, WASHINGTON, September 10- Barack Obama will steel Americans for a prolonged battle against the Islamic State Wednesday, despite devoting much of his presidency to avoiding sapping new entanglements in the Middle East.
His hand forced by the radical group’s sudden rise in Syria and Iraq, Obama will use a prime time address to argue that targeted military might and an international coalition can defeat IS, before it poses a threat to the US homeland.
But mindful of avoiding what he believes are the mistakes of the last decade, Obama will assure millions of television viewers that he will not send conventional ground troops back to Iraq to fight a group that has beheaded two US journalists.
It remained unclear whether Obama would also use the address on the ceremonial state floor of the White House — where he announced the success of a US operation to kill Osama bin Laden — to signal an expansion of US airstrikes against IS from Iraq into Syria.
But the New York Times and the Washington Post said late Tuesday that Obama is in fact prepared to authorize air strikes in Syria. The Times quoted a senior administration official, while the Post cited foreign policy experts who have spoken to Obama in recent days.
The speech will also lack a definitive timeline for US operations against IS, after several reports cited senior officials as saying they could outlast Obama’s presidency, which ends in January 2017.
“I think the American people need to expect that this is something that will require a sustained commitment,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The address will come at a poignant time — on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, when Islamic radicalism on a mass scale scorched the US homeland for the first time, and drew America into exhausting overseas wars and a still unending anti-terror campaign.
Earnest said Obama would “talk about the risks that the United States faces, and he’ll talk about the strategy that he has put together to confront those risks, to mitigate them, and ultimately to degrade and destroy ISIL,” he said, using an alternative acronym for IS.
But many details of the plan Obama will outline, as he enlists the symbolic weight of a national address at 9:00 pm (0100 GMT Thursday) remain unclear.
– Cautious hope –
White House aides say it will be anchored on the cautious hope that Iraq’s new unity government will prove more inclusive than ex prime minister Nuri al Maliki who was blamed for fanning sectarianism that eased Islamic State’s rise.
The president briefed senior congressional leaders on his plan on Tuesday, and an aide to House Speaker John Boehner stirred speculation that he could order US troops back to Iraq on a mission strictly limited to training their Iraqi counterparts and to call in air strikes against IS forces.
“The speaker stated he would support the president if he chose to deploy the military to help train and play an advisory role for the Iraqi security forces and assist with the lethal targeting of ISIL leadership,” the aide said.
There was no comment from the White House on whether Obama was considering such an idea, after aborting plans for a small contingent of American soldiers to stay on in Iraq after 2011, following a disagreement with the Maliki government.
Obama, who sees ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a centerpiece of his legacy, is also under pressure to announce stepped-up support for moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army, despite his antipathy to intervening in Syria’s vicious civil war.
Washington wants to ensure that President Bashar al Assad, who it regards as a war criminal, does not benefit from any power vacuum left in the event that US military action degrades IS.