Obama: United States 'can’t just look away'

President Obama defended his decision to escalate combat operations in Iraq in his Saturday weekly address, insisting that the step was needed to protect American diplomats stationed in the country.

Obama said that the two operations he had authorized in Iraq would also protect refugees trapped on Sinjar Mountain in Iraq, noting that the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants approached genocide. 

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“The United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world,” Obama said in the address. “But when there’s a situation like the one on this mountain — when countless innocent people are facing a massacre, and when we have the ability to help prevent it — the United States can’t just look away.”

The president’s address also underscored the challenges he faced on Capitol Hill in building support for his efforts in his Iraq. With the series of airstrikes he authorized, Obama became the fourth consecutive U.S. president to call for a military strike against Iraq.

Top GOP lawmakers backed the president’s move, but said they were necessary because the White House hadn’t acted aggressively enough against Iraqi militants. Many Democrats were on Obama’s side as well, though some liberals expressed concerns that the president’s airstrikes would once again lead to ground troops in Iraq.

In his weekly address, Obama insisted that would not be the case.

The operations he approved, Obama said, would assist the potentially tens of thousands of stranded Iraqi men, women and children. That does not mean, the president added, that he would give the green light for more ground troops in the country.

“American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis there,” Obama said. 

But Obama insisted the U.S. military would continue to protect America’s strategic interests in Iraq, and to prevent militants from gaining any further foothold in the country.

“We’ll continue to urge Iraqi communities to reconcile, come together and fight back against these terrorists so the people of Iraq have the opportunity for a better future — the opportunity for which so many Americans gave their lives in Iraq in a long and hard war.”

U.S. soldiers and the actions he approved, Obama added, would help increase American popularity in Iraq.

“They’re helping save the lives of innocent people on a mountain — people who today know that there’s a country called America that cares for them, too, and that is willing to stand up — not just for our own security, but for the dignity and freedom that belongs to all people,” the president said.