In an extraordinary broadcast from the White House, President Barack Obama stunned viewers when he admitted that he has yet to adopt a strategy concerning the threat posed by the Islamic State that threatens to take over Iraq and rule the Muslim world. Obama said he has asked the top military brass for a plan, but has so far failed to adopt one. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” since “We don't have a strategy yet,” said the chief executive as he spoke from the White House in an ill-fitting beige suit. Concerning the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham - ISIS) and its campaign of beheadings, rape, summary killings, and wanton destruction, Obama said “We can rout ISIS on the ground and keep a lid on things temporarily, but then as soon as we leave, the same problems come back again.”
In addition, during his August 28 press conference, the president said four times that he would seek advice, if not approval, from Congress before ordering airstrikes in Syria. “We need to make sure we've got clear plans, and we're developing them,' he said. 'At that point I will consult with Congress and make sure their voices are heard.” Obama said that he has asked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs to prepare a “range of options” for him to choose.
Some members of the House and Senate are reportedly concerned that he was unconstitutionally freezing them out. “But 'there's no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress,” Obama told the media, “before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.”
“What I've seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we're at than we currently are,” Obama continued.
The president said that he is mainly focused now on pushing back ISIS. The U.S. has conducted more than 100 airstrikes in Iraq this month in an effort to shift the balance in the fighting. The Islamic State is especially vulnerable to airstrikes. He boasted that the U.S. can destroy the Islamic State threat in Syria too at a time of his choosing.
“As I've said before – I think I said it in the previous press conference,” he said, “'our military is the best in the world.”
“We can rout ISIL on the ground and keep a lid on things temporarily,” Obama insisted, reverting to the name for ISIS now preferred by the White House. “But then as soon as we leave, the same problems come back again.”
“My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself,” the president said.
Dealing with a possible power vacuum in the absence of an American military presence, “is going to be a long-term project,” Obama said. “It's going to require us to stabilize Syria in some fashion.” Some observers contend that by defeating the Islamic State, the U.S. would be effectively bolstering Syria – a country that is supported by Russia and with which the U.S. has no diplomatic relations. Syria is also known to have chemical weapons. Expanding the campaign in Iraq into Syria could be, observers contend, a tacit admission of his administration’s failure to intervene when Obama proclaimed that deploying chemical weapons by Syria was a “red line.”
A Pew Research Center poll released on the day of Obama’s news conference showed that 54 per cent of those polled say Obama has not been tough enough with foreign adversaries. ISIS was ranked among the top foreign threats to the U.S. Pew reported, “While overall his job rating has remained stable this year (currently 42% approve, 50% disapprove), he gets his best rating for handling race relations and more negative ratings for handling policy toward Israel, the situation in Russia and Ukraine, and Iraq.”
Nearly half of the Americans polled, 48 per cent, said that the U.S. is “a less important and powerful world leader than it was 10 years ago,” according to Pew. Fifteen percent of those polled said that the global importance of the U.S. has grown during the Obama administration: which is near a 40-year low.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.