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Obama's Message to ISIS: 'America Does Not Forget'

August 26th 2014

Iraq ISIL double file of militants

President Obama on Tuesday vowed to address the threat posed by the "barbaric terrorists" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as the administration weighs the possibility of expanding U.S. airstrikes to target militants operating in Syria. Airstrikes are already taking place in Iraq.

"Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple: America does not forget; our reach is long; we are patient; justice will be done," the president said during a speech to the American Legion in Charlotte. "We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland."

While acknowledging that "rooting out a cancer" like ISIS would not be easy or quick, the president said terrorist leaders "recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match" for the United States.

Obama ordered airstrikes earlier this month against ISIS targets in Iraq, and on Tuesday defended that effort as "necessary to protect our people.” He also said that strikes had “helped Iraqi forces begin to push back these terrorists." "We have to meet today's evolving terrorist threat," Obama said.

But the president offered little insight into his current thinking on expanding strikes to include sites in Syria. The Pentagon has begun conducting surveillance flights over Syria, though White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on board Air Force One on Tuesday that the president has not made any decisions about possible military action there.

In recent days, ISIS militants have captured an air base from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country's Raqqa province, providing an important strategic victory. That has led the Syrian government to call on Western powers to join it in the fight against ISIS.

But the Obama administration, which last year asked Congress to authorize strikes against Assad in response to his use of chemical weapons in the country's bloody civil war, said Tuesday such collaboration was not a possibility.

"As a matter of US policy, we have not recognized" Assad as the leader in Syria, Earnest said. "There are no plans to change that policy, and there are no plans to coordinate with the Assad regime"

The president on Tuesday hinted that there were definitive limits on how far he would push military action in the region. He vowed he would "not allow the United States to be dragged into another ground war in Iraq" and said troops should never be sent into harm's way "unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan."

"Sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure, means we have to use our power wisely," Obama said. "History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences."

The president also used his speech before the nation's largest veterans organization to address the "outrageous and inexcusable" mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs that dominated headlines earlier this year.

"We're focused on this at the highest levels. We are going to get to the bottom of these problems," Obama said, adding that new VA Secretary Robert McDonald "doesn't play."

"We are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there," Obama said. "And those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans and live up to our vision of VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens."

The president announced 19 executive orders designed to improve veterans' access to medical care, with a particular emphasis on mental health services. Obama also announced new public-private partnerships for veterans designed to ease access to mortgages and jobs.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) shot back by saying that the president's executive orders "fall far short of what’s needed to regain the trust of America’s veterans."

"What we need from the president right now is more follow-through and less flash when it comes to helping veterans," Miller said in a statement. "A good place for him to start would be to meet with family members and veterans who have been struck by the VA scandal, order the department to cooperate with the congressional committees investigating VA, and force DoD and VA to work together to establish a joint electronic health record integrated across all DoD and VA components."

Justine Sink writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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