the United States and Sen. Hagan to publicly announce what they’re not prepared to do.”
Speaking at Charlotte’s Omni Hotel after an earlier fundraiser for Tillis’ campaign, Tillis and Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, addressed reporters about the foreign threat that has jumped to the top of America’s global concerns.
The two downplayed their differences over the Middle East.
Graham, along with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was one of the earliest advocates of arming moderate Syrian rebels and has continued to be among the most vocal.
Tillis has said the U.S. doesn’t know enough about who the moderate rebels are and whether it’s a good idea to arm them.
“I actually don’t know if we should or shouldn’t,” Tillis said this week. “I would have to know that these arms would not get in the hands of people who would want to take over the Middle East.”
Asked about the differences, Tillis said, “it’s not a matter of disagreement.”
“It’s a matter of having an independent thought, something that Sen. Hagan hasn’t had 96 percent of the time. ... Based on the information I have today, we don’t have a disagreement; we’re just at different places in the decision process.”
Tillis was alluding to the percentage of votes Hagan has cast in support of Obama positions, a frequent refrain in TV ads.
For his part, Graham said he’s happy to have someone disagree.
“Having a senator who will say to Lindsey Graham, ‘I don’t know if you’re right, senator; I’ll make up my own mind,’ is music to my ears,” Graham said.
Last week Hagan joined Graham and a bi-partisan coalition of senators in authorizing Syrian airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. On Thursday she said she supports the military airstrikes in Syria but thinks Congress needs to approve any further escalation.
“Kay has been clear, she supports targeted air strikes to eradicate the terrorists and has consistently advocated for arming the rebels as Sen. Graham has, but Speaker Tillis still does not know where he stands on ISIS,” Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said Friday. “It’s clear Speaker Tillis isn’t prepared to make the necessary decisions to protect our national security and destroy terrorism around the globe.”
Tillis blamed Obama and Hagan for not doing more to stem the rise of the Islamic State, though he offered no specifics.
“Much of what we’re dealing with right now is the president, Kay Hagan and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid trying to find a solution to a problem that they largely created through their inaction and appeasement over the last five years, six years,” he said.
Obama has pledged not to get the United States into another ground war in the Middle East. But Graham said an air campaign alone will not destroy the Islamic State.
“We do not need a 100,000-person invasion of Syria,” he said. “I believe with all my heart that to successfully disgorge ISIL from Syria, any Arab army we create will have to have substantial American support to be successful. That means intelligence, logistics, air support and special forces.”
“This is the last best chance we’ll have to put these guys in a box and shut it.”
Asked how many American troops he would inject in the conflict, Graham said he would leave that to the generals.
“When you talk about no troops on the ground, you’re taking the option off the table that may lead to victory or result in failure,” he said. “As to the numbers, let the military tell us.”
Graham dismissed any efforts by Hagan, his colleague on the Armed Services Committee.
“I like Kay Hagan, but I can tell you this,” he said. “When it comes to combating radical Islam and understanding the rise of ISIL she has missed it. She has missed it by a country mile and so has Harry Reid.”