(CNSNews.com) - Hours after the Russians told the U.S. not to interfere with Russian air strikes in support of the Assad regime in Syria, the Obama White House downplayed the Russian offensive as a defensive move.
"We are seeing the Russians ramp up their support for President Assad. They've been supporting him for quite some time, and it's clear that they've made a significant military investment now in further popping him up.
"The fact that Russia has to take these noteworthy steps to ramp up their support for Assad is an indication of how concerned they are about losing influence in the one-client state that they have in the Middle East."
In a similar vein, Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, speaking at a conference hosted by "Atlantic" magazine, said, "Everybody's looking at Putin as if this is some offensive maneuver. Again, they've had bases in Syria for a very long time. This is their principal client state in the Arab world. It's been collapsing. He's trying to prop it up. I think that's hardly someone who is in a strong position."
Earnest, at the White House news conferernce, said several times that the Defense Department is looking into Russia's military activities in Syria.
But before taking any questions, Earnest mentioned that President Obama met Wednesday morning with his "top Homeland Security adviser, Lisa Monaco, about preparations that are underway for the possible landfall of Hurricane Joaquin."
Notably, he said nothing about Obama meeting with top defense and intelligence officials.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading critic of President Obama's approach to Russia, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that Russia "is now acting in the most aggressive fashion that they have acted since the beginning of the Cold War."
According to McCain, Putin is propping up Bashar al Assad because he wants to protect Russia's military bases in Syria and cement Russia influence in the region.
"And by the way, other countries are adjusting to that," McCain said. "The Saudis just bought $7 billion worth of equipment from them. Even Bibi Netanyahu just went to Moscow. All of these, they are adjusting to an absence of American leadership and an assertion of influence in the region by Vladimir Putin."
"Putin is not strong," McCain said later in the interview. "We have overwhelming advantage of him. But what he's doing is...he's playing his cards skillfully with exactly his goals in mind and is pursuing them. We don't even have a strategy. Remember a year ago, the president of the United States -- our goal was to degrade and destroy ISIS? Can you see any real significant progress in that area? Of course not."
McCain said the Obama administration must develop a "coherent strategy" on Syria, Iraq and ISIS.
"It's time to reassert American leadership and stop leading from behind," McCain said.