WH Scrambles to Explain Obama's 'Don't Have a Strategy' Remark

By Susan Jones | August 29, 2014 | 9:40am EDT

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, July 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CNSNews.com) - "I appreciate the opportunity to come on your show and explain" what the President Obama meant on Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday.

Earnest said President Obama may not have a strategy for "what we could do militarily in Syria," but "when it comes to confronting ISIL, the president's made very clear that we do have a comprehensive strategy for confronting ISIL."

That "comprehensive strategy" includes support for an inclusive Iraqi government; training and equipment for Iraqi and Kurdish security forces; and "engaging regional governments." It also includes U.S. military strikes in Iraq to protect Americans and avert humanitarian disasters.

"We've already had some important success as a result of those military strikes," Earnest said.


Obama, asked at a news conference on Thursday if he needs congressional approval to launch air strikes in Syria, said he "didn't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet.

Here's his full answer:

You know, I have consulted with Congress throughout this process. I am confident that as commander in chief, I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently. As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress, and I do think that it'll be important for Congress to weigh in and we're -- that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.

But 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.

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.
But 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.

Earnest told MSNBC on Friday that the United States has already "tested the proposition of whether the U.S. military can come in and impose a long-term, enduring solution in terms of stabilizing the security situation in one region of the world. A military-only strategy will not work," Earnest insisted.

"What is required is a comprehensive strategy, and certainly an element to that comprehensive strategy is the use of American military force that can be effective in temporarily, at least, stabilizing the security situation. But what will be required is an effective and sophisticated and integrated Iraqi security force working closely with the Kurdish security forces to fight this war and fight this threat inside their own country. They need to take the fight to ISIL, and the United States will stand by them while they do it."

President Obama on Thursday said it will be important for Congress to understand his still-evolving "regional strategy" for dealing with ISIS "because it may cost money."

[I]t is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people. And, by the way, the American people need to hear what that strategy is.

But, as I said to (MSNBC White House correspondent) Chuck (Todd), I don't want to put the cart before the horse. 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. We are going to continue to focus on protecting the American people. We're going to continue, where we can, to engage in the sort of humanitarian acts that saved so many folks who were trapped on a mountain.

We are gonna work politically and diplomatically with folks in the region. 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. And it's gonna be important for Congress to know what that is, in part because it may cost some money.

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