(CNSNews.com) - President Obama on Monday resisted pressure from his critics who want him to put "large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground" in Syria.
The president said it would be a "mistake," and he gave two reasons:
First, although U.S. troops are fully capable of clearing Islamic State terrorists out of Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi, what would happen next? Obama asked.
"[W]e would see a repetition of what we've seen before, which is -- if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes -- that they (terrorists) resurface unless we're prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.
"And let's assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria -- what happens when there's a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya perhaps? Or if there's a terrorist network that's operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia?
"So a strategy has to be one that can be sustained, and the strategy that we're pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground, systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia -- or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces that are -- and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we're able to defeat them, that's the strategy we're going to have to pursue.
"And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy, and there are going to be some things that don't work, there'll be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those."
Obama said the goal of the U.S.-led coalition is to defeat the terrorists' "narrative," by denying ISIS/ISIL the caliphate, or state, that it seeks to establish, because that will make the group less attractive to potential recruits:
"So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they (ISIS/ISIL) control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations.
"That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then over time will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris. And that's what we did with Al Qaida."
Obama noted that al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula -- operating mainly in Yemen -- is still targeting the West, "and we are consistently working to disrupt those acts."
"And so our goals here consistently have to be -- to be aggressive and to leave no stone unturned, but also recognize this is not conventional warfare. We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they're a state and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That's not what's going on here.
"These are killers with fantasies of glory, who are very savvy when it comes to social media and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage."
Later in the news conference, after he was repeatedly pressed on his anti-ISIL strategy by reporters, Obama said he will not "take actions" just to "make America look tough or make me look tough."
He said he "can't afford to play some of the political games that others may."
"We'll do what's required to keep the American people safe. And I thinks it's entirely appropriate in a democracy, to have a serious debate about these issues.
"Folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do? Present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisers are better than the chairman of my joint chiefs of staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate.
"But what I'm not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and to protect people in the region who are getting killed and to protect our allies and the people like France. I'm too busy for that."
'ISIL is not contained'
President Obama was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans, both for what he said and the defensive/annoyed way he said it.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), speaking to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, said she reads the intelligence, and "I have never been more concerned."
"ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding," she said. "They've just put out a video saying it is their intent to attack this country. And I think we have to be prepared."
Feinstein expressed the hope that France will prod NATO into declaring war on ISIL: "Hopefully, we will work with our allies to put together the kind of coalitions and attack plans in more than one place at a given time," she said. "There's only one way we are going to diminish them, and that is by taking them out, because they are growing. They are in more than a dozen countries now.
"They are sophisticated. They have apps to communicate on that cannot be pierced, even with a court order. So they have a kind of secret way of being able to conduct operations and operational planning. So we should take this very, very seriously."
Feinstein said she's not a military expert, so "I can't tell you how many troops on the ground we need. But we certainly need more than 50 Special Ops, and we need the ability to really make a difference on the ground.
"We need to be able to work with Russia and Iran, if they will work with us, in the Syria area. We need to be able to get a political solution to Assad so that all of everyone's attention can be directed to ISIL."
Feinstein noted that ISIL, in just the past month, took down a Russian airplane, killed 40 people in Beirut, and waged a major terror attack in Paris."They are on a march," she said.
"I think we will have to listen very carefully to our military people and ask for the kind of precise military strategy and tactics that might be able to really contain ISIL and defeat it."