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Unpacking Obama's No Strategy Comment On Combating ISIS

Critics jumped on the president's comment that he has no strategy yet for fighting ISIS in Syria, but there are hints of a broad plan, however vague.

By Steven Sparkman | August 28, 2014

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, President Obama said he was sending Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to try to form a coalition to combat the militant group ISIS.

But he also made a rather blunt admission that more or less confirmed a lot of what his critics have been saying over the past few weeks.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet."

Yes, the president said there's no strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria. Journalists, lawmakers and pundits all jumped on the quote.

KARL ROVE VIA FOX NEWS"That's astonishing. … Today, I was appalled. I was appalled."

BARBARA STARR VIA CNN"Let's be very clear: ISIS heard all of this."

Administration spokespeople quickly tried to backtrack, claiming there is a comprehensive strategy. 

​JEN PSAKI VIA CNN: "The president has already begun implementing his strategy to defeat ISIL."

And i​f we want to be charitable to the president, there does seem to be a plan, at least in Iraq: use the deteriorating situation to pressure the Iraqi government to get its act together.

Both Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have said over and over that dealing with ISIS is an Iraqi responsibility.

U.S. involvement has been dangled like a carrot in front of Iraq's leaders to try to pressure them into putting aside rivalries and focusing on the threat at hand. (Video via Al-Baghdadia)

Some of his comments Thursday seemed to be in that same vein: use the threat of ISIS to get Middle East leaders to face up to the region's extremists.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "This cancer that has developed is one that they have to be just as invested in defeating as we are."

But even assuming that's the case — that Obama wants to expand his Iraq strategy to the whole region — let's remember, few people are happy with his Iraq strategy in the first place.

House Speaker John Boehner called the decision to launch targeted airstrikes in Iraq "parochial thinking" and said, "Like many Americans, I am dismayed by the ongoing absence of a strategy for countering the grave threat ISIS poses to the region."

Columnists have called the strategy "wishful thinking" and said"He has yet to articulate a detailed and systemic strategy for rolling back ISIS' gains in the region."

And as more stories come out about ISIS, from the murder of American journalist James Foley to the news that as many as 100 Americans might be fighting for the group to the mass execution of 250 Syrian soldiers, it may increasingly look to the public that Obama just isn't doing enough.

PAUL RYAN VIA CBS"If we don't deal with this threat now thoroughly and convincingly, it's going to come home to roost."

This video includes images from Getty Images.

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