President Obama tamped down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria Thursday, saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” for degrading the violent terrorist group.
The president spoke shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers on a range of Pentagon options for confronting Islamic State. However, officials said Obama was not expected to emerge from the meeting with a decision on which avenue to pursue.
The U.S. is already striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in Syria. The group has moved with ease between the two countries, effectively blurring the border.
But Obama, who has long been reluctant to plunge the U.S. military into Syria, said confronting Islamic State would require more than just American action. He called for a regional strategy that could bring in other nations and focus on political as well as military options.
In blunt terms, the president said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to “stop being ambivalent” about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State.
“They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Obama said, alluding to the group’s announcement last week that it had killed American journalist James Foley. The terrorists also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages.
The president said he was dispatching Secretary of State Kerry to the Middle East to discuss the matter with regional partners. Obama will also meet with world leaders in Europe next week during a NATO summit.
Still, some lawmakers are calling for Obama to put military action in Syria to a vote. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a frequent critic of the administration’s foreign policy, has said Congress should “certainly” authorize such steps. Tim Kaine, a White House ally, has also called for a vote on the president’s broader strategy for going after the Islamic State.
“I am calling for the mission and objectives for this current significant military action against ISIL to be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform,” said Kaine, using one of the acronyms for the militant group. “Congress should vote up or down on it.”
Meanwhile, Islamic State killed more than 160 Syrian troops seized in recent fighting. The slayings were the latest massacre attributed to the group.