President Obama said Thursday he has not decided on stepped-up military action against the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria, cautioning that he remains committed to a strategy that protects U.S. interests and builds broader partnerships to combat the threat posed by the militant group.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said during a White House news conference, referring to increased military action. “Folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at. …The suggestions seems to have been we’re about to go full-scale on some elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and the suggestion has been we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow with Congress still out of town, they’ll be left in the dark. That’s not going to happen.”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly responded with a demand for a regional strategy to defeat the Islamic State and for Obama to attack it:

“The President needs to develop a regional strategy, working with our allies, to defeat ISIL and to use the full extent of his authorities to attack this enemy force. The President needs to present this plan to the Congress, and the American people, and where the President believes he lacks authority to execute such a strategy, he needs to explain to the Congress how additional authority for the use of force will protect America. If the President is prepared to engage Congress with a strategic plan to protect the U.S. and our allies from ISIL, I believe he will have significant congressional support. But don’t forget, the threat from ISIL is real and it’s growing—and it is time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response.”

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American forces face formidable challenges as President Barack Obama considers an air assault on Islamist fighters in Syria, including intelligence gaps on potential targets, concerns about Syria’s air defenses and fears that the militants may have anti-aircraft weapons, current and former U.S. officials say…

Efforts to hit the right targets in Syria will be more difficult than in Iraq, hindered by a shortage of reliable on-the-ground intelligence, in contrast to northern Iraq where Iraqi and Kurdish forces provided intelligence…

Syria’s Russian-built air defense system is another concern. It remains largely intact more than three years into the country’s civil war…

Of greater concern to Western military planners is anti-aircraft weaponry Islamic State fighters might have acquired.

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Currently, 48% say the U.S. is a less important and powerful world leader than it was 10 years ago; 34% think the U.S. is as important and powerful as it was a decade ago while 15% think it is more important. In November, 53% said the U.S. was less important globally, while 27% said it was as important (17% said it was more important).

In 2009, President Obama’s first year in office, opinions about U.S. global power were more mixed: 41% said the U.S. was less powerful and important than it was a decade earlier, 30% about as powerful, while 25% said the U.S. was more powerful.

tough

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The problem for the president is that the longer these airstrikes go on, the shakier his legal footing becomes. Obama’s initial authorization relied on what is usually termed the president’s Article II powers – a shorthand for article II, section II of the Constitution, which names the president as the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military. But in many ways this is also the weakest and most controversial justification for the use of military force, as it allows the president to make decisions about war and peace on his own, without receiving explicit permission from Congress. Article II is typically used in emergency situations, a sort of self-defense provision that allows the president to protect the country without simultaneously trying to gather support in Congress. But it is a stop-gap, not a solution. Not surprisingly, given how often president’s fall back on Article II, the validity of any claim is in the eye of the beholder. Prior to taking office, Obama often criticized then President George W. Bush for an over-reliance on Article II powers and what many Democrats came to see as the dangers of an unchecked executive. That worry, it seems, is now gone.

Powerful presidents wandering into ill-conceived wars is nothing new. In 1973, as the U.S. was struggling to find its way out of Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which basically put a 60-day clock on presidential war-making. Either Congress authorizes a military operation within 60 days or the president has to end it. There are no other options, or at least there aren’t supposed to be. In 2011, the Obama administration tried to short-circuit the 60-day timetable by claiming that bombing Libya didn’t constitute “hostilities” and therefore there was no clock. That argument was not well received, and the Obama administration hasn’t brought it out for a second round. This time, the 60-day clock to get Congressional approval is in full effect, and it runs out on October 5. If Obama wants to keep bombing ISIS after that date he has four options, and none of them is good.

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“We don’t have a strategy yet” seems to vindicate both at the same time. It sounds like Obama is admitting that he has no idea what he’s doing in Iraq.

There’s also a more sympathetic interpretation.

Viewed in context with the rest of his remarks, Obama’s point might be that there is no good strategy available for fully defeating ISIS in both Iraq and Syria — which is both consistent with his approach the crisis in those countries, in which he has primarily avoided risky escalation, and perhaps true.

Throughout Obama’s addresses on ISIS, including this press conference, he’s emphasized the need for a political strategy to defeat ISIS, one that focuses not on Washington but on Baghdad and, in an ideal world, Damascus. Barring political reform in the Iraqi government, and the development of some sort of peace in Syria, it’ll be really hard to fully defeat ISIS. In a changing, complicated situation, Obama’s thinking has long seemed to be, it’s better not to prematurely commit to a specific problem that might not fit the changing situation.

You can’t have a strategy for what can’t be done, in other words.

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Liberals, by and large, took away an altogether different lesson from Vietnam. For them, there was always something tragically flawed about the way policymakers insisted on seeing the conflict through a prism of good versus evil, when the reality on the ground was so much more nuanced. This simplistic notion of falling dominoes was to them a kind of madness, locking leaders into the same trajectory year after year, long after it was clear they were headed nowhere useful…

But what this summer’s tumultuous events have done is to expose the limits of an anti-doctrine doctrine. It’s fine to say you’re not going to twist all the disparate challenges in the world so that they fit into a neat little box, requiring a one-size-fits-all response. But it’s another thing if you refuse to offer any comprehensive explanation for the dangerous disorder we read about every day, so we can at last make sense of our times…

[A]s some of our more visionary politicians have been warning for decades now, the moment of rampant statelessness has finally arrived, on Obama’s watch. Sure, there will still be profound ideological conflicts with other militarized states, like an expansionist Russia, or Chinese pilots menacing American planes. But now this struggle among rival governments is complicated by the fight between order and chaos, between societies that arrange themselves within borders and extremist movements that would obliterate them…

I can’t say what American foreign policy should look like in a world like this, or whether there has to be a Cold War-like doctrine for it. But before we can have that debate, someone has to take all of these crises and put them in a rubric that’s coherent and less overwhelming. And that someone should probably be a president.

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Via the Examiner.

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