MILWAUKEE — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan blamed the Obama administration Tuesday for contributing to the circumstances that led to the swift ascent of the Islamic State, a militant group that purportedly beheaded a second American journalist in two weeks.
Ryan had been taking questions from a panel of reporters during a Milwaukee luncheon when he was asked to respond to a news report that journalist Steven Sotloff had been beheaded. The congressman asked the several hundred people in the audience to observe a moment of silence, and then suggested that the Islamic State’s rise to power coincided with a series of Obama missteps.
“I do think a good deal of this rise stem(s) from bad decisions made by the administration in foreign policy with respect to Syria and Iraq,” Ryan said, adding, “Those decisions created a vacuum which is now being filled by ISIS,” a reference to the Islamic State.
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Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee and was the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential candidate, is better known for focusing on budget issues and domestic policy than on foreign affairs. But he said he reads intelligence reports and has been getting regular briefings about the Islamic State.
Ryan noted that the Sotloff tragedy especially hit home because James Foley, the other executed journalist, graduated from Marquette University a few miles away.
The Islamic State group has taken over a third of Syria and Iraq. It has terrorized rivals and civilians alike with widely publicized brutality as it seeks to expand a proto-state it has carved out on both sides of the border.
In its rise to prominence over the past year, the extremist group has frequently published graphic photos and gruesome videos of everything from bombings and beheadings to mass killings.
In Tuesday’s video, the authenticity of which The Associated Press could not immediately verify, a fighter says Sotloff was beheaded as retribution for Obama’s continued airstrikes against the group in Iraq.
Ryan said the U.S. needs a decisive campaign to “finish off” the Islamic State, warning that “if we don’t do it here and now, it will come to get us.”
He said he wasn’t trying to be a scaremonger, but he worried that Obama doesn’t recognize the severity of the threat.
Ryan also attacked Obama for comments the president made at a news conference last week. Obama, apparently trying to suggest that he’d take a measured approach to deciding on a U.S. military response rather than make a quick decision, said, “we don’t have a strategy yet,” for targeting the militant group.
“If he was going to announce that he doesn’t have a strategy, don’t telegraph it to the rest of the world,” Ryan said.
DINESH RAMDE, Associated Press