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Obama Goes To Martha's Vineyard But Issues Don't Take A Vacation


And let's bring in another voice now to the conversation. Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays and we're going to chat with her about President Obama's handling of the situation in Iraq. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So the president began a vacation in Martha's Vineyard over the weekend and before heading there he spoke to reporters, he did this longer interview with Tomas Friedman from the New York Times and he was really explicit about why he chose to authorize these airstrikes at Iraq.

ROBERTS: He was. Now he did warn this was going to be a long-term project and that it wasn't going to be a problem solved in weeks. But he repeatedly says that the problems in Iraq are for Iraq to fix. But he said, this is a unique circumstance where genocide is threatened, of course referring to the attacks on that religious groups the Yazidis, and in fact mass graves were found over the weekend supporting the charge of genocide. And the U.S. is of course a signatory to the genocide convention. The president says he's also protecting American lives because there's a consulate in the region, as there was in Benghazi, Libya. Plus he's responding to the Kurds who have requested help. But he continues to argue that he doesn't want to be the Kurdish Air Force or the Iraqi Air Force. He wants to keep up pressure on Iraq to form a government that's welcoming to all sides. But as you just heard from Loveday Morris, that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

GREENE: Well, and every time these extremists seem to make gains in Northern Iraq as we said, I mean, they've been threatening religious minorities - it opens the president up to criticism that he has to do more, that he hasn't done enough with this.

ROBERTS: Well, and they've also taken over the hydroelectric dam at Mosul, a very important part of the infrastructure.

GREENE: Right.

ROBERTS: So it's not surprising that national security hawks like Lindsey Graham and John McCain are saying, the president needs to do more. But Hillary Clinton also is weighing in. She told Atlantic Magazine that the failure to build a credible fighting force of opponents to Assad in Syria had created the vacuum that ISIS was able to fill. And she said also that, quote, "great nations need organizing principles. And don't do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle."


ROBERTS: So, yes, that's not a very subtle dig at the president. You also have General James Jones who was Obama's first national security adviser saying, time is not on our side and we need to get weapons to the Kurds quickly. And lots of voices questioning the president's decision to pull troops - U.S. troops - out of Iraq in the first place not, leave some sort of force on the ground.

GREENE: Gosh. It's not insignificant when you have your own former secretary of state who's adding her voice to criticism.

ROBERTS: (Laughter) Right.

GREENE: Cokie, Obama ran for president, he pledged to end the war in Iraq, he was committed to bringing Americans home. How could he have done anything but withdraw the troops from this country?

ROBERTS: Well, and he said both in his press conference on Saturday and to Tom Friedman - that U.S. troops wouldn't be able to do any good in this dysfunctional situation among the factions in Iraq. And that they would just be caught in the crossfire if they were there. But one of the generals who was in Iraq during the war told me privately that we would at least have more information if the troops were there. We would know much more about what ISIS was up to. And the president did admit that the administration was somewhat blindsided by the jihadist demands. He said, it was more rapid than the expectation of policymakers. Look, it's true - Americans didn't want involvement in Iraq, they still don't or anywhere else. But the president's critics claim this is where leadership is called for, educating the American people to the dangers of inaction. And even members of his own administration like Attorney General Eric Holder have called the situation in Iraq and Syria, quote, "more frightening than anything I think I've seen as Attorney General." So I think that you're going to hear a whole lot more about the dangers that ISIS poses directly to the United States. In a recent poll, a majority says, in this country they don't think it does pose a threat. I think there's going to be a big education campaign coming out of the administration on that and the president has said that there is a counterterrorism aspect to this involvement in Iraq. So I think there's more to come along those lines.

GREENE: All right, Cokie, it's always good to talk to you.

ROBERTS: Thank you, David.

GREENE: That's Cokie Roberts. You hear her most Mondays right here on MORNING EDITIONS from NPR News. And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.