Graham: 'Gold Medal Will Be Awarded to the Group That Can Hit America'

By Susan Jones | August 25, 2014 | 5:05 AM EDT

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) (AP Photo)

( - ISIS/ISIL is competing with other jihadist groups for money and recruits, and "the gold medal will be awarded to the group that can hit America," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned on Sunday.

"It's about time now to assume the worst about these guys, rather than underestimating them. They're not the J.V. team anymore," Graham told CNN's "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley. "They're the most prominent terrorist organization in the world, but they're not the only one. They're in competition with the other jihadist groups.

"And the gold medal will be awarded to the group that can hit America. They're fighting for status with al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra. All of these guys are bidding for future recruits and status, and the gold medal goes to the one that can hit us here at home. To those who underestimate this threat, you do so at America's peril."

Graham said President Obama needs to change his strategy, because "what he's doing now is not working."

"[T]here's no way you can solve the problem in Iraq without hitting them in Syria," he said. And if the U.S. military decides that troops on the ground are necessary to do the job, "so be it," he added. "We have got to win and stop these guys."

While Graham believes that ISIS/ISIL is a direct threat to the homeland, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told CNN's "State of the Union" that he is more cautious:

"Well, we have to begin with the presumption that they could be such a threat," Reed said. "And then we have to carefully evaluate what their capabilities are, what their intentions are. I don't think we can simply dismiss them. But to jump from what they have done, which is horrific, particularly the murder of Mr. Foley, to the assumption that they're going to be an immediate and within days a threat to us here in our homeland, I think you don't jump to that assumption, but you don't dismiss it.

"You carefully look at what they're doing, what they want to do. And, frankly, it's in our interests with our regional partners to disrupt and ultimately destroy ISIS because of the threat it poses to interests in the region, as well as in the United States."

Graham said he doesn't think America -- or the Middle East -- can be safe unless ISIL is defeated.

"We should, in my view, look at ISIL as a direct threat to the United States, a threat to the region that cannot be accommodated. The strategy has to meet the threat. It is no longer a humanitarian endeavor we're dealing with, protect the Yazidis or the Christians. It's no longer U.S. personnel in Iraq. We're now directly threatened by ISIL. And the strategy and response should meet that threat," Graham said.

But Reed said the U.S. would be obligated to "go in and take out" ISIL only if there is a "specific threat to the United States."

And Reed said President Obama has "already shown that the most effective use of our force in not putting troops on the ground, but using capable troops like the Kurds with (U.S.) airstrikes."