Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffLawmakers praise defense bill's National Guard bonus fix Pelosi fends off challenge to leadership Sunday show questions swirl over optics, strategy of Trump picks MORE (D-Calif.) on Friday said President Obama’s remarks that the U.S. did not have a strategy against Islamic militants were “inartfully said,” and defended the administration’s approach.
“I think it's unfair to go after him for something that admittedly was inartfully said,” Schiff said on CNN’s “Wolf.”
During a White House press briefing Thursday, Obama told reporters “we don’t have a strategy yet” to confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Republicans immediately seized on the comment after calling on the president for days to present a comprehensive strategy. The White House rushed to clarify that Obama was referring to military action against the group in Syria.
Schiff on Friday said the president has a broad strategy to respond to ISIS, which involves closing the Turkish border, drying up funding for the group, military strikes against fighters in Iraq and establishing a broad unity government in Baghdad.
Schiff said Obama’s statement was necessary because speculation was growing quickly over possible U.S. airstrikes in Syria.
“I think it was very important for him to slow those expectations,” he said.
Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, explained airstrikes could actually worsen the situation in Syria by paving the way for other extremist groups to gain power.
The U.S. doesn’t have the same capabilities on the ground in Syria like it does in Iraq, he added. Obama administration officials must first explore whether displacing ISIS by airstrikes could empower al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Hezbollah, a terrorist group based in Lebanon.
“Unless you can answer those questions, and didn't think the military yet has good answers, I'm glad the president hit the pause button,” Schiff said, adding “it’s smart to say, ‘let’s make sure we think this out before we act.”
Asked if Obama would receive congressional authorization if he were to make the request for airstrikes, Schiff said it would be “tough” to do at this point because “there are a lot of unanswered questions about what would we accomplish.”