President Barack Obama will head to the United Nations General Assembly this coming week with two missions: to rally international support for a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa.
The efforts by Obama, who was elected on promises to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and reduce America’s footprint in the world, reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy,” Obama said. The president was using a term used to describe the Islamic State group.
His strategy against the Islamist militant group has put more than 1,000 U.S. troops in Iraq – though not in a combat role – reflecting what analysts say is the president’s continuing reluctance to get involved.
Withdrawal from Iraq
In 2011, Obama oversaw the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as polls showed war-weary Americans had no appetite for continued U.S. participation in foreign conflicts.
But the pressure is building on Obama now to show American strength.
Videos of Islamic State militants killing U.S. journalists have helped turn polls around, with more Americans now favoring stronger U.S. action in the region.
For Obama, it has created a dilemma.
Analyst Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute said, “President Obama is absolutely correct to say that he has a mandate to keep the United States out of Iraq. President Obama is, however, ideologically opposed to this sort of military action and so this is one of the reasons why he is showing such great reluctance.”
Adding to the international crises facing Obama is the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, where the president announced last week that he would deploy 3,000 U.S. troops in response to calls for help from Liberia and other countries.
“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace,” Obama said.
“We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do,” he told a group of military service members at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, last week.
US aid sought
Larry Korb, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign, noted that this time it is the governments of Iraq and Liberia calling on the U.S. to step in.
“I think we need to recognize that when we’re invited in like the president of Liberia, where Iraq has invited us back in now – then it’s much different,” Korb said.
At the United Nations, Obama will attend a climate summit and chair a Security Council meeting on foreign fighters.
The rest of the time he will work to shore up commitments by other member states to help deal with both the Islamic State militants and the Ebola outbreak.