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News Analysis: Obama administration muddles its message amid Islamic State threat

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- U.S. critics are blasting President Barack Obama's muddled message over the nature of the Islamic State (IS) threat and how the United States plans to tackle the terrorist group.

Washington frets that the IS could carve out a safe haven in the Middle East to strike the U.S. homeland, just as al-Qaeda did in Afghanistan during the lead up to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

The IS militants have in recent months overrun vast swaths of northern Iraq and are also fighting on a second front in war-ravaged Syria in a bid to establish a state there.

The Obama administration has had trouble keeping its message clear on how it will deal with the IS.

While the president has emphasized he would not deploy U.S. combat troops to war-torn Iraq and Syria, this week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey publicly stated that the policy could be reconsidered.

In response, Obama scrambled this week to reiterate that his policy had not changed, saying he would not commit "our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq."

Despite the clarification, observers, lawmakers and pundits contend the administration is confusing Americans, and some experts add that this could demonstrate weakness to U.S. enemies, including the terrorists.

"The first thing he says is no boots on the ground and then makes an announcement of sending more boots," Republican Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, said earlier this week in a hearing, referring to Obama's deployment of several hundred military advisers to Iraq.

"The president's plan for IS does not inspire a great deal of confidence among Republicans, even though the Republican Party agrees with him on the need to destroy the terror group," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

"The president's rhetoric is all over the map. Is his job to defeat IS or contain it? Or to put U.S. troops on the ground or not?" he said.

Putting massive numbers of U.S. boots on the ground is not an option for Obama. Not only because his legacy is tied to putting an end to the U.S. war in Iraq, but also because the Vietnam Syndrome -- public war weariness and reticence to get involved in foreign conflicts -- has spiked among Americans after years of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

But the U.S. air strike alone will not destroy the IS, and ground troops -- from somewhere, if not the U.S. -- are needed to do the job, experts said.

That leaves the U.S. in a conundrum, as its Arab allies have so far shown little interest in providing ground forces. Obama recently announced he would aid moderate rebels in Syria, but it remains unknown how they will be vetted to keep weapons out of radicals' hands.

In Iraq, it is unclear whether Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi army can fend off their battle against hardened, well-financed and very motivated enemy, experts said.

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