Senator John McCain on Sunday attacked the president for citing climate change as a threat to national security, suggesting that the Obama administration’s focus on environmental issues was detracting from the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
The comments by the Senate armed services committee chairman were part of a rotating blame game over the Memorial Day weekend about who is responsible for recent gains by Isis fighters, who last week took control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and the Iraqi city of Ramadi.
“There is no strategy, and anybody who says there is, I’d like to hear what it is,” McCain said, appearing on CBS News. “Because it certainly isn’t apparent. Right now we are seeing these horrible reports , in Palmyra, they’re executing people and leaving their bodies in the streets.
“Meanwhile the president of the United States is saying that the biggest problem we have is climate change.”
In a commencement address at the US Coast Guard Academy last week, President Barack Obama said climate change posed an “immediate risk”.
“I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security,” Obama said. “An immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act, and we need to act now.”
On Sunday the US defense secretary, Ash Carter, blamed the fall of Ramadi , in Anbar province west of Baghdad, not on a lack of American commitment but on Iraqi forces, who he said lack the “will to fight”.
“What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter told CNN. “They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [Isis] and defend themselves.”
Carter’s comments were rejected by one Iraqi lawmaker. Hakim al-Zamili, the head of Iraq’s parliamentary defense and security committee, called Carter’s comments “unrealistic and baseless” and said the US had failed to provide “good equipment, weapons and aerial support”.
Zamili said the US military was seeking to “throw the blame on somebody else”.
US and allied planes conducted 17 air strikes in Iraq and 11 in Syria since Saturday, a US military statement said. The strikes in Iraq included four near Ramadi. In Syria, strikes hit Isis positions near Kobani and Al Hasakah.
McCain called for a broad escalation of the US military effort.
“We need to have a robust strategy,” he said. “We need to have more troops on the ground. We need forward air controllers … We need to have special forces. We need to have more of those kind of raids that have had some success, into Syria.”
Last weekend, US special forces raided eastern Syria . The Pentagon said the raid killed Abu Sayyaf, who it said was an instrumental figure in black market oil smuggling. Iraqi officials said the man’s real name was Nabil Saddiq Abu Saleh al-Jabouri. US troops also captured the man’s wife and flew her to a base in Iraq .
Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger, a former air force pilot and major in the air national guard, echoed McCain’s call for additional ground troops.
“We’re not really engaged in this fight,” Kinzinger said , on CNN. “This is a cancer that’s growing in the Middle East. This is now a house on fire in a densely packed neighborhood, where it’s going to extend to other places.”
McCain rejected the notion that war-weary Americans would not support a broad new war in the Middle East.
“There is a larger number of Americans that believe that we ought to have more American troops on the ground,” he said.
A Quinnipiac poll published in March of 1,286 registered voters nationwide seemed to support that contention, finding that Americans back sending ground troops to fight Isis in Iraq and Syria by a large 62-30 majority.