‘This is going to be a long term project’

Francesca Chambers – Mail Online August 9, 2014

President Barack Obama refused to put forward a timetable for a resolution to the conflict in Iraq, saying that it was going to ‘take some time,’ in a Saturday morning press conference the preceded his departure to Martha’s Vineyard.

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‘I’m not going to give a particular timetable, because as I’ve said from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation, my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, to make sure that they are protected,’ Obama said.

‘I don’t think we are going to solve this problem in weeks,’ the president said, noting that rebuilding Iraq ‘is going to be a long-term project.’

The president said among his ‘immediate concerns’ was making ‘sure ISIL is not engaging in the actions that could cripple a country permanently.’

Following the press conference, the first family jetted off to their annual vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, where the command-in-chief wasted no time hitting the links on a nearby golf course.

Obama, along with wife Michelle, daughter Malia and dogs Bo and Sunny, arrived at a Coast Guard station on Cape Cod before heading to the island off the Massachusetts coast.

The presidential motorcade wove its way around Martha’s Vineyard before pulling down a secluded drive that led to the Obamas’ rented vacation house.

The president spent just 30 minutes at the house before heading off to the Farm Neck Golf Club for a round of golf with former NFL player Ahmad Rashad, NBA player Ray Allen, and Cyrus Walker, the cousin of White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Despite his open ended timetable for untangling the U.S. from Iraq, the president stood by his previous promises that he would not put boots on the ground in the country for any reason other than to protect American personnel stationed there.

‘I’ve been very clear that we’re not gonna have U.S. combat troops in Iraq again. And we are going to maintain that because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq,’ he said.

Obama also said that ‘right now’ he did not need any additional funding from Congress to carry out military and humanitarian missions in Iraq.

Asked if the U.S.underestimated Islamic militants in Iraq, Obama said: ‘There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than intelligence estimates.’

The president admitted that policy makers inside and outside of Iraq did not have a ‘full appreciation’ for the fact that Iraqi forces would not stand their ground in the face of the enemy.

However, Obama expressed irritation with the perception that it was his ‘decision’ to pull out of Iraq in 2011.

‘That entire analysis is bogus and wrong but it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made,’ Obama said.

President George W. Bush’s administration, he said, gave control of the country back to the Iraqi people.

‘And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us’ with the types of assurances that the U.S. would have needed to stay, he explained.

‘We had offered to leave additional troops,’ he said.

‘So when you hear people say, do you regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops, that presupposes that I would have overridden this sovereign government that we had turned the keys back over to,’ he said.

That ‘would have kind of run contrary to the entire argument we were making about turning over the country back to Iraqis, an argument not just made by me, but made by the previous administration.’

That said, had the Iraqi government repeated history and ‘targeted certain Sunni leaders and jailed them’ and ‘alienated some of the Sunni tribes,’ and the US still had troops in Iraq, they wouldn’t have been able to prevent the current crisis, Obama said.

‘The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable,’ Obama continued. ‘And however many troops we had, we would have to now be reinforcing, I’d have to be protecting them, and we’d have a much bigger job.

‘And probably, we would end up having to go up again in terms of the number of grounds troops to make sure that those forces were not vulnerable.’

Immediately after the president spoke he hopped aboard his Marine One helicopter with his wife Michelle and their daughter Sasha and sped off to their annual summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.

The first family will remain in the elite Massachusetts town for the next two weeks. President Obama will return to Washington next weekend for several days of meetings but will rejoin his family there for the five final days of their vacation.

The president did not cancel or postpone his vacation even after the Islamic militants overrunning the country took control of one of Iraq’s largest dams and ran religious minorities out of the city of Mosul under threat of death.

With nowhere else to go, an estimated 40,000 followers of the Yadizi religion fled to Mount Sinjar in norther Iraq, where they have been stranded for most of the last week.

Throughout the last two days the U.S. military has made air drops of food and water to the Iraqi refugees hiding away in the mountains and has launched airstrikes on extremists camped outside the nearby city of Erbil.

‘We feel confident that we can prevent ISIL form going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there,’ Obama said today.

The issue is providing ‘safe passage’ down the mountain and figuring out where displaced Iraqis will live after that, he said. That process will require the involvement of the international community, Obama said.

The U.S. president said that he spoke on the phone this morning with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande and both leaders said they would join the U.S. in providing humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees.

‘Now, even as we deal with these immediate situations, we continue to pursue a broader strategy in Iraq,’ Obama noted. ‘We will protect our American citizens in Iraq, whether they’re diplomats, civilians or military.

‘If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people.’

The president said he was not planning to move the U.S. embassy or consulate in Baghdad ‘any time soon.’

Part of the long-term strategy in Iraq has to be the formation of a new government, he said, pointing out that the government of Iraq still doesn’t have a Prime Minister or a cabinet.

‘Once an inclusive government is in place, I’m confident it will be easier to mobilize all Iraqis against ISIL, and to mobilize greater support from our friends and allies,’ he said.

‘Ultimately, only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq. The United States can’t do it for them, but we can and will be partners in that effort.’