- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2015

The White House said Monday that the U.S. is contributing more than its share to the war on the Islamic State, a day before a meeting between President Obama and French President Francois Hollande aimed at beefing up the fight against the extremist group.

The French president, who will visit the White House Tuesday, is eager to discuss how to ramp up efforts to defeat the Islamic State in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. He is urging Mr. Obama to coordinate military actions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose troops are supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, an opponent of the U.S.

Mr. Obama is resisting the advice, saying Russia needs to change course and stop attacking U.S.-backed opponents of Assad.

“The United States is certainly pulling more than our own weight” in the 65-nation coalition fighting the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “That’s something that we are glad to do. That is in line with the long tradition of American leadership.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron offered France new help Monday for its airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, and said he would ask the British Parliament for approval to join the fight.

In a visit to Paris, the British leader told Mr. Hollande that French warplanes could use a British air base in Cyprus to launch their attacks on Islamic State targets, and also offered midair refueling services.

“I firmly support the action that President Hollande has taken to strike ISIL in Syria, and it is my firm conviction that Britain should do so too,” Mr. Cameron said, using an acronym for Islamic State. Britain is already bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq.

French forces are intensifying their bombing of Islamic State targets in Syria in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. France moved its sole aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, into position in the Mediterranean on Monday.

Critics abroad and in the U.S., including prominent Democrats such as former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, are accusing the Obama administration of waging an ineffective military campaign against the extremist group. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said Sunday that the U.S. strategy isn’t sufficient and that the Islamic State is getting stronger.

“We need to be aggressive now,” she said.

Mr. Earnest said the coalition has carried out more than 8,000 airstrikes against the militants in Iraq and Syria, killed many Islamic State leaders and curtailed the group’s financing, efforts that are “a testament to how seriously the president takes this challenge.”

The president’s spokesman said the meeting at the White House will demonstrate that the French “can count on the most powerful country in the world to have their back as they determine what’s necessary to strengthen homeland security in their own country but also to take the fight to ISIL.”

“I think that will be a source of significant comfort to the French people,” he said.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden also met with ambassadors of the coalition countries in Washington Monday to urge them to ramp up their contributions to the fight.

With voters’ concerns about the Paris attacks showing signs of impacting the 2016 presidential race, the Republican National Committee released a new video Monday to argue that Democrats can’t keep America safe.

“The Democrats continue to insist that they have the ‘right strategy’ in place,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in the video. “Secretary [of State John F.] Kerry rationalizes, President Obama insists they are contained, and Hillary Clinton refuses to even call the threat by its real name. These are not the leaders America needs to protect our nation from the evils of radical Islamic terrorism. We need strength back in the Oval Office, and that’s why the American people will elect a Republican in 2016.”

As the administration fended off criticism that its counterterrorism strategy is failing, Mr. Earnest also said the president wasn’t trying to influence a government watchdog’s investigation into whether he is receiving accurate intelligence reports about the military’s failures against the Islamic State.

“The president certainly is interested in the independent investigation running its course,” Mr. Earnest said.

Mr. Obama said he doesn’t think his intelligence advisers are giving him a “rosy” assessment of the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State, but he nevertheless wants an ongoing review to find out if he’s getting the truth.

“I don’t want intelligence shaded by politics,” Mr. Obama said Sunday shortly before returning to Washington from a nine-day trip overseas. “I don’t want it shaded by the desire to tell a feel-good story. We can’t make good policy unless we’ve got good, accurate, hard-headed, clear-eyed intelligence.”

The president said he has ordered Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to “get to the bottom” of whether intelligence reports have been scrubbed to give him a more positive view of developments in Syria and Iraq. The probe is being conducted by the Pentagon’s inspector general.

But even as Mr. Obama said he’s looking for the truth, the president also voiced his opinion about the likely outcome of the investigation.

“As a consumer of this intelligence, it’s not as if I’ve been receiving wonderfully rosy, glowing portraits of what’s been happening in Iraq and Syria over the last year and a half,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “So to the extent that it’s been shaded — again, I don’t know the details of what the IG may discover — but it feels to me like, at my level at least, we’ve had a pretty clear-eyed, sober assessment of where we’ve made real progress and where we have not.”

The New York Times reported Sunday that the inspector general is investigating allegations that significant changes were made to reports from analysts at the U.S. Central Command, known as Centcom, about the military’s failures. The Defense Department has expanded the investigation in recent weeks, seizing emails and documents and comparing them to other assessments from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others, The Times reported.

Mr. Obama said he always instructs his subordinates to give him an unvarnished view of national security developments.

“I have made it repeatedly clear to all my top national security advisers that I never want them to hold back, even if the intelligence or their opinions about the intelligence, their analysis or interpretations of the data contradict current policy,” he said. “If there are disagreements in terms of how folks are interpreting the facts, then that should be reflected in the reports that we receive. … And that’s part of what I weigh in terms of making decisions.”

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