President Barack Obama plans to begin laying out his strategy for defeating Islamic State militants expanding their grip in Iraq and Syria.
He’ll outline his evolving tactics when he meets with congressional leaders from both parties at the White House on Tuesday and then delivers a speech Wednesday on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Lawmakers said in advance that they would like the president to give specifics.
The president should target command and control centers and oil refineries controlled by insurgents within Syria, suggested Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Rubio, claiming that Obama has committed “presidential malpractice in his foreign policy,” said he is eager to hear directly what Obama “should have said months, weeks ago.”
“First, clearly explain to the American people what our national security interests are in the region” and spell out the risk that Islamic State militants pose “for us, short-term and long-term, and why they matter,” Rubio said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“Clearly, he’s put together a coalition of the willing — we have heard that before — to tackle this problem,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. “That’s good.”
“And then I think he needs to engage Congress, the American people, on what exactly we’re going to do here,” Rogers told CNN.
Speaking Monday on MSNBC, Rogers said, “I think in Congress we need to expose all members to the level of threat that those of us on the national security committees see every day.” He said Washington political leaders should not give the Islamic militants the “time and space” to grow into a more formidable force, which he said happened with the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN Obama needs to spell out both the diplomatic and military components of his strategy.
“Time’s a-wasting, because we have now said that we’re going to go on the offensive. And it’s time for America to project power and strength,” Feinstein said.
Obama sparked criticism, most of it from Republicans, for his remark last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting Islamic extremists gaining both land and followers in the Middle East.
His upcoming sessions with lawmakers and the speech to the nation are clearly an attempt to try to show he now has an evolving strategy in place.
“The next phase is now to start going on some offense,” Obama said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“But this is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops,” he added in the session taped Saturday and broadcast Sunday. The operations will be “similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns” the U.S. has waged in the past, Obama said. “In Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian.”
“I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we’re going to deal with it and to have confidence that we’ll be able to deal with it,” Obama said in the NBC interview that followed his return from a NATO summit in Wales where the Islamic State threat was a major topic.
At that gathering, the U.S. and nine allies agreed to take on the militants because of the threat they pose to member countries.
Meanwhile, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested Obama has been indecisive in dealing with the crisis in Syria as well as other foreign-policy challenges.
“I think the president is really out of touch with reality when it comes to what’s happening in the world,” Romney said on Fox News. “He is so out of touch with reality that he hasn’t taken the action necessary to prevent very bad things from happening.”
In addition to laying claim to territory, the militants have targeted religious and ethnic minority groups and threatened U.S. personnel and interests in the region.
At Obama’s direction, the U.S. military has conducted more than 130 airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq in the past month. In retaliation, the group recently beheaded two American journalists it had been holding hostage in Syria, where the organization also operates.
But the president has repeated his opposition to sending in U.S. ground troops to engage in direct combat with the militants, who have laid claim to large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Lawmakers have pressed Obama, so far unsuccessfully, to expand the airstrikes further.
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