Washington isn’t quite ready to hit the panic button about the U.S. strategy to fight the Islamic State in the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead.
“There will be an intensification of the strategy that we've put forward," President Obama said Monday during a press conference at the Group of 20 summit in Turkey. “But the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work.”
“It’s going to take time,” he added.
The president, who at times sounded combative, has come under intense scrutiny for commenting in an interview broadcast the day of the Paris killings that ISIS has been “contained.” White House officials have since labored to explain Obama meant the group had been boxed in geographically in Iraq and Syria.
On Monday the president told reporters, "when you actually listen to what [critics] have to say, what they're proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things we're already doing.”
But as the world tries to recover from the carnage of last Friday’s attacks, many are wondering what the administration intends to do to degrade the terror group, including the possibility of sending additional U.S. troops into the region to battle ISIS forces.
“It is not just my view, but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that would be a mistake,” Obama said Monday.
“A strategy has to be one that can be sustained,” he added. “The strategy we are pursuing … that’s the strategy we are going to have to pursue. And we are going to continue to generate more partners for that strategy.”
The U.S. helped coordinate French airstrikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, on Sunday night. The raid could mark just the beginning of what French President Francois Hollande has pledged will be a merciless campaign against the extremist group.
In a Monday address to a joint meeting of parliament, Hollande repeated his declaration that France “is at war.” He also called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council and said he would present a bill soon that would extend the country’s state of emergency to three months.
It’s unclear what the difference in tone and rhetoric between the two leaders will mean for the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in the weeks and months ahead.
For now, Obama isn’t shying away from confronting his critics head-on. If they want to "pop off," they should present a specific plan of their own, he said.
“If they think that somehow their advisers are better than the chairman of my joint chiefs of staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them,” Obama added.
On Capitol Hill, reaction among top congressional leaders has been more cautious as they seek to learn more about the attacks and what they mean about the Islamic State’s capabilities. The group released a new video warning that Western countries launching airstrikes in Syria will suffer the same fate as France.
In a Monday radio interview, newly-elected House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he’s asked the White House to provide lawmakers with classified briefings in the aftermath of the Paris shootings.
“We’re still learning more, but what’s very clear is ISIS is not a remote danger in a far-off land. And a containment strategy is not enough. That has completely failed. So, what we’re seeing, in my opinion, is the consequence of the president’s continued reluctance to take this threat fully and seriously,” Ryan said on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” program.
“It’s obviously a horrible, coordinated terrorist attack,” he continued. “We have to see this for what it is: This is a war, they’ve brought it to us. So the question is, how do we finish it?”
On that score, there is no shortage of input from GOP hawks.
"This is war. This is massive savagery on the part of ISIS," Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Fox News on Monday. "We have to show much more of an intensity."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a 2016 presidential candidate, over the weekend said France should invoke Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty because it requires all member nations to treat an act of war against country as an act of war against all 28 countries.
“I think we have to have a strategy and that entails American boots on the ground along with a coalition force,” Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain (R-AZ) said Monday during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), another White House hopeful, said he was “incredibly disappointed” to hear Obama rule out deploying more ground forces.
“President Obama is doubling down on a failed strategy that is inevitably going to lead to a second 9/11,” Graham said in a statement. He just doesn’t seem to understand that we only have two choices regarding ISIL – fight them in their backyard or fight them in ours. I choose to fight them in their backyard.”