The White House is scrambling to explain President Barack Obama's "comprehensive strategy" to confront the threat to the United States posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that when Obama said, "We don't have a strategy yet" during a press conference on Thursday about the ISIS threat, he was actually addressing the administration's position on military attacks in Syria.
"What the president was talking about yesterday, he was responding to a question specifically about whether or not he was going to seek congressional authorization to order military strikes inside of Syria. And, the president said we don't have a strategy yet.
"We don't have plans in place right now for what we want to do and what we could do militarily in Syria," Earnest said Friday.
Criticism of Obama's remarks about a lack of a strategy was swift from commentators and GOP lawmakers. Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Thursday he thought it was an "odd press conference" and questioned if the president understood the threat ISIS posed to the U.S.
"This just tells you how far we have to go — and I'm just not sure the severity of the problem has sunk in with the administration just yet," Rogers said.
Nick Kristoff, columnist for The New York Times and Obama supporter, Tweeted following Thursday's press conference, "I'm normally a fan of Obama but that was a very weak Obama speech and press conference. Only strong suit was his suit."
Earnest said the White House did have a clear plan when it came to confronting the threat posed by ISIS, also known as ISIL or IS. On that point, he said Obama had made those plans "very clear."
"When it comes to confronting ISIL, the president has made very clear that we do have a comprehensive strategy for confronting the threat that's posed by ISIL," Earnest said. "That strategy begins with supporting Iraq's political leaders as they form the kind of inclusive government that can unite the country to confront the threat that their country faces right now."
The strategy also included "beefing up" support to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces "in the form of training and equipment," Earnest explained, adding it also included "engaging regional governments," as well as airstrikes the U.S. has already started in Iraq.
Earnest said the Obama administration was also concerned about "foreign fighters" from outside the Middle East region who had taken up arms to "fight alongside ISIL."
A "military-only strategy" of U.S. forces "will not work" to contain the ISIS threat, Earnest said, but would be part of a larger effort that included Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.
"What is required is a comprehensive strategy. And, certainly an element to that comprehensive strategy is the use of American military force that can be effective in temporarily, at least, stabilizing the security situation," he said.
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