President Obama declared at the Pentagon today that his administration is taking the fight to ISIS with “a great sense of urgency,” but critics derided his tough talk as too little, too late.
Obama met with his National Security Council and delivered remarks — without taking questions from the media — with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Vice President Joe Biden, and military commanders at his side.
“As we squeeze its heart, we’ll make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror and propaganda to the rest of the world,” Obama vowed. “This fall, even before the revolting attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, I ordered new actions to intensify our war against ISIL. These actions, including more firepower and special operations forces, are well underway.”
“This continues to be a difficult fight. As I said before, ISIL is dug in, including in urban areas and they hide behind civilians, using defenseless men, women and children as human shields. So even as we’re relentless, we have to be smart, targeting ISIL surgically with precision.”
Obama noted that in November “we dropped more bombs on ISIL targets than any month since this campaign started.”
“ISIL leaders cannot hide and our next message to them is simple: You are next,” he warned.
The president’s tone comes a day before Republican presidential candidates debate national security topics in Las Vegas — where there are bound to be plenty of arguments about how his strategy against global terrorism lacks teeth.
“ISIL has lost thousands of square miles of territory it once controlled in Syria, and it will lose more. The special forces that I ordered to Syria have begun supporting the local forces they pushed south, cut off supply lines, and tightened the squeeze on Raqqa,” Obama said, referencing the capital of the caliphate. “Meanwhile, more people are seeing ISIL for the thugs, and the thieves, and the killers that they are. We have seen instances of ISIL fighters defecting, others who have tried to escape have been executed.”
Obama said he’s immediately sending Carter to the Middle East “to work with our coalition partners on securing more military contributions to this fight.” Secretary of State John Kerry will go to Russia tomorrow “as we continue to work, as part of the Vienna process, to end the Syrian civil war.”
The Republican National Committee slammed Obama’s visit as a “politically motivated photo-op” that “won’t do a thing to protect the American people from another attack.”
“We need a new strategy to defeat ISIS and keep America safe from radical Islamic terrorists, not a new public relations campaign to protect President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers,” said RNC spokesman Michael Short.
Clinton plans on releasing a three-point plan to combat jihad before the GOP debate tomorrow during a speech in Minnesota.
“The strategy will address the threat of domestic radicalization, and demonstrate her belief that the most effective plan stays true to America’s most deeply held values, such as inclusiveness and religious freedom,” Clinton’s campaign said last week.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office (R-Calif.) said in a statement that the real question of Obama’s Pentagon visit is if anything will really change as a result.
“The American people are smart enough to know when something is working or not, and it’s obvious that the President’s current strategy isn’t working. Far from being contained—much less defeated—ISIS has now extended the reach of its terror farther than ever before. And the longer ISIS continues to exist in the face of opposition, the more they can recruit, radicalize, and grow,” McCarthy’s office said. “It’s no wonder that following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino,terrorism now tops the list of what the American people are most concerned about.”
“So, when the President returns from the Pentagon, will he continue to double down on more of the same, or will he respond to Congress and the American people’s calls for a strong and winning strategy? For the sake of American safety and global stability, the President should admit his strategy isn’t working and do something different.”
At the White House today, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett led a conference call with a “broad array of faith-based organizations” to “discuss efforts to combat discrimination and highlight the need for welcoming all faiths and beliefs,” according to press secretary Josh Earnest.
Then a smaller group of Muslim American leaders met in-person at the White House with Jarrett and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. Another Obama adviser met with member of the Sikh community.
“And then there are some additional meetings over the course of the week, including one here at the White House on Thursday,” Earnest said. “Again, these are all slated to be staff level meetings but yet are representative of the kind of ongoing dialogue that the White House maintains with religious leaders of all faiths all across the country.”