Obama on Confronting ISIS in Syria: ‘We Don’t Have a Strategy Yet’

By Patrick Goodenough | August 28, 2014 | 6:04 PM EDT

President Barack Obama briefs reporters in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(Update: Adds response from White House press secretary Josh Earnest)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama on Thursday threw cold water over the notion that U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists in Syria were imminent, telling a press conference at the White House “we don’t have a strategy yet.”

Asked whether he would need the approval of Congress to “go into Syria,” Obama said, “I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet. I think 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.”

“And I think that's not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well,” he continued. “We need to make sure that we've got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.”

Later in the press conference, Obama reiterated the point.

“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.”

This image posted on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 by the Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group shows an ISIS fighter waving its flag from inside a captured government fighter jet following the battle for the Tabqa air base, in Raqqa, Syria on Sunday. (AP Photo/ Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group)

Obama did signal the likelihood of military action of some sort against ISIS down the road, speaking of pulling together an international coalition for a long-term strategy against the group.

“We are going to work politically and diplomatically with folks in the region,” he said. “And we’re going to cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy.”

“There will be a military aspect to that,” he added. “And it’s going to be important for Congress to know what that is, in part because it may cost some money.”

Obama said he has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to travel to the region “to continue to build the coalition that’s needed to meet this threat.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry would go after next week’s NATO summit in Wales. Exactly where he would visit was still being determined.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an outspoken critic of the administration’s foreign policy, reacted to Obama’s remarks with a Twitter post saying, “We don’t have a strategy yet” – President Obama, 8/28/14. #ISIS is largest, richest terrorist group in history & 192,000 dead in #Syria.”

After the press conference White House press secretary Josh Earnest posted a series of tweets pushing back against the reaction to Obama’s remarks on strategy.

“In his remarks today, POTUS was explicit – as he has been in the past – about the comprehensive strategy we’ll use to confront ISIL threat,” Earnest wrote, then quoted Obama as follows:

--“Our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL. And that starts with Iraq’s leaders building on the progress that they’ve made so far & forming an inclusive govt that will unite their country...”

--“Any successful strategy, though, also needs strong regional partners.”

--“I’ll be meeting with my National Security Council again this evening as we continue to develop that strategy.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow