U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he would be sending Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to build a coalition to combat the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, though he admitted he did not yet have a strategy to combat the group in Syria.
According to AFP, Obama stressed that he was developing a broad and comprehensive plan which would involve military, diplomatic and regional efforts designed to defeat IS for good, in both Syria and Iraq, not just in the short term.
Obama also said that Washington did not need to choose to side with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to combat the Islamic State, which exploited a power vacuum in the middle of Syria's vicious turmoil and last week brutally executed U.S. journalist James Foley.
"We don’t have a strategy yet," Obama said told reporters.
"I think what I've seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we are at than we currently are," he added.
Obama's remarks ignited an immediate political firestorm with Republicans expressing disbelief that he did not have a strategy to fight a radical Sunni group some of his top officials have described as a grave threat to the United States.
In a swift damage control effort, White House aides stressed the president was referring solely to plans to attack IS in Syria, and argued he had already laid out a clear strategy to respond to the group in Iraq and elsewhere.
Obama, who authorized air strikes on the IS in Iraq, said there would be a military component to targeting the jihadists, but said that force could only halt their advance in the short term and that their permanent eradication depended on regional political and diplomatic action.
"It's going to require us to stabilize Syria in some fashion, (that) means we (have) got to get moderate Sunnis who are able to govern," he said.
He declined to commit to asking Congress for authorization to expand U.S. air strikes currently taking place in Iraq against IS to Syria, though promised to consult lawmakers on any action he takes.
A year ago, Obama abandoned plans to strike Syria after accusing Assad of violating a "red line" by using chemical weapons, after it became clear lawmakers did not support the action.
"I don't want to put the cart before the horse," Obama said, according to AFP.
"There’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done," he added.
Responding to the comments, Republicans, who brand Obama as disengaged and his foreign policy feckless, were not appeased.
"It just confirmed what we've been talking about really for almost two years, there has been no real strategy," said Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
"To have a press conference to say we don't have a strategy was really shocking, given the severity of the threat," he added.
Republican Representative Louie Gohmert said, "He has never had a good strategy."