Is it too risky for the U.S. to bomb ISIS inside Syria right now?

As President Obama contemplates the use of military force to defeat Islamic militants in Syria, Congress is still divided on the question.

Two Republican lawmakers said Sunday on "Face the Nation" that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL) requires a quick and forceful U.S. response - including possible airstrikes - the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee warned that the region's geopolitics mean the first step must be to build support for defeating the group.

"We do not want to come into Syria now on the side of [President Bashar] Assad. We have got to find other folks, the Free Syria Movement, to work with," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation." "If we go in and appear to be choosing whether Assad's side or the Shia side in a civil war (should win), then we simply drive more Sunnis into the arms of ISIS."

Smith said the U.S. first needs to make sure that moderate Sunnis oppose ISIS, which represents a much more radical strain of Sunni Islam. That will require building a coalition in the Middle East, he said, including potential allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia that had been funding militant groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra but now see what a threat it is to the region. It also means the U.S. must insist that the new Shia government in Iraq brings marginalized Sunnis into the fold.

"Building that coalition is not an excuse for not doing military action, it is making sure that that military action is effective," Smith said. "We can't simply bomb first and ask questions later. We have to have the right targets and the right support in order to be effective in stopping ISIS instead of uniting Sunnis around them."

But two Republicans say that hesitating in the fight against ISIS will only allow the militants to grow stronger.

"We can't wait forever, and the longer we do wait the stronger ISIS becomes, the more people are massacred and the more America and Britain become at risk," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who sits on the House Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees.

King argued that coalition building is important, but that Mr. Obama made that very difficult when he voiced support for air strikes against the Assad regime in the summer of 2013 and later reversed course.

"The president lined up these allies for the bombing attacks, and he drew the red line, and he pulled the rug out without telling these allies," King said. "Now they don't trust the president and that's why you're going to find a reluctance from other countries, for instance from Arab states, to get involved with us in a coalition."

Smith said that view is too simplistic.

"The air attacks that the president threatened and didn't do, those were air attacks that were going to be against the Assad regime, the very people that ISIS is fighting," he said. "I think that shows the complexity of the situation. We do not want to come into Syria now on the side of Assad. We have got to find other folks, the Free Syria Movement, to work with."

John McCain: Obama either “in denial or overwhelmed” about ISIS threat

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., echoed King and said allies like the Saudis are "skeptical" of forming a coalition once again. He is calling for a robust U.S. response to root out ISIS, including sending more weapons to Kurdish forces in Iraq and the moderate rebels in Syria, and conducting airstrikes inside Syria.

"One of the biggest mistakes ever made in my view in recent times was the president's overruling his entire national security team, including the secretary of state, that argued two years ago for providing weapons for the Free Syrian Army. That was a seminal moment," McCain said.

Now, he said, additional U.S. troops in non-ground combat roles will be required to help carry out airstrikes and train the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to engage ISIS.

McCain also suggested the president does not understand the threat posed by ISIS.

"This is a direct threat to the United States of America, that it may be one of the biggest that we have ever faced. I was astounded when the president of the United States said that the world has always been messy and it's been accentuated by social media. That means that the president of the United States is either in denial or overwhelmed," he said.

King said he believes "strongly" that ISIS plans on attacking the U.S., and though some analysts have suggested that bombing the group will only give them more reason to do so, he said that's not the case.

"Al Qaeda didn't need a grievance to attack us on 9/11. These groups they don't need any excuse. They will attack us whenever they can," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for