With his handling of the war on terrorism under fire from all sides, a defensive President Obama on Monday warned against overreacting to the Islamic State attacks on Paris, but appeared to be the odd man out as the French president called on the U.S. and Russia to form a more powerful coalition to wage war against Islamic extremists and his own CIA chief openly worried that more such strikes are “in the pipeline.”
The president flashed annoyance and impatience at repeated questioning of his strategy to defeat the Islamic State in the wake of the coordinated Paris attacks that killed at least 129 people and set off renewed fears that the terrorist group is planning to send more fighters to kill Westerners. He said the massacre was not a signal for him to change course.
“We are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution,” Mr. Obama said during a press conference at a summit of leading rich and developing nations in Antalya, Turkey.
At one point, referring to Republicans’ criticism of his counterterrorism strategy, Mr. Obama said dismissively, “I’m too busy for that.”
French President Francois Hollande, who skipped the Group of 20 summit to deal with the crisis at home, urged Mr. Obama to join forces with his sometime nemesis Russian President Vladimir Putin to defeat the extremist group. He said the U.S.-Russian alliance “is already too late in coming.”
“We need a union of all who can fight this terrorist army in a single coalition,” Mr. Hollande said in an emergency address to the French parliament. He said he would meet with Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama later, although it wasn’t clear whether he would meet with them together or separately.
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In a somber speech to both houses of parliament, Mr. Hollande said he would increase funds for national security, strengthen anti-terror laws and boost border controls.
Mr. Putin, whose military is backing Syrian President Bashar Assad while the U.S.-led coalition is battling Islamic State militants in Syria, agreed that Russian and U.S. forces should be fighting together.
“The latest tragic events in Paris show that we have to unite our efforts in fighting this evil, something we should have done a long time ago,” Mr. Putin said at the summit.
Mr. Obama didn’t address Mr. Hollande’s request directly but said the U.S. is trying through diplomatic efforts to convince Russia and Iran “that ultimately an organization like [the Islamic State] is the greatest danger to them, as well as to us.”
“There will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward,” Mr. Obama said, referring to airstrikes against the extremist group and other efforts to limit the territory it controls. “It’s going to take time.”
The U.S. and its allies have accused Moscow of focusing on other rebel groups in a bid to shore up Mr. Assad, whom the West sees as the main cause of the Syrian conflict and the chief obstacle to peace.
SEE ALSO: Obama says he’s ‘too busy’ to debate GOP over terrorism
Nearly five years of clashes between Mr. Assad’s forces and opposition groups have left more than 250,000 people dead, created a vacuum for the Islamic State and other extremists groups to thrive, and spurred a massive refugee crisis in Europe.
Ahead of the G-20, foreign ministers met in Vienna to discuss a diplomatic plan to end the Syrian war. The plan appears to be based largely on a Russian proposal that envisions negotiations between Mr. Assad’s government and opposition groups by Jan. 1.
Still, sharp differences over Mr. Assad’s future and disagreements about what militant groups in Syria should be considered terrorists have dampened hopes for a breakthrough.
At nearly the same time as Mr. Obama was speaking Monday, CIA Director John O. Brennan was giving a darker assessment in Washington of the threat posed by the Islamic State.
Not only has the Islamic State — also known as ISIL and ISIS — succeeded in “setting up franchises” in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East beyond Syria and Iraq, Mr. Brennan said, the group “has developed an external operations agenda that it is now implementing with lethal effect.”
“The grave threat posed by the phenomenon of ISIL makes it absolutely imperative that the international community urgently commit to achieving an even greater and unprecedented level of cooperation, collaboration, information sharing, and joint action — in intelligence, law enforcement, military and diplomatic channels,” he said. “The ISIL threat demands it.”
He added, “I would anticipate that this is not the only operation that ISIL has in the pipeline.”
Although Mr. Obama described the Islamic State as “the face of evil” and asserted that his goal remains to “degrade and ultimately destroy this barbaric terrorist organization,” he was quick to defend current international efforts to contain the group, claiming that “both in Iraq and Syria, ISIL controls less territory than it did before.”
“Of course, the attacks in Paris remind us that it will not be enough to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq alone,” Mr. Obama said.
But he did little to explain what steps might be taken in the international fight against the extremists.
“We have always understood this would be a long-term campaign,” the president said. “There will be setbacks, and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were obviously a terrible and sickening setback. Even as we grieve with our French friends, however, we can’t lose sight that there has been progress being made.”
Mr. Obama also rejected the idea of deploying a large number of Western military forces to fight the Islamic State on the ground.
“Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria,” Mr. Obama said. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia? A strategy has to be one that can be sustained.”
Weeks after the collapse of Mr. Obama’s $500 million plan to arm and equip moderate Syrians to fight the Islamic State, some analysts said the administration appears wedded to another policy that isn’t working.
“The imperative is neither to yield to panic and fear nor merely to continue a failing international effort to combat ISIS,” Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, said in a blog post. “The Obama administration’s initial response seems worryingly to suggest the latter. Its oft-stated desire to avoid a large-scale American combat role on the ground in Syria and Iraq has moved from mantra to organizing principle.”
Mr. Fontaine is a former foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said Mr. Obama’s comments Monday “confirmed that he is unwilling to acknowledge his failed policies or re-evaluate his strategy moving forward.”
“Contrary to the president’s claims, he has not offered a comprehensive plan to destroy ISIS and effectively deal with increasing threats of violence and terrorism on U.S. soil,” Mr. Blunt said. “More than a year after ISIS’ march into Iraq, ISIS has gotten stronger, not weaker. ISIS is not ‘contained,’ as we just witnessed with the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, Lebanon and across Iraq. As ISIS grows and adapts, doubling down on the same strategies that haven’t worked for a year and a half will only make us less safe.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Mr. Obama “removed any and all doubt that he lacks the resolve or a strategy to defeat and destroy ISIS.”
“Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage, let alone at a time when the world is in such desperate need of the leadership that only we can provide,” he said.
Mr. Hollande said he would present a bill Wednesday seeking to extend a state of emergency — granting the police and military greater powers of search and arrest, and local governments the right to ban demonstrations and impose curfews — for another three months.
He also pledged to hire 5,000 more police within the next two years, to freeze cuts in military personnel through 2019 and to introduce other bills that would toughen jail terms for arms trafficking and make it easier to deport suspected terrorists.
“France is at war. But we’re not engaged in a war of civilizations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world,” he told a packed chamber at the gilded Versailles Palace near Paris.
Parliamentarians gave Mr. Hollande a standing ovation before singing the national anthem in a signal of political unity after the worst atrocity in France since World War II.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were in retaliation for French airstrikes in Iraq and Syria over the past year.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
• Dave Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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