Alaska's senators cool to Obama's Mideast plan

AP News
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Posted: Sep 11, 2014 2:58 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska's two U.S. senators reacted warily to President Barack Obama's plan for a new military front in the Middle East, with Democratic Sen. Mark Begich saying he opposes calls by Obama to arm rebels in Syria.

Begich said the U.S. needs greater assurances it would not be arming extremists who eventually would use the weapons against this country.

On Wednesday, Obama laid out a plan that includes airstrikes inside Syria and expanded strikes in Iraq as part of an effort to root out Islamic State extremists. He also announced plans to send more troops to advise and help Iraqi security forces, and he called on Congress to authorize the training and arming of Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, like Begich, acknowledged the threat posed by the Islamic State militants. But she said Obama fell short in defining clear objectives, such as what constitutes victory.

"Action without a defined plan is not effective or sustainable foreign policy," she said in a statement. "And it makes attracting a coalition of allies more difficult."

Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young said Americans "cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening."

"Short of putting American boots on the ground, the United States should continue to use its superior firepower to confront and defeat this group of extremists," he said in a statement.

Young said he also believes countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt should commit resources to the effort.

Begich and Young are each seeking re-election this year, with Begich's race being closely watched nationally because it could help decide which party controls the Senate.

Begich said there cannot be a "rush into another decade-long ground war," and he called for greater steps to prevent a terror attack in the U.S.

"No one who has taken up arms against our country — even if they are American citizens — should be allowed freely into the United States," he said in a statement.

Begich's GOP rival, Dan Sullivan, a Marine Corps reservist, called Obama's statements a "much-needed departure" from prior comments that indicated lack of a strategy for dealing with the militants.

Sullivan, in a statement, said it's critical for Obama to work with Congress and communicate to the American people a plan "to reverse and rout the spread of Islamic extremism" to protect Americans and U.S. allies in the region.