President Obama met with his national security team at the White House today to discuss the state of affairs in Iraq. Afterwards, during his afternoon press conference, he announced a number of steps his administration will be taking to stabilize the country and avert a civil war.
“First, we are working to secure our embassy,” he announced. To that end, he said, he has evacuated some diplomatic staffers, and is sending in additional security personnel to protect those who remain.
Second, he continued, he will “increase Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and northern Iraq.” This will include deploying up to 300 military advisors, all of whom will counsel and support the Iraqis going forward.
He did stress, however, that U.S. “military forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq.”
But the United States will not stay idle.
“In recent days we’ve positioned military assets in the region, [added] intelligence resources about potential targets, and going forward, we will be prepared to take action if and when the situation on the ground [merits it].” This apparently leaves the door open to military strikes at some future date.
He also said that Secretary of State John Kerry will head to the Middle East this weekend to help broker a “diplomatic solution."
“Above all, Iraqi leaders must arise above their differences and come up with a political plan for Iraq’s future,” he continued. “Recent days have reminded us of the deep scars left by America’s war in Iraq. What’s clear from the last decade is for the United States to ask hard questions before taking military action abroad.”
“The most important question we must be asking,” he continued, “is what is in the national security interests of the United States of America?” His made it clear that the situation Iraq must be resolved through political and diplomatic channels.
Finally, the president didn’t explicitly assert that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should step down, but did say that only an inclusive central government in Baghdad can heal the country’s deep-seated divisions and bring stability to the region.
UPDATE: Following President Obama's press conference today Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) released the following statement:
“The plan that the President announced today in response to the rapid terrorist expansion in Iraq underestimates the seriousness of the threat. The steps he announced are needed, but fall short of what is required to stop this al-Qaeda offshoot from gaining more power, which must include drone strikes.
“Yes, Iraqis must solve their differences on their own, but this crisis comes as the Administration has disengaged from Iraq and willfully ignored well-known threats, including the growing strength of the al-Qaeda offshoot there and in Syria over the past two years. The Iraqis have been requesting U.S. drone strikes against terrorist camps for nearly a year, and this Administration has repeatedly said ‘no,’ even as they have captured town after town. This response is allowing Iran to fill the void and expand its destructive regional influence, enflaming sectarian conflict, destabilizing the Middle East, and creating an environment in which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other al-Qaeda offshoots will thrive. Our closest allies and our critical national security interests in the region are in jeopardy. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terrorist leading this charge, directly threatened New York in 2009, and President Obama should take that seriously.”