Perry criticizes Obama for ‘no strategy’ on Syria

WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasted little time pouncing on President Barack Obama’s “we don’t have a strategy yet” comments about the violent militant faction attacking cities in Iraq, accusing the White House of “dithering and debating” the threat posed by the Islamic State group.

Perry is one of a string of Republicans mulling 2016 presidential runs who is addressing thousands of delegates this weekend in Dallas at the annual summit of Americans for Prosperity, an influential conservative organization backed by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers. Also speaking are tea party-backed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Yesterday, the president admitted he had no strategy to deal with ISIS,” Perry will say in his Friday afternoon speech, according to excerpts released early by his campaign. “The deepening chaos in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Ukraine is all the clear and compelling evidence the world needs of a president one step behind, lurching from crisis to crisis, always playing catch up.”

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While most Republicans criticize Obama’s foreign policy, there are deepening divisions within the GOP over how to move forward.

The broader debate pits those who favor the GOP’s traditional muscular foreign policy – a group that includes Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – and those, like Paul and Cruz, who prefer a smaller international footprint. The so-called isolationist approach plays well with tea party activists and a war-weary public, but worries many Republican officials and donors who prefer an aggressive American role in world affairs.

The intra-party divisions this weekend may be muted by common criticism for Obama, but will become clearer as the crowded group of possible presidential candidates tries to distinguish themselves in the coming months.

Perry, meanwhile, was indicted this month in Austin on two felony counts related to abusing the power of his office. But a conviction in the case looks like a long shot, and Perry has gained favorable attention nationally by dismissing it as a political ploy.

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Obama spoke Thursday, shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers to discuss a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. The U.S. is already striking militant targets in Iraq, and administration officials have said the president was considering similar action in neighboring Syria.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” the president said. “I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them.”

Addressing the conservative gathering in Dallas on Friday, Pence didn’t mention Obama’s speech during his prepared remarks – and ducked a chance to ding the president in comments afterward.

“I didn’t hear his remarks, and I haven’t read them. But the president of the United States is the commander of chief of our armed forces,” Pence told The Associated Press. “I wouldn’t want to prejudge what his military advisers counsel.”

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Paul was speaking later in the day, but said via email that if he were president, he’d convene a joint session of Congress and “lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security.”

He said he’d further “seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

Perry, though, was less hesitant.

“President Obama’s response has been to minimize the threat, as if his words have the power to make it so,” Perry is planning to say of crisis in the Middle East and Ukraine. According to the excerpts, he’ll add: “American leadership is needed now, more than ever. Presidential leadership is needed now, more than ever.”

On Saturday, Cruz will appear at the Americans for Prosperity summit. He has frequently been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but spokeswoman Catherine Frazier declined to comment ahead of his formal speech.

Associated Press Writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report from Boston.