McFadden challenges Franken on Obama ISIS strategy

Franken and McFadden
DFL U.S. Senator Al Franken and Republican challenger Mike Mcadden.
MPR News File

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden has shifted his focus from promoting new mining jobs in northeastern Minnesota to international affairs.

McFadden said Wednesday that President Barack Obama is not doing enough to respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He also said incumbent U.S. Sen. Al Franken and other Democrats should not tolerate what he calls the "foreign policy blunders" of the Obama administration.

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But Franken appears unwilling to be outdone by his Republican challenger. This week, he offered a critique of the president's foreign policy, however mild, and sent a letter to the Justice Department urging it to focus more resources on places like Minnesota where it appears the group is recruiting potential fighters.

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Although McFadden is challenging Franken, on issue after issue the Republican is trying to link Franken to the president's "failed" policies. The latest example, McFadden said, is Obama's recent comments about the Islamic State.

"The president, as you know, last week said there is no strategy regarding ISIS," McFadden said. "I think that's unacceptable."

White House officials later clarified the president's comment by saying much had been done to combat the violent extremists and that the administration is weighing other military options.

Still, McFadden and other Republicans are determined to take advantage of the remark. McFadden did so by saying Franken has failed to hold Obama accountable for foreign policy mistakes, from the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens to the spreading wave of terror by ISIS.

"Senator Franken has supported President Obama and all of his foreign policy blunders every step of the way," McFadden said. "Senator Franken's kept his head down; he's been invisible, and the world has become a more dangerous place."

The fact that the president vacationed and Congress remained on recess amid the growing ISIS threat, McFadden said, underscores Democrats' failure to appreciate the urgency of the situation.

Franken said the situation with ISIS is "too serious to politicize" but he too was not happy with President Obama's statement about not having a strategy.

"I certainly think it wasn't the president's finest moment when he said he had no plan for ISIS in Syria," Franken said.

As for McFadden's claim that Franken has supported the entirety of President Obama's foreign policy, the senator's campaign spokespeople say that is not true. Among other things they say Franken has pushed the White House to take a harder line on Iran's nuclear program and to better address human rights and famine in East Africa.

Franken said he expects the Senate to take up the threat posed by ISIS when Congress reconvenes next week. He also said even though he is in Minnesota, his staff is in close contact with the Obama administration about ISIS.

In particular, Franken said he is concerned about Minnesotans that the FBI has determined traveled to the Middle East to take up arms with the radical group.

Franken said he thinks U.S. air strikes that seek to hold back ISIS in Iraq are working to deter the group and that a similar strategy may be in order in Syria. Franken said the United States needs to bring together Middle Eastern countries that oppose ISIS to come up with a plan to address its activity in Syria.

"We're the leaders in the world. We're the indispensable nation, so we should be leading on things," Franken said. "I think that we have to definitely consider air strikes there. What we don't want to do is get mired into a land war where we're sending combat troops."

McFadden agrees there should be no U.S. boots on the ground in Syria.

He also takes a similar position to Franken when it comes to dealing with ISIS.

"I do support the continuation of strategic bombing in Iraq and potentially in Syria if necessary," McFadden said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat, plans to introduce legislation allowing air strikes on ISIS positions in Syria.

Franken won't say whether he'll support the bill. But he said Congress should "be fully involved on the issue" and consider "very carefully" any new authorization to use force.