Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told host Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation, the Sunday political talk show on CBS, that President Barack Obama needs to focus on the Islamic State rather than climate change.
McCain responded to a question by Schieffer on what the Obama administration could do after the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria to ISIS. He advocated for a “robust strategy” as the current one was not working:
We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is, I would like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn`t apparent now, and right now we are seeing these horrible — reports are now in Palmyra they`re executing people and leaving their bodies in the streets.
Meanwhile, the president of the United States is saying that the biggest enemy we have is climate change.
McCain’s reference to climate change stems from what President Obama told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on May 20 when it came to the America’s security:
Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.
Criticism of the Obama administration on facing ISIS by McCain is not new as, on May 21, he called the loss of Ramadi “a significant defeat” when speaking on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain is the chairman of the committee.
The White House admitted the fall of Ramadi was a “setback.” Yet White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the loss of the city is a part of the “back-and-forth” military campaign.
Interestingly, when President Obama addressed the graduates on May 20, he cited Syria, a country suffering from a civil war, as an example where climate change affected the security of the nation:
Understand, climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world. Yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East. So, increasingly, our military and our combatant commands, our services—including the Coast Guard—will need to factor climate change into plans and operations, because you need to be ready.
McCain, in his criticisms, does not address how climate change or extremism can be connected. Although, it is fair to say they certainly are.
The Pentagon released a report early last year highlighting how global warming could be a “threat multiplier” to potential conflicts around the world:
Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.
Aside from Syria, the bloody conflict in Darfur is an example where climate change was a cause of the turmoil where at least 300,000 people have died.
In the early 2000s, the killings waged by the Sudan government originated due to reduced crop yields, which in turn were caused by increasing desertification and reduced rainfall as found in a report by the United Nations.
It would be a mistake to assume the Islamic State and climate change are mutually exclusive. Whether any of this will be understood by lawmakers like Sen. McCain remains to be seen.