A day after the ISIS extremist group released a filmed execution of an American journalist, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker blamed ineffective U.S. foreign policy for helping create a power vacuum in Syria and Iraq and said President Barack Obama needs a clear objective in the Middle East.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria on Tuesday posted an Internet video of a masked man using a knife to cut off the head of American journalist James Foley, who was captured in Syria in November 2012. The group also threatened to kill freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, who has been missing for a year.
Corker, Tennessee's junior senator and a former Chattanooga mayor, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said the Obama administration needs an objective -- and that any plan the president comes up with should "cause ISIS to not exist."
Speaking with Times Free Press editors and reporters Wednesday, Corker said U.S. humanitarian aid in the region should continue, but Americans also should offer support to the Iraqi military in the form of airstrikes and drone attacks.
But he stopped short of saying American troops should be redeployed to the region. He said the "best-case scenario" is for the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces to band together and fight off invading militants spilling into Iraq from Syria.
Recent success by Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces at the Mosul Dam in Iraq might be the start of the two groups working together, he said -- despite news reports of infighting after the victory over which group played the largest role.
"I hope that this is the thing for that country to make them realize they have to do something or they won't have a country," Corker said.
Corker said he supported Obama's decision to keep Iraq at arm's length until former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was replaced. Iraq chose Haider al-Abadi, another Shiite Muslim, as its new leader this week.
But Corker criticized Obama for not putting strict sanctions in place in the early days of the Syrian civil war against Bashar al-Assad's regime.
He said the U.S. postured and pushed for Syrians to rebel against Assad, then left them high and dry when the fighting started.
With the Syrian rebels outgunned and undertrained, ISIS -- an offshoot of al-Qaida -- had an opportunity to move in.
Corker said the U.S. didn't follow through with harsh sanctions against the Syrian government, and instead let Russian President Vladimir Putin take the lead in brokering the interchange.
"We basically jumped in Putin's lap on that one," he said.
The power vacuums left in Syria and Iraq created "a magnet for jihadists" in Syria, Corker said, which allowed ISIS to gain ground quickly.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at email@example.com or 423-757-6481.