The White House on Friday defended Obama's admission on Thursday
that "we don't have a strategy yet" for confronting the militant
group's operations in Syria. It said he wanted to deliberate on the
options his military advisers were giving him.
There was no timetable for making a decision and Obama will be on
the road most of the next week.
Obama spent Friday on a Democratic fund-raising trip, will attend
the wedding of a former White House chef on Saturday, travels to
Wisconsin for a Labor Day picnic on Monday and will visit Estonia
and attend a NATO summit in Wales next week.
"There are some who have called for the president to take action or
order military action in Syria," said White House spokesman Josh
Earnest. "The president hasn't made any decisions and hasn't ordered
any military action in Syria, but if he does take that step, it will
be one that is carefully considered."
Obama's decision to tap the brakes on his Islamic State policy was
striking to many in Washington because top national security
advisers had been laying the rhetorical foundation for quick action.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a week ago called the group "beyond
anything we've seen." General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, had said it was a threat that cannot be defeated
without addressing the part of the organization that resides in
"DON'T DO STUPID STUFF"
The president's caution reflects his steadfast principle, as
elaborated to some aides, of "don't do stupid stuff," to avoid
actions that could have dangerous unforeseen consequences and
backfire on U.S. interests.
But for his critics it also feeds a narrative that suggests Obama is
frozen by caution and unwilling to take steps needed to address a
festering crisis in the heart of the Middle East.
"I'm not sure the severity of the problem has really sunk in to the
administration just yet," Republican Representative Mike Rogers of
Michigan, who chairs the House of Representatives Intelligence
Committee, told CNN.
To some, Obama's caution, borne out of his opposition to the Iraq
war initiated by his predecessor George W. Bush, is to be respected,
a sign that he wants to avoid a repeat of that conflict by not
shooting first and asking questions later.
[to top of second column]
Obama wants any strategy against Islamic State to be comprehensive,
with participation from regional players and a unity government in
Baghdad that will soothe festering wounds between Shi'ite and Sunni
Arabs and Kurds.
"The president is understandably looking at recent history, looking
at America's role and looking to try to ensure that America doesn't
have to shoulder this burden single-handedly," said a Western
diplomat based in Washington.
Obama has shown little desire to get the United States involved in
Syria's civil war. He shied away from airstrikes against forces
loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical
weapons against his own people a year ago, but his threat to attack
forced Assad to give up chemical weapons.
Now there is concern that U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State in
Syria could end up bolstering Assad, an outcome Washington would
view with distaste. Any such move may need to be accompanied by
support for moderate Syrian rebels opposed to both Assad and Islamic
Will McCants, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution,
said Obama will have to make a tough decision.
"I don't think there's a way out this time," he said. "He's either
going to have to decide to go after Islamic State and arm the rebels
in Syria or he's going to have to decide that we can live with
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and William
Maclean; Editing by David Storey and Howard Goller)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.