President Obama cites progress in Iraq, announces Holder is heading to Ferguson
WASHINGTON — Taking a two-day break from summer vacation, President Barack Obama met with top advisers at the White House Monday to review developments in Iraq and in racially charged Ferguson, Missouri, two trouble spots where Obama has ordered his administration to intervene.
Obama planned to issue a statement on the two crises later Monday afternoon.
The president made a brief return to Washington from Martha’s Vineyard to confer with advisers about the military and political situation in Iraq, where he recently authorized airstrikes, and in the St. Louis suburb that erupted in protests over the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old man.
The day appeared aimed in part at countering criticism that Obama was spending two weeks on the Massachusetts island in the midst of multiple crises.
After a week of photos depicting the president golfing or riding his bike with his family, the White House permitted press photographers to get pictures of Obama meeting with national security aides in the White House Roosevelt Room Monday morning and discussing the Ferguson shooting with Attorney General Eric Holder in the afternoon.
Still, Obama’s brief return to Washington was planned even before the U.S. military began striking targets in Iraq and before the standoff between police and protesters in Ferguson. The president was scheduled to return to Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday night.
The meetings came as conditions in Ferguson deteriorated. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lifted a curfew but ordered the National Guard to step in to help restore order. Holder over the weekend ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on the teenager, Michael Brown. Among those joining Obama in his meeting with Holder was White House Counsel Neil Eggleston and Lisa Monaco, Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism.
In Iraq, a new round of U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq on Monday aimed to help Iraqi forces regain control of the Mosul dam and averting a potential dam failure. An Iraqi Army spokesman in Baghdad said Iraqi and Kurdish forces had regained control of the dam from the Islamic State militants who captured it earlier this month, but the Pentagon said it was too early to reach that conclusion.
The strikes against the militants drew praise from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two of Obama’s most vocal foreign policy critics.
But in a joint statement, McCain and Graham urged Obama to expand the military strikes to go after the Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria. Obama has described the strikes as a narrow mission aimed at protecting U.S. personnel and facilities and preventing humanitarian disasters.
“We have to do it hard and we have to do it in ways that are not pin-prick strikes that are gradual escalation,” McCain said while campaigning for Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown in New Hampshire. “The object of conflict is to break the enemy’s will. If (the Islamic State) is a threat to the United States of America, we have to do what is necessary to destroy them without sending American combat troops over.”
While Obama has had plenty of downtime since arriving in Martha’s Vineyard a week ago, he also made two public statements about the situations in Iraq and Ferguson. The president had ordered the Iraq strikes days before leaving for vacation, while the tensions in Ferguson that stem from the shooting death of an unarmed teen boiled over during his vacation.
“I think it’s fair to say there are, of course, ongoing complicated situations in the world, and that’s why you’ve seen the president stay engaged,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
Associated Press writer Rik Stevens contributed from Derry, New Hampshire.