President Obama’s Remarks Yield No New Policy for Iraq & Syria, Answers Some Questions Surrounding Current Policy

  • Pressure Sunni partners to disengage from private and governmental financing of ISIL
  • Maintain airstrikes in Iraq to degrade ISIL’s capabilities in Kurdistan
  • Wait for Congress to come back into session before making the decision to expand airstrikes into East Syria (without the cooperation of the Syrian government)
  • Left the door open for whether or not he will seek congressional authorization of airstrikes or simply consult with Congress on the matter

We can now be sure that the surveillance planes flying over East Syria are not a sign of imminent airstrikes in the region. The president maintained that the rational for current and any future airstrikes will be in protection of American personnel or to alleviate humanitarian circumstances. Considering the U.S. has no personnel in East Syria, its likely any expansion of the air campaign will require an intense dialogue between the White House, Congress, and U.S. partners in the region.

Characteristically, Obama continues to sound a cautious tone over the use of American military force in the region, and made no suggestion that ISIL is an imminent threat to the homeland. Statements that the Syrian people require an alternative to their government and ISIL are not new, but whether or not an alternative exists is in doubt by a growing segment of the American people and political class, leaving the president with few options but to continue the current course. The only real alternative to the current course requires backtracking on 3 years of overzealous and misguided policy toward the Syrian government, which would be politically costly.

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