‘Light footprint’ president makes case for intervention

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Obama tries to sell the public on fighting Islamic State group
  • A shift from ‘light footprint’ West Point speech
  • Looking for an ‘Obama Doctrine’? Keep looking (or stop)
  • Obama just ramped up the ‘Global War on Terror’
  • Stopping to remember 9/11

Making the case: President Barack Obama tried to make the case Wednesday night for why the United States cannot stand on the sidelines against the Islamic State group, especially after the beheadings of two American journalists. Much of what was in the speech wasn’t new. It was an organization mostly of what the United States is already doing — airstrikes, coordinating with the Iraqi military and covert operations. He also publicly announced that the U.S. would train moderate Syrian rebels to avoid American “combat troops,” even though hundreds of American forces are on the ground. In anticipation of an ask to fund training of Syrian rebels, House Republicans shelved a continuing resolution Wednesday at the White House’s request. The GOP conference meets at 9 a.m. ET to see whether to consider the funding in a new funding measure or separately. But what was striking about the speech is it was the “light footprint” president trying to make the case for intervention.

A change in tone from West Point: Consider the president’s speech at West Point — intended to make the case for a new American role in the world and rolling back the idea of strong American military intervention — was just four months ago. And in that speech, the president didn’t even mention IS. There were just vague references to a “growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos” of Syria and “As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.” The brutality, capability and financial viability of the group seemed to take the administration by surprise over the summer. Even before the beheadings, the administration began a bombing campaign against IS, which is something the Islamic State group blames for its beheadings. But the brutal acts, spread across the globe on the Internet and TV screens, thrust them into American living rooms, spurring almost more of a WANT for action. That made it necessary for the president to show the U.S. was taking a forceful hand and was leading.

Obama’s fine line on when and when not to act: In that West Point speech, the president wasn’t calling for never intervening. But he tried to draw a fine line between “realists” and “interventionists.” “I believe neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment. It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders. … But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.” Contrast that with the more moralistic case for intervention he made last night. “America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead,” Obama said, adding, “[O]ur own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.” The nuance of that fine line, however, can make things muddled. It can present to the public what appears to be an inconsistent message on foreign policy. Maybe the simplest way to look at it, though — for those of us who have sought some definition of an “Obama Doctrine” — is that the “Obama Doctrine” just isn’t doctrinaire.

Obama ramps up the ‘Global War on Terror’: It’s also interesting to consider on this 13th anniversary of 9/11 that for a country scarred by Iraq, what Obama is calling for isn’t nation-building, but more in line with the original idea of the “global war on terror.” That’s not a phrase this president wants to use because it has all the implications and connotations related to the George W. Bush presidency. Out of the speech, many will rightly question, what if airstrikes, arming rebels on the ground, working with the Iraqi military, and COVERT American operations aren’t enough? What then, as NewsHour’s Mark Shields and David Brooks asked Wednesday night during NewsHour’s Special Report. And, as Peter Baker writes in the New York Times this morning, the president who seemed intent on leaving his predecessor with no messy entanglements he created, is almost certain to leave them with this. On Thursday, the president will commemorate the 9/11 anniversary with two events: a moment of silence at the White House and a ceremony at the Pentagon at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Lawmakers react to speech: Part of the president’s mission Wednesday night was to persuade lawmakers skeptical of the administration’s strategy for confronting the threat posed by the Islamic State group. Many on Capitol Hill had urged the president to adopt a more aggressive posture toward the militants. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Thursday that the president’s strategy was “in a much better place than where he was previously.” Still, Rubio said the president should have been even more forceful in his remarks. “We don’t know how long this will take. No matter how long it takes, we need to do it.” Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “much of the wording in the president’s speech was good,” but argued the president was showing “poor judgment by not explicitly seeking an authorization from Congress.” The demand for Congress to weigh in on the president’s strategy was shared by the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who were joined by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., in calling for “a full and robust debate in Congress on the use of military force.” The Washington Post’s Paul Kaine explains how Congress might move forward with the president’s Syria proposal by including it as part of a stopgap funding measure to fund the government past the end of the month.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1789, President George Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton to be the first secretary of the treasury. Who is the current secretary of the treasury? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Wednesday’s trivia: What other time in U.S. history was gas rationing mandated? The answer was: the 1973 oil crisis, when OAPEC declared an oil embargo.


  • The House will not vote Thursday on a continuing resolution to fund the government past the end of the month. House leadership said the delay is due to a last-minute request from the White House to include the authority to take action against the Islamic State group in the CR.

  • Next Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will address Congress, at the invitation of Speaker John Boehner.

  • Confirmation of Georgia judicial nominee Michael Boggs is still in limbo, while the Senate Judiciary Committee moves forward with other nominees, because of the risk of an intraparty fight among Democrats.

  • Rep. John Tierney’s primary race was over before he even knew it had begun. The Massachusetts congressman failed to match the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent against him by his fellow Democrat.

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee continues to paint Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst as “too extreme for Iowa”; this time it’s for saying she supports privatizing social security.

  • The Des Moines Register reports that First Lady Michelle Obama will campaign for Rep. Bruce Braley next month.

  • Forget New York City, Philadelphia and Columbus. Birmingham, Alabama is the new contender for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

  • There were more arrests in Ferguson, Mo., Wednesday.

  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was booed offstage during his keynote address to a conference of Middle Eastern Christians for saying that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”

  • In New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea Porter’s first TV ad, she says she hasn’t taken “a dime from DC lobbyists or corporate PACs,” while former Rep. Frank Guinta is funded by the Koch brothers.

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is more in demand on the campaign trail now that the primaries are over, he told Roll Call. Sen. McCain has already lent his support to Scott Brown and Joni Ernst, but he’s not stopping there. He’s planning trips to Oregon, North Carolina and now Kansas to help Sen. Pat Roberts.

  • Campaigning with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggested more help from the RGA, of which he is vice chair, is on the way.

  • A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Gov. Tom Corbett trailing Democrat Tom Wolf by 24 points.

  • South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell was indicted Wednesday on nine criminal charges, including misconduct in office and using campaign funds for personal use.

  • A new Missouri law will allow specially trained teachers to carry concealed guns in schools and anyone with a concealed carry permit to carry firearms openly in the state.

  • The Washington Post editorial board praises the pension reform efforts of Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who won the Democratic gubernatorial primary earlier this week. Her victory, the board writes, “should stiffen the spines” of Democrats in other states facing pressure from public-sector unions.

  • Prosecutors are pressing for prison time for conservative author Dinesh D’Souza for making illegal donations to the Senate campaign of Republican Wendy Long, who challenged Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012.

  • Edwin Kneedler will never defend you. Having argued 125 cases before the Supreme Court — more than any other practicing lawyer — he has only one client: the U.S. government.

  • If you want to trash businesses online, move to California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure into law Tuesday that allows Californians to post bad reviews online.

  • U.S. secessionist groups from Vermont to the Pacific Northwest have their eyes on Scotland.

  • Mitt Romney led GOP donors in singing happy birthday to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday. What Christie probably didn’t want for his birthday was an eighth credit rating downgrade for his state.

  • Historian Michael Beschloss says for presidents it’s all about location, location, location when it comes to delivering an address to the nation.

  • Even if you don’t have your political ideology listed on your Facebook page, you can still be the target of pointed campaign ads. This is all because of a new tool that links your Facebook profile to your voting record.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.