Obama Open to Air Strikes in Iraq

Speaking from the White House South Lawn on Friday, President Obama outlined for the first time publicly his stance on the violence and chaos gripping Iraq this week. “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq,” he said, adding he’s asked his national-security team for other options, which essentially leaves air strikes. As Eli Lake and Tim Mak report, if the president decides to bomb targets in Iraq, it would take U.S. aircraft less than 24 hours to strike.

Obama said “any action that we may take… has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences, to promote stability, and account for the legitimate interests for all Iraq’s communities.” Without that, Obama said, military action won’t succeed in the long term. The president laid the blame for the unrest at the feet of Iraq’s government led by Nouri al-Maliki, which not only has failed to safeguard all Iraqis but was initially resistant to U.S. offers of help. The president made very clear his reluctance for short-term military action, particularly, as he pointed out, Iraq’s own military is “not willing to stand and fight and defend their posts,” which “indicates that there’s a problem with morale, there’s a problem in terms of commitment.”

While the U.S. could bomb tomorrow, Obama said it will take several days for both military or diplomatic actions to unfold, “so people should not anticipate that this is something that will happen overnight.” Even while he floated taking action, it was clear Obama has been reluctant to do so. “We’re not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back” and that “the United States is not simply going to involve itself… minus a political plan from the Iraqis.”