September 09, 2014

CNAS Press Note: What President Obama Should Say on ISIS

Washington, September 9 – Previewing President Obama’s upcoming address to the nation on his strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)’ Shawn Brimley has written the following Press Note laying out what the President should say:  

  • President Obama should state clearly the threat ISIS poses to U.S. national security interests. He must remind a war-weary public that allowing ISIS to establish a sanctuary in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq risks allowing the group to eventually plot attacks against the homeland.
  • Obama must clearly state that he aims to destroy ISIS as a credible threat to our allies and partners in the region and beyond. He must prepare Americans for a long-term campaign that will involve at least three clear components:
      1. A military campaign involving U.S. special operations forces and airpower to strike directly at ISIS in Iraq and beyond;
      2. An advisory effort to help regional partners effectively resist ISIS both militarily and politically; and
      3. A diplomatic effort to add to the international coalition against ISIS, and to isolate countries that are actively supporting the terrorist group.  
The President must be clear that while the United States will lead an effort to counter and destroy ISIS, that the group’s rapid advance into Iraq is indicative of how poorly Iraq’s Sunni population has been treated by the central government. Clear improvements in how the new Iraqi government includes the Sunni and Kurdish populations will be a central condition of lasting U.S. support.
  The President must be clear that an important component of success against ISIS concerns the outcome of the civil war in Syria, which has allowed the group to grow and metastasize into an international threat. He should indicate how the United States plans to support moderate rebel forces in Syria.
  The President should resist using phrases like “boots on the ground” or “ground troops,” as any effective campaign will require U.S. intelligence and special operations personnel to be deployed on the ground in Iraq. The President should state that extensive deployments of uniformed combat personnel is not something that he is considering, and that such a deployment is exactly what ISIS militants most desire.  Rather, he will employ U.S. special operations and intelligence personnel to directly target ISIS, while building up the capacity of regional partners to resist and destroy them.
  The President should ask for Congressional support of this campaign, to include appropriations for components of the strategy and also for an authorization of military force against ISIS, which should enjoy broad bipartisan support.  

 CNAS experts available for interviews on the subject include:

  • Shawn Brimley, CNAS Executive Vice President and Director of Studies
  • Dr. Dafna Rand, who co-authored a recent CNAS report outlining the threat foreign fighters from ISIS pose to Europe and the United States
  • LTG David Barno, CNAS Senior Fellow and frequent contributor to Politico
  • Dr. Nora Bensahel, CNAS Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Responsible Defense Program and who has twice appeared on the Diane Rehm Show to discuss ISIS.
  • Paul Scharre, CNAS Fellow and Director of the 20YY Warfare Initiative, who deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan during his time in the U.S. Army.
  • Dr. Marc Lynch, CNAS Adjunct Fellow and regular contributor to The Washington Post and Foreign Policy.

To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at:, or call 202-457-9409.


  • Shawn Brimley

    Former Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley was the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he managed the center’s research agenda and staf...