Obama on ISIS: ‘We Don’t Yet Have A Complete Strategy’

The president said in a press conference from the G-7 meeting Monday that the Pentagon is still waiting on “commitments” from the Iraqi government.

President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference at Elmau Castle near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, on June 8, 2015 at the end of a G7 summit. 
National Journal
Nora Kelly and Rebecca Nelson
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Nora Kelly and Rebecca Nelson
June 8, 2015, 6:23 a.m.

In a press con­fer­ence Monday, Pres­id­ent Obama said that the Pentagon hasn’t presen­ted him with a “fi­nal­ized plan” on com­bat­ing the Is­lam­ic State, spe­cific­ally with the help of Ir­aqi forces.

“We don’t yet have a com­plete strategy,” Obama said, speak­ing at a press con­fer­ence from the in­ter­na­tion­al G-7 sum­mit in Kruen, Ger­many, “be­cause it re­quires com­mit­ments on the part of the Ir­aqis as well about how re­cruit­ment takes place, how that train­ing takes place. And so the de­tails of that are not yet worked out.”

The two-day sum­mit, con­vened on Sunday, is named for its par­ti­cip­at­ing Group of Sev­en na­tions—the United States, the United King­dom, Ger­many, France, Italy, Ja­pan, and Canada. For the second year in a row, the meet­ing is miss­ing a formerly key play­er: Rus­sia, which was sus­pen­ded from the group after the start of the con­flict in Ukraine. But that na­tion wasn’t far from lead­ers’ minds: Much of Sunday’s talks fo­cused on what Obama char­ac­ter­ized over the week­end as “stand­ing up to Rus­si­an ag­gres­sion.”

The pres­id­ent called out Rus­sia for its ac­tions in east­ern Ukraine—which he said vi­ol­ate “Ukraine’s sov­er­eignty and ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity”—and said sanc­tions im­posed on Rus­sia by the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity have ser­i­ously dam­aged its eco­nomy.

“Rus­sia’s ac­tions in Ukraine are hurt­ing Rus­sia and the Rus­si­an people,” he said.

In a form­al de­clar­a­tion re­leased by the White House on Monday morn­ing, the G-7 en­cour­aged “all sides” in the Rus­sia-Ukraine con­flict to abide by the Minsk agree­ments, which call for the re­mov­al of heavy weaponry from the front lines and a cease-fire. The na­tions said sanc­tions on Rus­sia would re­main un­til Rus­sia re­cog­nizes Ukraine’s sov­er­eignty and abides by the Minsk agree­ments.

Obama said Monday that the G-7 part­ners are pur­su­ing a “dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion” for the Ukraine con­flict, but “the G-7 is mak­ing it clear, if ne­ces­sary, we stand ready to im­pose ad­di­tion­al sig­ni­fic­ant sanc­tions against Rus­sia.”

The G-7 also ex­pressed “sup­port” for the U.S. and E.U. na­tions’ on­go­ing ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an to craft a nuc­le­ar deal, which has a June 30 dead­line and which the G-7 hopes will en­sure “the ex­clus­ively peace­ful nature of Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gramme.”

Obama also ad­dressed the at­tack on a U.S. per­son­nel file that looks to have ori­gin­ated from China. Push­ing Con­gress to pass cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion, he par­tially blamed the breach on old sys­tems, ac­know­ledging that “both state and non­state act­ors are send­ing everything they’ve got at try­ing to breach these sys­tems.”

“This prob­lem is not go­ing to go away,” he said. “It is go­ing to ac­cel­er­ate, and that means that we have to be as nimble, as ag­gress­ive, and as well re­sourced as those try­ing to break in­to the sys­tem.”

Monday’s talks, near the Ger­man-Aus­tri­an bor­der in the town of Kruen, also fo­cused on com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism around the world. Ir­aqi Prime Min­is­ter Haid­er al-Abadi and Ni­geri­an Pres­id­ent Muham­madu Buhari are at­tend­ing the con­clave to dis­cuss the threat of groups such as the Is­lam­ic State and Boko Haram. Obama met with al-Abadi earli­er Monday and called him a “re­li­able part­ner.”

Obama said the United States is ex­amin­ing a “range of plans” for how Ir­aqi forces might bet­ter com­bat the “nimble,” “ag­gress­ive,” and “op­por­tun­ist­ic” Is­lam­ic State fight­ers. Two key ele­ments to im­prov­ing their com­bat read­i­ness in­clude train­ing Ir­aqi sol­diers faster and find­ing more re­cruits.

“Where we’ve trained Ir­aqi forces dir­ectly and equipped them and we have a train-and-as­sist pos­ture, they op­er­ate ef­fect­ively,” Obama said. “Where we haven’t—mor­ale, lack of equip­ment, etc.—may un­der­mine the ef­fect­ive­ness of Ir­aqi se­cur­ity forces.”

On the Su­preme Court’s up­com­ing rul­ing on the Af­ford­able Care Act in King v. Bur­well, Obama re­it­er­ated that “there is no reas­on why the ex­ist­ing ex­changes should be over­turned through a court case.”

“This should be an easy case,” he said. “Frankly, it prob­ably shouldn’t have even been taken up.”

Obama ad­ded: “What’s more, the thing is work­ing. I mean, part of what’s bizarre about this whole thing is we haven’t had a lot of con­ver­sa­tion about the hor­rors of Obama­care, be­cause none of them have come to pass.”

The na­tions’ lead­ers also ad­dressed cli­mate change. In a com­mu­niqué an­nounced Monday, they pledged to keep glob­al tem­per­at­ures be­low a rise of 2 de­grees Celsi­us, or 3.6 de­grees Fahren­heit—which sci­ent­ists say is a crit­ic­al bench­mark for curb­ing the ef­fects of glob­al warm­ing—and called for the coun­tries to phase out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the cen­tury.

“We con­tin­ue to make pro­gress to­ward a strong glob­al cli­mate agree­ment this year in Par­is,” Obama said in the press con­fer­ence, re­fer­ring to United Na­tions-led cli­mate talks later this year. “All the G-7 coun­tries have now put for­ward our post-2020 tar­gets for re­du­cing car­bon emis­sions, and we’ll con­tin­ue to urge oth­er sig­ni­fic­ant emit­ters to do so as well.”

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