President Obama is coming under criticism from some in his own party over his comments Monday about last week's terrorist attacks in Paris.
Influential liberal columnists and Democratic strategists say Obama came off as condescending and scornful during his press conference in Antalya, Turkey — missing an opportunity to show strength and leadership in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“What happened in Paris and in Beirut is going to require an aggressive response.”
Those comments echoed Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson’s assessment that Obama’s tone “was all wrong” in addressing the Paris attacks.
Typically an Obama ally, Robinson in a column published on Tuesday wrote that “at times he was patronizing, at other times he seemed annoyed and almost dismissive.”
“That’s not the tone you want to strike to the public, that’s not the tone you want to send to our allies and enemies,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
Obama reserved his harshest criticism for Republicans who challenged his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, while focusing most of his time fending off critics who say the Paris attacks show his counterterrorism strategy has been a failure.
“Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough,” the president said. “But I haven't seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.”
Monday’s press conference was the latest of a string of comments from Obama that have sparked concern among his fellow Democrats — including the president’s remark last week that ISIS has been geographically “contained.”
ISIS’s continued hold on large swaths of territory and its new ability to carry out a coordinated terror strike in a major European city should prompt a broader strategic reevaluation from Obama, some Democrats say.
“I read the intelligence faithfully. ISIL is not contained, ISIL is expanding,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday, using an alternate acronym for the group.
ISIS released a video this week threatening an attack on the United States, raising further concerns about the group’s global reach.
“I’d like to see more acknowledgement of that from him,” Manley said.
The White House on Tuesday rejected suggestions that Obama has not expressed enough urgency about curbing the threat posed by ISIS.
“I have worked for him for a long time and no one should question his passion, his concern about keeping the American people safe and continuing to lead in the world on going after this terrible terrorist group,” White House communications director Jen Psaki told MSNBC’s Mitchell.
Psaki pointed to Obama's remarks last Friday in the midst of the terror strikes, when he condemned them as an “attack on all of humanity” and pledged a swift response.
“That's absolutely how he feels,” she said. “It's not just about rhetoric to him, or to us: It's about actions.”
The Paris attacks have also posed a challenge to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, who has aligned herself closely with Obama. The president remains broadly popular with Democratic voters and is viewed by most party members as an asset for the former secretary of State's campaign.
But there are signs Obama could become an albatross for Clinton if foreign policy continues to dominate the 2016 race for the White House. A CBS News/New York Times poll showed broad skepticism towards Obama’s counter-ISIS strategy even before the Paris attacks.
More than half of Americans surveyed said they disapprove of the president’s efforts to combat ISIS in last week’s poll. While 53 percent of Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of ISIS, just 29 percent believe the fight is going well, and more than six in 10 say it is going badly.
While several Democrats said it’s foolish to expect a major shift from the cool, calculated Obama, French President François Hollande’s visit to the White House next Tuesday could serve as an opportunity for the president to recalibrate his message.
The meeting could focus more attention on the U.S. effort to step up its bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria, including new efforts to go after the group’s lucrative oil supply line.
Obama and Hollande could play up a newly announced intelligence sharing agreement between France and the U.S. to better coordinate the campaign against ISIS.
Despite their concerns, several Democrats said they understand Obama’s frustration. And they praised the president for not bowing to some critics’ suggestions, including a no-fly zone and ground troops, which Obama labeled a “shoot first and aim later” approach.
“The problem was not so much what he said, but the tone,” Bannon said. “He needs to be stronger, show more passion, show what he is going to do to ramp up the efforts and challenge the Republicans over what they want.”