President Obama walked an awkward line between recognizing a new war in Iraq and Syria and trying to turn a page from more than a decade of "two long and costly wars" during his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
The president noted the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan and a greatly reduced U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, from 180,000 down to fewer than 15,000.
But he also asked Congress to authorize the use of military force in the U.S.'s new war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for which the president has ordered the deployment of 3,100 troops and possibly about 1,000 more to train and equip Syrian rebels.
The president said U.S. leadership — including its military — has stopped ISIS's advance in Iraq and Syria.
But he cautioned that the new war against ISIS would not be easy.
"This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed," he said.
Still, the president tried to contrast the current efforts against ISIS with "another ground war."
"Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group," he said.
There was no mention this year of moving "off a permanent war footing," as he called on the country to do in his address last year. And there were no claims that al Qaeda was on the run, or that its core leadership was "on a path to defeat," as he claimed last year.
However, Obama did continue promote his preferred approach to terrorism, using a light footprint approach of special operations forces, drone strikes and partnering with indigenous ground forces.
"We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies,” he said.
"Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America," he added.
Republican critics scoffed at the president's remarks claiming progress against ISIS, as well as his counterterrorism approach.
"For POTUS to say we are succeeding in Syria AND stopping ISIS — shows detachment from reality — very disappointing," tweeted Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda Bob Dole: A great leader of the 'Greatest Generation' The bully who pulls the levers of Trump's mind never learns MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal Bottom line GOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' MORE (R-S.C.) issued a joint statement calling the administration's strategy against ISIS incoherent.
"Despite the President’s claims of progress in the campaign against ISIS, this terrorist army continues to gain thousands of recruits and now controls significantly more territory in Syria than when U.S. airstrikes began there six months ago," they said.
They also criticized Obamam's counterterrorism approach in Yemen, noting he once touted U.S. efforts in the country as a model for the war against ISIS.
Earlier this week, Houthi rebels besieged the presidential palace in Yemen, and last week, Western officials said at least one of the Paris attackers had trained in Yemen with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
"If the President uses the same failed strategy in Syria that he holds up as a model in Yemen, we can expect the same results: a failed state, reduced American influence, and more safe havens for violent Islamic extremists committed to attacking America and our allies," they said.