Obama Sees No Rush on Syria Despite Mounting Pressure

Acknowledging there is no military strategy yet against ISIS, the president promises consultations.

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he makes a statement at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama spoke on various topics including possible action against ISIL and immigration reform. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
George E. Condon Jr.
Add to Briefcase
George E. Condon Jr.
Aug. 28, 2014, 3:19 p.m.

The immediate focus after President Obama’s press conference Thursday was his unartful declaration that he doesn’t yet have a strategy for the terrorist group sweeping through Iraq and controlling parts of Syria. But the main message he conveyed was much larger than any semantic squabble: This is a president who is not going to be hurried in his response to daily developments. He is not going to be stampeded into a military strike either by horrific videos of executions and beheadings or by growing complaints from political foes who say action is overdue.

That caution reflects both the lawyer that Obama is and a continuing revulsion to the style of his predecessor, who saw himself as “the decider” while often not taking the time to weigh all the consequences.

In some ways, the flap over what Obama said about strategy is a sideshow. It is clear from his overall comments that he has what he sees as a strategy for defeating the terrorists, one that relies on close coordination with other regional powers and with American allies, all of whom he said he is including in the discussions building up to next week’s NATO summit in Wales.

What he doesn’t have yet is the military plan. That, he said, will come after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff produce “a range of options.” He added, “I’ll be meeting with my National Security Council again this evening as we continue to develop that strategy.” When the president receives those options, he will assess how they fit into the existing overall strategy for the region, according to White House aides who scrambled Thursday evening to clarify what the president said.

Without question, he could have made that clearer in his remarks. Now, after his performance in the White House Briefing Room, the main challenge to the president is to demonstrate that he is not suffering from paralysis by analysis, lest he confirm James Carville’s lament that Democrats too often “see six sides to the Pentagon.” Obama must show that concrete action will emerge from this process. But the impetus for coming out to talk to reporters seemed to be to slow down the speculation that anything is imminent.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” he said. “And in some of the media reports, the suggestion seems to have been that, you know, we’re about to go full-scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL. And the suggestion, I guess, has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, is going to be left in the dark. That’s not what’s going to happen.”

Instead, he outlined a process that has a place for both Congress and the broader public. Because he said what emerges as the response to the terrorists will have what he called “a military aspect” and “may cost some money.” He promised continued consultations with Congress because “it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in.” And he pledged that he will make sure “that the American people are part of the debate.”

The White House calculation is that, in the end, both Congress and the people will appreciate a process that ponders the full consequences before the bombs fall—in contrast to a comment on Tuesday by one of the neo-con backers of the Bush administration’s military plunge into Iraq. Bill Kristol, speaking to conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, was mocking the suggestion that “we can’t just bomb” the ISIS radicals. “Why don’t we just [bomb]? We know where ISIS is,” said Kristol. “What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?”

However you define the word, that is not Obama’s idea of a strategy.

What We're Following See More »
EXPECTED TO SAY U.S. IS WITHDRAWING FROM TREATY
Bolton Lands in Russia for Talks
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
SHE IS HAVING MEMORY ISSUES
Sandra O'Connor Stepping Back From Public Life
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court has stepped back from public life. ...She last made public appearances over two years ago. This summer she turned over an office she had kept at the Supreme Court to the court’s most recently retired justice, Anthony Kennedy. Her son Jay O’Connor said in a telephone interview that his mother began to have challenges with her short-term memory. That made some public events more difficult. He says she now stays close to her Phoenix home."

SEX WOULD BE CONSIDERED BINARY
HHS Could Nix Title IX Protections for Transgender Students
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times. The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined 'on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.' The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with."

Source:
SAYS HIS DEATH STEMMED FROM A FISTFIGHT
Saudis Admit Khashoggi Killed in Embassy
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Saudi Arabia said Saturday that Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist who disappeared more than two weeks ago, had died after an argument and fistfight with unidentified men inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Eighteen men have been arrested and are being investigated in the case, Saudi state-run media reported without identifying any of them. State media also reported that Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy director of Saudi intelligence, and other high-ranking intelligence officials had been dismissed."

Source:
ROGER STONE IN THE CROSSHAIRS?
Mueller Looking into Ties Between WikiLeaks, Conservative Groups
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is scrutinizing how a collection of activists and pundits intersected with WikiLeaks, the website that U.S. officials say was the primary conduit for publishing materials stolen by Russia, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s team has recently questioned witnesses about the activities of longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone, including his contacts with WikiLeaks, and has obtained telephone records, according to the people familiar with the matter."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login