- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2014

President Obama took off from the White House for Democratic fundraisers Friday while his spokesman tried to explain the president’s comment that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for defeating the Islamist terrorists in Syria.

The whine of the rotor blades of Marine One taking off from the South Lawn could be heard in the briefing room as Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted that the administration does have a plan for dealing with the Islamic State.

Mr. Earnest suggested that some people misinterpreted what he called the president’s “now-famous statement” because they lack Mr. Obama’s sophisticated and forward-thinking grasp of Middle East policy.

“The question in the mind of the president is more complicated, and in some ways even bigger, than ‘Does the United States, in conjunction with our allies, have the capability to rout [the Islamic State]?” Mr. Earnest said.

“The real question is, how do we sustainably secure the situation in Iraq so that even if [the Islamic State] is routed, that they can’t sprout back up and make significant gains in Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter?”

The president’s remark Thursday afternoon that the U.S. lacks a military strategy for defeating the terrorist group in Syria drew widespread criticism, and White House aides have been working feverishly ever since to explain what Mr. Obama meant. Mr. Earnest resumed that effort Friday.

“One of the things that the president said in the now-famous statement is the word ‘yet’ was at the end,” Mr. Earnest said. “So the Department of Defense is hard at work on developing some military options for the president in Syria. Now, whether the president chooses to take advantage of one of those options, whether the president orders one of those options, remains to be seen. But these are plans that are being developed.”

He told reporters, “We do believe that it’s important for people — both you and your readers and viewers — to understand what message the president was trying to communicate and what strategy he has already laid out for confronting ISIL and what decisions remain to be made as it relates to military options that are available to him in Syria.”

Mr. Obama is attending fundraisers in New York state and in Rhode Island. He changed his travel plans and will return to the White House Friday night instead of staying overnight in Westchester for a wedding.

Mr. Earnest said the change of travel plans “was not specially related” to Great Britain raising its terrorism threat level due to concerns about Islamic State fighters attacking targets in the West. He said Mr. Obama simply wanted to sleep in his own bed Friday night, and will travel to the wedding in New York on Saturday instead.