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White House Digs In on ISIS Strategy Ahead of Hollande Visit

Obama met with Hollande at the G7 Summit in Germany in June. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)
Obama met with Hollande at the G7 Summit in Germany in June. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

The White House continues to give no indication that President Barack Obama is poised to deploy additional U.S. combat troops or military hardware to fight the Islamic State.  

Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday gave reporters a snapshot of what Obama and French President Francoise Hollande will discuss Tuesday about the response to the Paris terrorist attacks. At no point did Earnest mention the two leaders talking about the potential for the U.S. to expand military operations or increase its combat footprint in Syria or Iraq. But he had plenty to say about America’s allies, including France, doing more. Earnest said he “wouldn’t rule out” the U.S. doing more. But he set the tone for the briefing early, saying Obama believes there is “more that our coalition partners could do” and noting the president spent ample time during a nine-day trip last week through Asia asking world leaders to step up their efforts against ISIS.  

Obama’s chief spokesman ticked off a list of actions the U.S. has taken, including: leading a 65-country coalition fighting the violent extremist group; airstrikes from American warplanes; giving French military officials lists of ISIS targets to hit; providing U.S. aerial tankers to refuel French aircraft; gathering intelligence; and supporting coalition bombardment missions with U.S. search-and-rescue aircraft.  

Earnest’s Monday comments echoed those made last week by Obama and other White House officials, which collectively suggested the U.S. action in the fight against ISIS will go on largely unchanged.  

The U.S. “is more than pulling our weight” in fighting the group, Earnest told reporters.  

Experts told CQ Roll Call that Hollande likely realizes Obama is reluctant to do more, understanding the American president’s wariness to drag his country into another large-scale ground conflict in the Middle East.  

While Earnest gave no signal that Obama is prepared to offer Hollande assistance in the form of a more robust military operation against the group French officials have fingered in the Paris attacks, he said “there will be plenty for the two to talk about.”  

One issue expected to top the agenda is whether to work more closely with Moscow in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signaled he wants to go after ISIS in Syria after acknowledging the group downed a Russian airliner in Egypt.  

Hollande is seen as more open to a U.S.-French-Russian partnership than is Obama.  

Jeffrey Lightfoot, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said France is “getting very little support from allies in Europe” so it “sees Russia as a potential country that can maybe move the most to help.”  

For his part, Obama intends to use Tuesday’s meeting to show Hollande and the French people that “the most powerful nation in the world has their back,” Earnest said.  

Asked if Hollande’s visit will be devoid of substance and mostly about the U.S. showing solidarity with France, Earnest merely advised a reporter to avoid downplaying such actions in the wake of a terrorist attack that left 130 dead.  

Meantime, the White House also hit hard at GOP lawmakers who oppose altering gun laws to make it harder for potential terrorists to buy firearms in the U.S.  

Earnest accused those Republicans with “being more interested in playing politics” and said bluntly the White House feels they are afraid of the National Rifle Association, the most powerful pro-gun lobbying group.  


Hollande Meets With Obama: 4 Things to Watch

Democrats Want More From Obama on Islamic State

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