Obama Confesses: ‘We Don’t Have a Strategy Yet’ for Dealing with Islamic State

President Barack Obama speaks the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in ... more >

President Obama acknowledged Thursday he doesn’t have a plan for defeating Islamist militants in Syria and backed away from imminent military action, while he also downplayed reports of a new Russian invasion in Ukraine.
“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Mr. Obama said of his plans for defeating the Islamic State in Syria. “We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans. As our strategy develops, we will consult with Congress.”

After a week of speculation that he was about to expand U.S. air strikes against the terrorist group from Iraq into Syria, the president said he has ordered his military advisers to give him “a range of options.” But Mr. Obama tried to tamp down the suggestion that his decision was imminent, saying “folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference. “There’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.”

The president pushed back a meeting of his national security team until later Thursday evening. Earlier this week, he ordered surveillance flights in Syria to locate potential targets against the group that has beheaded an American journalist and is holding other Americans hostage.
Mr. Obama said his immediate focus is protecting American personnel in Iraq, rather than going after the militants in Syria. The Islamic State controls a wide swath of territory straddling the border of both countries.
“My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that [the Islamic State] made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself,” Mr. Obama said.
In the other military crisis facing the president, Mr. Obama took a noticeably low-key approach to the news that Russian forces in tanks and armored personnel carriers captured a key town in Ukraine Thursday, opening a new front in the six-month-old war and drawing fresh international condemnation at Moscow’s increasingly direct involvement in the fighting.
“I consider the actions we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now,” Mr. Obama said.
That attitude contrasted sharply with comments from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who said Russia “is not listening” to the international outcry, including the increasingly broad economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union. She said in the past 48 hours, “Russia’s actions have spoken volumes.”
“Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fueling this conflict,” she said. “We see Russia’s actions for what they are: a deliberate effort to support, and now fight alongside, illegal separatists in another sovereign country.”
Some Republican lawmakers said Russia’s actions demonstrate why the Obama administration should send arms to the Ukrainian government.
“The United States and our European allies should immediately begin providing intelligence and defensive weapons to Ukraine, including anti-armor systems,” said Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a joint statement. “We should also impose real sectoral sanctions on Russia — not the half-measures taken to date, but full sanctions on Russia’s defense, financial, energy, and other sectors.”
They said it was “a moment to speak and act with clarity.”
“A sovereign nation in the heart of Europe is being invaded by its larger neighbor,” they said. “This runs completely contrary to the civilized world that America and our partners have sought to build since World War II. If we will not or cannot defend our own values now, as well as friends who share them, the future will be dark and dangerous indeed, not just for Ukraine but for us too.”
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