Overcoming earlier reluctance, President Barack Obama is ready to order air strikes against ISIS in Syria in a significant expansion of US military engagement in the region.
He will make a case for it in a speech Wednesday night, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11 attacks, to a nation that, polls show, won’t be too difficult to convince.
“Tonight you will hear from the President how the United States will pursue a comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL (another acronym for ISIS), including US military action and support for the forces combating ISIL on the ground – both the opposition in Syria and a new, inclusive Iraqi government,” said a White House official.
“The President will discuss how we are building a coalition of Allies and partners in the region and in the broader international community to support our efforts, and will talk about how we work with the Congress as a partner in these efforts.”
Secretary of state John Kerry is in the region building support for the fight. He reached Baghdad on Wednesday for discussion with the new US-backed government.
At home, the president has met foreign policy experts, including those who served conservative administrations, and lawmakers to prepare the country for the escalation he is about to order.
Having run for office on the promise of ending wars, Obama looked reluctant to start a new one. The country too seemed too war-weary to consider fresh involvements.
But the mood changed with the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and the president came under mounting pressure to do more.
A Washington Post/ABC poll found 71% support for airstrikes in Iraq, which are currently on, and 65% for strikes in Syria, which the president hasn’t ordered yet, but is about to.
In fact, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found support, though in minority, for both air and ground assault, with troops on the ground, which is a no-go area, so far.
After Foley’s execution, the president ordered surveillance flights over Syria to plug serious gaps in intelligence on ISIS. But he took his time deliberating follow-up action.
Senior lawmakers of his party were frustrated by the president’s deliberative approach calling him “too cautious”. He had seemed to be at odds with even his own officials.
But he was coming around, saying in an interview earlier this week it was time for the US to “start going on some offense”, which he will announce Wednesday night.