Aaron Blake — Stars and Stripes Oct 30, 2015
It’s generally a bad idea for presidents, or would-be presidents, to make iron-clad promises about foreign policy. And President Barack Obama has been stymied repeatedly when it comes to this.
The White House announced Friday that a small number of special forces will be put on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria – a new strategy that pretty clearly contradicts past Obama and administration statements that U.S. forces would not be put on the ground there. As the United States got drawn into the fight against the Islamic State earlier this year, the White House repeatedly emphasized this point – a move to assure the nation that we wouldn’t be drawn into a new war like Iraq or Afghanistan.
Asked Friday about the incongruence of Obama’s past comments and putting these boots on the ground, White House press secretary Josh Earnest repeatedly emphasized that these are not combat troops – a distinction that many disagree with, we would note – and suggested promises to not put boots on the ground were being taken “out of context.”
“You’ve read one quote that, to be fair, is out of context,” he said when NBC’s Kristen Welker pointed to Obama saying in 2013 there would be no U.S. boots on the ground.
But Obama has actually said no boots on the ground repeatedly in 2013, before adjusting his language slightly – but notably – in 2014.
Here’s a recap of how he – and one of his top foreign policy aides – talked about it, in five quotes.
“Again, I repeat: We’re not considering any open-ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach.”
- Obama at a press conference at the White House with Baltic leaders on Aug. 20, 2013
“Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground.”
- Obama in a statement on Syria at the White House on Aug. 31, 2013
“This will not be Iraq or Afghanistan. There will be no American boots on the ground – period.”
- United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice on Sept. 9, 2013
“I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”
- Obama in a televised national address from the White House on Sept. 10, 2013
More recently, in 2014, Obama talked less about “no boots on the ground” and more about those hypothetical troops not having a “combat” mission or be actually fighting – a distinction the White House keyed on Friday.
“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”
- Obama in his plan to destroy the Islamic State on Sept. 10, 2014
“I won’t commit our troops to fighting another ground war in Iraq, or in Syria.”
- Obama in his weekly address on Sept. 20, 2014
Even Friday though, the White House’s decision to parse what is and isn’t a combat troop is being picked apart.