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POLITICS: PennAve

Tom Cotton blames al Qaeda presence in Syria on US inaction

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Syria,PennAve,Terrorism,Rebecca Berg,Tom Cotton,al Qaeda

Just a day before America marks the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and in the midst of a national debate over whether to strike militarily at Syria, Rep. Tom Cotton charged Tuesday that President Obama's failure to engage in Syria sooner has allowed al Qaeda groups operating in the country to flourish.

"The United States should have led the way two years ago when the Syrian people rose up against the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian patrons," Cotton, R-Ark., said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. "Instead, the president's inaction has complicated the situation on the ground and allowed al Qaeda to get a foothold there. Now, their presence is seen not as an error to correct, but reason for continued inaction."

Cotton attended a meeting at the White House on Monday to discuss Syria with Obama, but in his speech Cotton attacked what he sees as the "president's abdication of leadership in Syria" and extolled the virtues of a more robust American military presence overseas.

"There can be no doubt that the American people are war-weary, but this should not be surprising when our commander-in-chief is the weariest of them all," Cotton said.

His unapologetically hawkish worldview has become a trademark for Cotton, the Republican candidate for Senate in Arkansas, as he has positioned himself to the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from other Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul, who decry defense spending and bemoan interventionist policies.

Cotton's hardline stance contrasts also with that of the incumbent he faces, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who opposed military intervention in Syria. So far in his campaign, Cotton is highlighting the distinction.

Cotton used his speech at the conservative think tank to reaffirm his support for neo-conservative policies to combat "radical Islam" that have largely fallen out of favor since the Bush administration. He wants the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, kept open to ensure terrorist detainees "aren't released onto American streets." He would expand the military use of drones, increase military spending and expand American influence overseas.

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Rebecca Berg

Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner