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WASHINGTON — Republicans keep slamming President Obama’s push to move the government away from a war footing and refine and recalibrate counterterrorism strategy.
Capitol Hill Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina say Obama is projecting weakness at a time when the United States needs to show resolve against terror networks like al-Qaida.
The South Carolina Republican said Sunday that “at a time when we need resolve the most, we’re sounding retreat.”
Obama gave a major speech Thursday in which he said al-Qaida is “on the path to defeat” and he’s signaling that he’s reluctant to commit troops overseas to conflicts like Syria or other countries struggling with instability in the uncertain aftermath of the Arab Spring. He’s also modifying policies on the use of unmanned drone aircraft to try to limit civilian casualties and is redoubling his longstanding — but so far unfulfilled — promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where many terrorism suspects are being held without formal charges.
Obama is trying to recast the image of terrorists from enemy warriors to cowardly thugs and move the United States away a state of perpetual war.
But Graham said Obama is displaying a “lack of resolve” despite a slew of concerns in the Middle East, including civil war and chemical weapons in Syria and threats to Israel from Syria’s unrest and Iran’s nuclear program.
“We show this lack of resolve, talking about the war being over,” Graham said. “What do you think the Iranians are thinking? At the end of the day, this is the most tone-deaf president I ever could imagine.”
“I see a big difference between the president saying the war’s at an end and whether or not you’ve won the war,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “We can claim that it’s at an end, but this war’s going to continue. And we have still tremendous threats out there, that are building, not declining, building, and to not recognize that, I think, is dangerous in the long run and dangerous for the world.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., defended the president, reprising Obama’s theme that maintaining a wartime posture runs the risk of compromising U.S. principles.
“If we’re constantly thinking of this as a war, we stand a chance of doing things that compromise our freedoms,” Durbin said.
Obama ally Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that “having transparency, having rules and engaging other activities other than military to help curb the war on terror — diplomacy, economic sanctions and things like that — is going to be useful as well. So I think the president did a very, very smart pivot, realizing we’re not going to let up on terrorists, but at the same time we’re going to meet the changes in the world.”
Graham and Durbin spoke on “Fox News Sunday.” Schumer and Coburn spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”