President Barack Obama has reportedly been wrestling with his cabinet and advisors, at times in public, over how to approach the threat posed by the Islamic State. The divisions within the White House were clearly exposed on August 28 when, after a week in which one White House advisor after another suggested that strikes at ISIS inside Syria were virtually imminent, Obama told the press that America “doesn’t have a strategy yet” to attack ISIS inside it’s Syrian stronghold.
Even after the White House acknowledged it didn’t have a comprehensive strategy to combat the ISIS threat, many of Obama’s supporters continued to stress that the outlines of his strategy aimed at combatting this Middle Eastern threat were “clear” and coherent. The president, however, disagrees with his backers. On Wednesday, he will reportedly deliver a major speech outlining his administration’s agreed strategy to contend with ISIS.
To the extent that the president has a strategy, it has been to amass an international coalition to tackle the threat. A number of NATO members and European nations have expressed their tentative support for a limited campaign to tackle ISIS, but it is unclear how many partners America will have in the execution of combat missions.
Moreover, the White House’s desired “regional partners,” while supporting the mission rhetorically, are less enthusiastic about committing to anything more specific:
Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday are expected to issue a resolution backing Iraqi efforts to confront militants who have overrun large areas of Iraq and Syria and declared a cross-border Islamic caliphate, diplomats said.
An Iraqi diplomatic source said Baghdad had proposed a draft resolution that would endorse its efforts to confront Islamic State militants and condemn the group’s actions as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Other diplomatic sources said the Arab League would agree a resolution endorsing the U.S. military campaign against the group.
There are some indications from the president, though, that his preferred approach to dealing with the ISIS threat differed significantly from that of the Pentagon.
“ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group,” Sec. Chuck Hagel said on August 22nd. “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”
It seems as though Obama’s view, one which treats ISIS as just another terrorist group, won out.
“Keep in mind this is something we know how to do,” the president told NBC’s Chuck Todd. On Sunday “We’ve been dealing with terrorist threats for quite some time.”
Obama went on to recap the efforts his government has already taken to protect American and Iraq assets threatened by ISIS’s advance, and previewed a strategy which would be characterized by “going on some offense.”
“What this is is similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years,” Obama said.
The critics inside the administration appear to have been silenced, and a more robust campaign to oust ISIS from Iraq and Syria will not be forthcoming. What is forthcoming is a speech in which Obama will justify his resistance to dealing with ISIS comprehensively and call it a strategy.