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Obama not pushing Syria airstrikes

‘The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark,” President Obama said. ‘That’s not what’s going to happen.”

MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA

‘The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark,” President Obama said. ‘That’s not what’s going to happen.”

WASHINGTON — President Obama tamped down the prospect of imminent US military action in Syria on Thursday, saying ‘‘we don’t have a strategy yet’’ for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

The president spoke shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers on a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. However, officials said Obama was not expected to emerge from the meeting with a decision on which avenue to pursue.

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The United States is already striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in neighboring Syria. The militants have moved with ease between the two countries, effectively blurring the border.

But Obama, who has long been reluctant to plunge the US military into Syria, said confronting the Islamic State would require more than just American action. He called for a regional strategy that could bring in other nations and focus on political as well as military options.

In blunt terms, the president said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to ‘‘stop being ambivalent’’ about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State. ‘‘They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,’’ Obama said, alluding to the group’s announcement last week that it had killed American journalist James Foley.

The militants also have threatened to kill other US hostages in Syria.

The president said he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East soon to discuss the matter with regional partners. Obama will also meet with world leaders in Europe next week during a NATO summit.

‘The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark,’ President Obama said. ‘That’s not what’s going to happen.’

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In outlining his strategy for confronting the Islamic State, the president said his top priority remains rolling back the militants’ gains in Iraq, where he has said they pose a threat to US personnel in Erbil and Baghdad.

‘‘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,’’ he said.

Some of Obama’s top military advisers have said the Islamic State cannot be defeated unless the United States also goes after the group inside Syria. The president did not rule out that possibility, but said that if he were to expand the military mission, he would consult with members of Congress, who are due to return to Washington in early September.

‘‘The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark,’’ Obama said. ‘‘That’s not what’s going to happen.’’

However, the president did not commit to seeking a vote from Congress if he were to decide to proceed with military action. One year ago, Obama was on the verge of ordering strikes against the Syrian government because of its use of chemical weapons, but abruptly shifted course and decided to seek congressional approval.

The move threw his policy into chaos. Congress balked at Obama’s request for a vote, contributing to his decision to ultimately scrap the strikes. The White House said it also abandoned plans to take military action after Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.

This time, with the midterm elections just over two months away, lawmakers may be even less inclined to take a politically risky vote on military action.

‘‘I see no reason to come to Congress because, if he does, it’ll just become a circus,’’ Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, said this week.

Still, some lawmakers are calling for Obama to put military action in Syria to a vote. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, a frequent critic of the administration’s foreign policy, has said Congress should ‘‘certainly’’ authorize such steps. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and White House ally, has also called for a vote on the president’s broader strategy for going after the Islamic State.

‘‘I am calling for the mission and objectives for this current significant military action against ISIL to be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform,’’ said Kaine, using one of the acronyms for the militant group. ‘‘Congress should vote up or down on it.’’

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