Obama urges caution on using force in Mideast

The stance is in keeping with Obama's long-standing aversion to military entanglements

President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Barack Obama
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Faced with deepening crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, President Barack Obama is putting the brakes on the notion that American military power can solve either conflict.

While that stance is in keeping with Obama’s long-standing aversion to military entanglements, it comes at a time when the effectiveness of his preferred options is being challenged and there are indications that some in the administration are ready to take more robust actions.

In the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Obama has relied largely on coordinated U.S. and European Union sanctions to try to shift Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus. While the White House can claim credit for inflicting some pain on Russia’s economy, Putin appears to be only getting more aggressive, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russia of sending two military columns across the border Thursday.

During a news conference at the White House, Obama warned that Russia likely will face more Western penalties because of its continued provocations. But he offered no indication that he was considering anything outside the realm of sanctions and explicitly ruled out the prospect of U.S. military intervention.

“We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem,” Obama said.

The president did authorize limited airstrikes earlier this month to go after Islamic State militant targets in Iraq. But the discussion quickly shifted to whether the strikes should extend into Syria, where the militants have a safe haven.

Obama at first seemed to largely rule out that option, a decision that came as little surprise, given his long opposition to plunging the U.S. military into Syria, a country ravaged by civil war. But staying out of Syria got more complicated after the extremists announced last week that they had killed American journalist James Foley and threatened to kill additional U.S. hostages in Syria.

The president has also had to contend with assessments from others in his administration about the need to move into Syria. The most notable statements came from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said unequivocally that the Islamic State could only be defeated if the U.S. were to go after the group in Syria as well as Iraq.

Obama said Thursday that he was weighing the prospect of military action in Syria, but he tamped down any suggestion that such a move was imminent. And he said that even if he were ultimately to authorize strikes, they would have to come in conjunction with a broader regional strategy that addresses political turmoil in both Iraq and Syria.

“Syria is not simply a military issue, it’s also a political issue,” he said. “It’s also an issue that involves all the Sunni states in the region and Sunni leadership recognizing that this cancer that has developed is one that they have to be just as invested in defeating as we are.”

White House officials said the president felt the need to speak on the situation in Syria on Thursday because of speculation that military action would be taken quickly. But Obama muddied that message by asserting that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for going after the Islamic State militants in Syria, a statement quickly pounced on by Republicans who long have asserted that the president lacks a coherent approach to fighting the extremist group.

“It just confirmed what we’ve been talking about really for almost two years: There has been no real strategy,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said.

Obama convened a meeting of his top national security advisers at the White House shortly after his remarks Thursday. But officials cast the meeting as more about discussing options than finalizing an approach and said the president was unlikely to make a decision before departing Tuesday for a trip to Estonia and the NATO summit in Wales.

The monthslong crisis in Ukraine is expected to be a major focus of discussions among NATO leaders during their two days of talks. Newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was scheduled to attend the summit, where there were likely to be pledges of support for his country’s fledgling government.

Obama and European leaders also were likely to discuss the prospect of tougher sanctions against Russia. The U.S. has made preparations for penalties that could effectively cut off key Russian economic sectors from the West.

But there are concerns among some in the private sector that those penalties could put U.S. businesses at a disadvantage. And European nations, which have an even deeper economic relationship with Russia than the U.S., are also fearful of the possible boomerang effect of sector sanctions.

Obama discussed the prospect of harsher sanctions Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who leads Europe’s most robust economy.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
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One Response to "Obama urges caution on using force in Mideast"

  1. SDRSr  August 30, 2014 at 9:25 am

    ISIS may be a big enough threat to where boots on the ground are required. Don’t want them there, but do understand we may have to. This beast ISIS needs to be killed not contained, but killed. If we put boots on the ground lets not have another Tora Bora – have them surrounded and trapped, set up for the kill then pull out the troops to invade some other country. Have them surrounded, kill them.

    Any American, Briton or other foreign national fighting with/for ISIS or any other terrorists organization has given up their citizenship and has submitted to the ideals and philosophy of the organization and accepted the belief in and loyalty to terrorists. Therefor, they are valid targets.

    Russia and NATO will never fight over Ukraine, the risk of nukes is to great. But Ukraine has asked for NATO basing and I think NATO should agree. After all the former WARSAW Pact countries are inviting NATO in. NATO has kept the promise to not expand and base along the Russian border, except for the three Baltic States. But with Putin’s recent behavior, give him something to think about and the one thing he does not want, NATO on his door step from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

    If Russia is such a good partner to have why are all the nations, that were once part of the WARSAW Pact, so afraid of partnering with Russia in the Eurasian Custom Union?

    12 March 1999
    Czech Republic Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991 as part of Czechoslovakia.
    Hungary Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991.
    Poland Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1990.

    29 March 2004
    Bulgaria Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991.
    Estonia Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991 as part of the Soviet Union.
    Latvia Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991 as part of the Soviet Union.
    Lithuania Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991 as part of the Soviet Union.
    Romania Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991.
    Slovakia Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991 as part of Czechoslovakia.
    Slovenia Previously part of Yugoslavia 1945–1991 (Non-aligned)

    1 April 2009
    Albania Member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1968.
    Croatia Previously part of Yugoslavia 1945–1991 (Non-aligned)

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