President Obama on Monday ruled out sending more ground troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
During a press conference at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Turkey, Obama pushed back against calls for the U.S. to broadly rethink its strategy against the extremist group.
“A strategy has to be one that can be sustained,” Obama added.
“Given the fact there are sacrifices involved in any military action, it is best that we don’t shoot first and aim later,” the president added. “It’s important for us to get the strategy right, and the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”
Obama showed frustration with multiple questions about whether he underestimated the threat posed by ISIS against Western nations.
The president sniped at reporters who asked him why the U.S. isn’t doing more to fight the group in the Middle East. “I just spent the last three questions answering that question,” he told one.
He has come under fire for saying the group has been geographically “contained,” a remark which was broadcast just hours before the series of coordinated attacks in the French capital killed at least 120 people and injured many more. Republicans have resurfaced Obama’s comment from last year calling ISIS “a JV team.”
But Obama said his critics have not presented a viable alternative to the strategy the U.S. has pursued against ISIS.
“My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe. If there is a good idea out there, then we’re going to do it,” he said.
He took a veiled swipe at Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who last week suggested he has better intelligence than administration about the conflict in Syria.
“Folks want to pop off and have opinions on what they think they would do, present a specific plan,” Obama said. “If they think that somehow their advisers are better than the chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff or the folks on the ground, I want to meet them and we can have that debate.”
And Obama appeared to take a shot at GOP candidate Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKellyanne Conway gets Secret Service protection Report: Pittsburgh man’s ear bitten off in fight over Trump Defense secretary speaks with NATO leader on first full day MORE’s ubiquitous “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership, or America winning or whatever slogans they come up with, that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and protect people in the region who are getting killed,” he said. “I’m too busy for that.”
Republican presidential candidates immediately condemned Obama’s comments.
“President Obama doesn’t understand we are at war. Defeating ISIS requires America leading and America winning,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said on Twitter.
Obama has faced growing calls to send large numbers of ground troops to Syria to uproot ISIS’s base of operations there.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate panel votes to confirm Tillerson Overnight Defense: Trump nominates Air Force secretary | Senate clears CIA director | Details on first drone strike under Trump Rubio to vote for Tillerson MORE (R-S.C.), who is running for president, warned in a CNN interview Sunday that “there is a 9/11” coming if the U.S. doesn’t play a leading role in the ground war against ISIS.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSenate panel votes to confirm Tillerson Overnight Defense: Trump nominates Air Force secretary | Senate clears CIA director | Details on first drone strike under Trump McCain: Trump's withdrawal from TPP a 'serious mistake' MORE (R-Ariz.), another leading defense hawk, echoed Graham’s call for ground troops.
But the president spent a large chunk of time on Monday trying to debunk that argument.
“Let’s assume we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there is a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there or Libya perhaps?”
If local populations in Iraq and Syria aren’t committed to taking out ISIS, “they resurface, unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of those countries.”
Obama also took aim at domestic opponents and foreign leaders who have suggested Western nations should stop accepting refugees from Syria in response to the attacks.
One of the attackers reportedly had a Syrian passport and entered Europe through Greece, raising concerns ISIS could exploit refugee resettlement programs to sneak militants into the U.S. and other countries to carry out strikes.
“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said. “We have to remember that many of these refugees are victims of terror. That's why they're fleeing.”
Before addressing the media, Obama met with British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who attended the summit in place of President François Hollande.
The countries agreed to enhance intelligence sharing and step up airstrikes. U.S. warplanes for the first time on Monday bombed hundreds of ISIS oil trucks in an effort to disrupt one of the group’s main revenue streams.
Obama’s comments came after CIA Director John Brennan cautioned that ISIS could have more operations like the Paris attacks planned.
ISIS also warned in a video Monday that countries participating in airstrikes against the group, including the U.S., could suffer the same fate as France.
"I would anticipate that this is not the only operation that ISIL has in the pipeline,” Brennan said, using the administration’s preferred acronym for the terror group.
“It is clear to me that ISIL has an external agenda that they are determined to carry out these kinds of attacks. This is not something that was done in a matter of days,” he added. "This was something that was deliberately and carefully planned over the course of several months.”
Updated at 11:50 a.m.