U.S. Policy towards Syria and ISIS

For a recent article I have been trying to piece together the history of the U.S. policy and actions towards Syria and ISIS.  Throughout the table below are links to the entire article that quotes are taken from when the actions or comments are not taken directly from the White House statements.  I will update this periodically when major events occur.


Date Speaker/Actor Statements/Activities on Syria or ISIS policy

August 18

President Obama President Obama declares that Assad must step aside as he has not started a democratic transition.

July 13

George Little, Pentagon press secretary The use of chemical weapons would “cross a serious red line

July 23

President Obama Assad will be “held accountable” if he uses chemical weapons

August 11

SecState Hillary Clinton Assad using chemical weapons would be “a red line for the world.”

August 20

President Obama use or movement of chemical weapons by Assad is a red line—His first statement of the “red line

February 7

SecDef Panetta & CJCS Dempsey In response, to a Senator McCain question of their ideas of a strike being overruled at the White House, they tell him they agree with a Clinton and Petraeus plan arm rebel groups.

March 18

Senator Carl Levin Suggests safe zones for the opposition, breaking with the President.

June 13


Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications (WH Press Release)


“The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons…is a red line for the United States…Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria.  The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has.

…Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward.”


August 31

President Obama “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. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.”

“Our military has positioned assets in the region… I’m prepared to give that order.”

I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”

“we’ll continue to support the Syrian people through our pressure on the Assad regime, our commitment to the opposition, our care for the displaced, and our pursuit of a political resolution that achieves a government that respects the dignity of its people.”

2013 Senate and House of Representatives Congress does not authorize the use of military force (AUMF) as requested by the President citing multiple reasons to include a lack of a clear policy or strategy.

January 27

President Obama Famously quoted ISIS is the JayVee statement.

Full details of this controversial statement can be found at this link.



President Obama “Announced the deployment of up to 300 American military advisers to Iraq in June 2014.”

August 7

President Obama Begins military operations against ISIS/ISIL in Iraq.

President Obama on Thursday announced he had authorized limited airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, scrambling to avert the fall of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and returning the United States to a significant battlefield role in Iraq for the first time since the last American soldier left the country at the end of 2011.



Obama administration official who works on Middle East issues. “This press conference is going to lead to even more doubt by those that thought that this White House was ready to take meaningful action against ISIS across the board.”

August 28

President Obama “in Iraq, our dedicated pilots and crews continue to carry out the targeted strikes that I authorized to protect Americans there and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground.”

“ISIL poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region.  And that’s why our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners”

“I’ve asked Secretary Kerry to travel to the region to continue to build the coalition”

“I’ve directed Secretary Hagel and our Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options.  I’ll be meeting with my National Security Council again this evening as we continue to develop that strategy.” 

“Well, first of all, I want to make sure everybody is clear on what we’re doing now, because it is limited.  Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq; to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected.”

“the options that I’m asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq.

“But when we look at a broader strategy that is consistent with what I said at West Point, that’s consistent with what I said at the National Defense College, clearly ISIL has come to represent the very worst elements in the region that we have to deal with collectively.  And that’s going to be a long-term project.”


August 28

President Obama

(we don’t have a strategy yet statement)

“I have consulted with Congress throughout this process.  I am confident that as Commander-in-Chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently.  As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress.


But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.  We don’t have a strategy yet.


…And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military as well.  We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them.  At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.  But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.”


“And we’re going to cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy.  There will be a military aspect to that, and it’s going to be important for Congress to know what that is, in part because it may cost some money.”


September 11

President Obama Begins “open-ended bombing campaign against Islamic State militants on Wednesday that will extend into Syria for the first time, despite acknowledging that the extremist group did not currently pose a direct threat to the US homeland.”

Cites the 2002 AUMF authorizing the invasion of Iraq as justification for operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the 2001 AUMF for operations in Syria.



SecState John Kerry “The president has been crystal clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL,”


Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.) Continues pushing for a new authorization: “If we [had] wait [ed] until January . . . by the first week we’re back we’re already into the sixth month of a unilateral war that many of us feel lacks a legal authority


President Obama Asks for Congress to authorize the AUMF for a war against ISIS.

The request states “our core objective to destroy ISIL,” and asks for a “systemic and sustained campaign of airstrikes,” Also seeks to support and train opposition forces and provide humanitarian assistance.

Again does not call for ground troops in either Iraq or Syria.


October 30

Josh Earnest, White House spokesman for President Obama “the U.S. would be deploying “less than 50” Special Operations forces, who will be sent to Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria. The American troops will help local Kurdish and Arab forces fighting ISIS with logistics and are planning to bolster their efforts.”

“That has been the core element of the military component of our strategy from the beginning…”

“These forces do not have a combat mission.”


October 30

President Obama To date, ordered more than 3,500 U.S. Forces to Iraq.

December 9

SecDef Carter statements on policy and AUMF (CNN) “defense secretary Ashton Carter was on the Hill today defending the Obama administration’s plan to defeat ISIS. But he conceded that the terrorist organization has not been contained. Carter telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that momentum against ISIS is building and U.S. forces will prevail.”

“he kept going back to the point he felt that they were gaining momentum, building momentum. That is not what the committee wanted to hear. They wanted to hear a plan, a strategy for success.

And they talked about — the committee talked about some specifics, Raqqah, the stronghold of ISIS, leaders in Syria. When is the U.S. going to be able to mount some kind of operation with local fighters to boot ISIS out of Raqqa? Because that is a huge symbol for ISIS recruiting, for staging other attacks. No clear answers from the secretary about that.”


December 21

NPR Interview of President Obama “I think that it is very important for us to understand this is a serious challenge. ISIS is a virulent, nasty organization that has gained a foothold in ungoverned spaces effectively in Syria and parts of western Iraq.”

“keep things in perspective, and this is not an organization that can destroy the United States…But they can hurt us, and they can hurt our people and our families.”

“my message…[if] we remember who we are and make sure that our resilience, our values, our unity are maintained. If we do that, then ISIL will be defeated.”

What the public is missing about my strategy:  “the strength of the United States…are not threatened by an organization like this; in the same way that al-Qaida was able to carry out one spectacular attack, we ended up making some significant changes to harden homeland defenses. It then took awhile for us to ultimately snuff out core al-Qaida in the FATA, and there are still lingering remnants, but at no point was there ever a sense that in fact it could do catastrophic damage to us.”

“one of the interesting things that you’ve seen evolve over the last several weeks…is that those who are critics of our administration response…when you ask them, well, what would you do instead, they don’t have an answer”

(*note numerous critics, to include some who previously advised the President on Syria and ISIS, have laid out detailed plans)

On keeping the ground force numbers so low: “when you start looking at an Iraq-type deployment of large numbers of troops — 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 troops — we are now in a situation in which we are committing ourselves not only to going door to door…but we have essentially said to the Iraqis and the Syrians that we are going to govern for you…that ends up being of an indefinite period.”

(*note those troops numbers in no way match the ground force numbers used in Iraq or Afghanistan)

“ISIL is…more effective in their media, in their online presence…So part of what we have to do in response is to ramp up countering that narrative online, working with local communities to make sure that we are inoculating ourselves and our young people from this kind of recruitment.”

Present President Obama and the Congress President Obama still has not convinced the U.S. Congress to support a new AUMF specifically for the war on ISIS.  Congress has failed to draft and vote on its own AUMF.


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