For Obama, war against Islamic State is a tough sell

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

For Obama, war against Islamic State is a tough sell.

Less than two weeks after the deadly attacks in Paris, U.S. Washington — French President François Hollande visits the White House Tuesday in an unusual position: a European leader out to persuade a war-resistant American president to step up efforts to destroy the Islamic State. President Barack Obama welcomes his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, to the Oval Office for talks that are expected to go beyond America showing solidarity for its oldest ally – a grieving France. Not only has he dedicated much of his presidency to trying to extract the United States from the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he has also sought to get America off a war footing by resisting a plunge into the Syrian civil war. “As you are well aware, I do not support the idea of endless war,” Mr. Cameron on Monday said he would ask the British parliament for approval to join the fight against the jihadists, while offering up a British airbase in Cyprus for French fighter jets to launch their attacks on Islamic State targets.

Hollande met Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron and will follow up his White House visit with meetings this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia and President Vladimir Putin. When asked about potential deliverables from the Obama-Hollande meeting, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday he did not want to downplay the significance of expressions of solidarity and support. “This is a time when the French people are grieving. The current U.S. strategy includes deployment of 50 special operations forces, as well as humanitarian assistance and diplomatic efforts aimed at a political settlement in Syria.

And knowing that they can count on the most powerful country to have their back as they determine what’s necessary to strengthen homeland security in their own country but also to take the fight to ISIL, I think that will be a source of significant comfort to the French people,” Earnest told reporters Monday. Zakheim says. “But if he doesn’t buy into it,” he adds, “that is going to limit what the US is willing to do” in the international campaign against IS. One is to underscore to Obama that the Paris attacks signal a shift in IS strategy that gives new weight to attacks on Western interests and Western soil. Critics, including the Republican presidential candidates, have criticized Obama’s Islamic State strategy as inadequate, and some have called for use of ground troops. “We’re going to get it done, and we’re going to pursue it with every aspect of American power and with all the coalition partners that we’ve assembled,” Obama said. “It’s going to get done.”

Critics abroad and in the U.S., including prominent Democrats such as former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, are accusing the Obama administration of waging an ineffective military campaign against the extremist group. It has been surreal for some in Washington to see the French ambassador to the US received as a hero on Capitol Hill by some of the same members of Congress who vilified the French a decade ago. Some Republican leaders who disdain what they see as Obama’s naive approach to the Islamist extremist threat have declared France the leader, in America’s absence, of the war to destroy IS.

They say they are not seeking a leadership role for France on the order of the nearly 3-year-old French-led counterterrorist campaign in Mali. “What we are trying to do [through our diplomacy] is increase the collective force against the Islamic State,” says the French official, who requested anonymity to discuss US-French diplomacy more openly. Too little of Russia’s military effort in Syria is aimed at IS forces and assets, they say, while they see the Americans’ strict rules of engagement in Syria resulting in 75 percent of US sorties over Syria ending without any strikes. French officials say they do not envision any “Western forces” putting boots on the ground – but that leaves unanswered the question of who might play that role. Obama said Sunday shortly before returning to Washington from a nine-day trip overseas. “I don’t want it shaded by the desire to tell a feel-good story.

We can’t make good policy unless we’ve got good, accurate, hard-headed, clear-eyed intelligence.” The president said he has ordered Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Gen. Jordan is a likely candidate, some Western officials say, and the Saudis and Turks might also be called on, others say, except that the two countries are hardly on good terms and would be suspicious of the other’s involvement.

The probe is being conducted by the Pentagon’s inspector general. “As a consumer of this intelligence, it’s not as if I’ve been receiving wonderfully rosy, glowing portraits of what’s been happening in Iraq and Syria over the last year and a half,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “So to the extent that it’s been shaded — again, I don’t know the details of what the IG may discover — but it feels to me like, at my level at least, we’ve had a pretty clear-eyed, sober assessment of where we’ve made real progress and where we have not.” The New York Times reported Sunday that the inspector general is investigating allegations that significant changes were made to reports from analysts at the U.S. The Defense Department has expanded the investigation in recent weeks, seizing emails and documents and comparing them to other assessments from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others, The Times reported. “I have made it repeatedly clear to all my top national security advisers that I never want them to hold back, even if the intelligence or their opinions about the intelligence, their analysis or interpretations of the data contradict current policy,” he said. “If there are disagreements in terms of how folks are interpreting the facts, then that should be reflected in the reports that we receive. … And that’s part of what I weigh in terms of making decisions.”

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