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Obama’s airstrike plan met with support and skepticism from the Hill

In a prime-time address Wednesday night, President Barack Obama laid out a four-point plan to fight the Islamic State militant group operating out of Iraq and Syria.

In a prime-time address Wednesday night, President Barack Obama rallied Americans to support the fight against the Islamic State militant group operating out of Iraq and Syria.

The president warned of a long-term effort in both countries or “wherever they exist,” but committed to no American “combat troops” on the ground. Instead, he said there would be continued airstrikes and American military “advisers” who would train more moderate rebels in Syria and work with the Iraqi military. To “train and equip” those fighters, he urged Congress to approve more funding for that effort.

Reaction to the president’s speech and policy ranged from support to skepticism to questions of a lack of specifics.

“What happens if airstrikes can’t do it?” New York Times columnist David Brooks asked on a NewsHour Special Report following the president’s speech. He added that it was a “clear, straightforward” speech, but asked, “What’s the next step?”

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields noted that the president laid out a “big set of promises,” but “made the case against [the Islamic State group] better than he made the case for his own action.” He said the president “glossed over” Congress’ role and urged that “it’s very important to have a debate,” especially because “the president is making a case for war here.”

Responses from the Hill ranged from relief…

“I commend the President for his persistent, strong leadership in establishing a government of reconciliation in Iraq, and in his diplomatic efforts to have coordination among of our NATO allies and regional powers,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, in an official statement.

…to doubt.

“A speech is not the same thing as a strategy…” said Rep. John Boehner, House Speaker in his official response. “While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which the president intends to act.  For example, I support the president’s plan to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian opposition, but I remain concerned that those measures could take years to fully implement at a time when ISIL’s momentum and territorial gains need to be immediately halted and reversed.”

“It is right to target ISIS from the air, while local Arab and Kurdish forces are trained and armed to battle on the ground, but Syria can’t be a sanctuary from U.S. and allied air strikes,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in his official comments. “…Tonight was a start, but it remains to be seen whether the Administration, after much delay and denial, develops and executes the sustained commitment needed to destroy ISIS by building a powerful coalition against these brutal jihadists.”

“…the President’s plan will likely be insufficient to destroy ISIS, which is the world’s largest, richest terrorist army,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement.

“Tonight, the President finally recognized the grave and serious threat posed by ISIS. The President laid out his plan to address this threat; however, President Obama’s strategy remains much too vague and leans far too heavily on foreign partners,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) in a Facebook post.

Academics observing thought the president’s remarks lacked specifics.

In a rare moment of agreement, the President’s plan seemed to align with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s assessment of the threat. At an event earlier in the day Cheney said “ISIS does not recognize a border between Syria and Iraq, so neither should we. We should immediately hit them in their sanctuaries, staging areas, command centers, and lines of communication wherever we find them.”

Meanwhile, a new Pew Research Center survey served as a backdrop for the remarks and its subsequent reactions. According to the report, 67 percent of 2,002 responders identified the Islamic State group as a “major threat” to the U.S. and 42 percent said the government is doing “not too well” or “not at all well” in reducing the terror threat. Overall, the number of people “very concerned” about the rise of Islamic extremism has also rocketed to 62 percent from 37 percent in the past two years.

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