WASHINGTON – Amid conflicting congressional demands, impatient Arab allies, and public concern that he will do too much or too little, President Barack Obama made bluntly clear Thursday why he has not yet implemented a comprehensive U.S. response to the Islamist insurgency that is rapidly spreading across the Middle East.
We don’t have a strategy yet, Obama said, in response to questions about when he is prepared to begin military action in Syria, and, if not, why not?
Rarely has a president spoken so plainly.
I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, he said. The suggestion that we’re about to go full scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL, that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, is going to be left in the dark, that’s not what’s going to happen. ISIL is one of several acronyms referring to the Islamic State.
Instead, the president said in a White House news conference, he has asked the Pentagon to prepare options while he puts together a broad, long-term plan including military, political, economic and diplomatic aspects and continues recruiting partner countries in the region and beyond to help carry it out.
We’re not going to do that alone, he said of the still-in-the-works strategy. We’re going to have to do that with other partners.
Many of those potential partners said they remain in the dark about what Obama has in mind, and some have expressed impatience about the length of time the administration is taking to figure it out.
There is definitely more of an attitude within the administration to get involved in the wake of recent militant advances in Syria and Iraq and last week’s execution of an American journalist, said one senior official from the region. But no one has had a conversation with us as to what that means.
When a superpower, the superpower, is reluctant in developing policy, it’s not only about leadership, it’s about having a coherent approach to crises, another regional official said.
The ball is in the U.S. court, a third said.
Senior officials from four Middle Eastern states spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid public indications of disquiet with Obama.
All expressed an eagerness to follow the U.S. lead in Syria, including, in some cases, possible participation in airstrikes against the Islamic State, should that be Obama’s decision.
All of their governments have repeatedly expressed concern over the past three years of Syria’s civil war at what they’ve seen as administration reluctance to assert strong leadership in support of moderate rebels battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Next week, Obama said, he will consult NATO allies on larger plans for Syria, Iraq and the Islamic State at an alliance summit in Wales, Obama said.
Immediately afterward, he is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to meet with Middle Eastern leaders.