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Obama's delay on ISIS strategy leads to strange bedfellows

Politicians and pundits on the right initially rallied around the idea that the U.S. needs to be more aggressive militarily in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is wreaking havoc there.

But in the wake of President Obama's remark last week that "we don't have a strategy yet," there's a new twist: some with Republican ties are suggesting his deliberative approach to forming an ISIS strategy may have some validity to it.

"I do think it's important that...we not treat them as though they are 10-feet tall," the Washington Institute's Michael Singh said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday in response to a question about whether there's been an overestimation of ISIS' direct threat to the U.S.

"This is a threat that if we have the will, if we decide to do it, I think we can address," added Singh, whose background includes a stint at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.

The success of U.S. airstrikes in helping to recapture the Mosul Dam and a besieged Shiite Turkmen town from ISIS help "demonstrate that this is a group with vulnerabilities if we do get that right strategy together to take it on," Singh said.

Offering a voice of caution, and breaking from many of his GOP colleagues, is Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, who said Sunday there's "way too much emphasis on acting now and doing something immediately instead of being smart about what we do."

Despite the complaints over the president's remarks, Cole said on ABC that the basic strategy was already in place: air power, special operators, building alliances on the ground, and supplying and equipping the Iraqis and Syrians who share U.S. goals.

"Those things are there. They're tougher in Syria than they are in Iraq. We don't have any preexisting relationships there. But I think at the end, look, I think there's a consensus that we are going to do things," he said.

James Jeffrey, who was a deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush and an Ambassador to Iraq under Obama, echoed the idea that the president's plan to carry out airstrikes against ISIS announced in June does constitute a strategy, and said that Mr. Obama was carrying it out "not too badly."

"The problem that we have is that we have a president who does not understand that saying we do not have a strategy sends chills down the spine of everybody in the world," he said.

Jeffrey was critical of Democrats who say the U.S. should wait until there are solid coalitions in place, arguing that will only happen with robust U.S. action.

"If we don't lead and really lead hard, we're not going to get a coalition," he said. "What we have to do is get on with the work and when we do get on with the work it starts working for us."

Juan Zarate, CBS News's senior national security analyst, said that ISIS "isn't a group of invincibles that can't be defeated or repelled if we have the right strategy and approach - along with our allies who are willing to fight."

But in another example that party lines are beginning to disintegrate on both sides of the ISIS debate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, bucked many of her fellow Democrats when she said that Mr. Obama needs a much more aggressive response to ISIS, without hesitation, agreeing with an op-ed by two of the Senate's most vocal hawks, Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

"I think I've learned one thing about this president, and that is he's very cautious -- maybe in this instance too cautious," Feinstein said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There is good reason for people to come together now and begin to approach this as the very real threat that it in fact is."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for