Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama likely to hit ISIL in Syria without Congress’s formal OK

    What do Syrian President Bashar Assad and the U.S. Congress have in common? President Obama is unlikely to ask either for a formal green light to expand the American air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Iraq into Syria.

    White House aides underline that the debate remains academic for now because the president has yet to decide whether he will order strikes on the brutal Islamist movement’s strongholds in Syria.

    “We have not speculated about what sort of authority would be required from Congress if the president were to make a decision to authorize the use of military force in Syria,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.

    But Earnest noted that Obama does not think he needs congressional approval for the airstrikes he launched on ISIL forces in Iraq on Aug. 7 or for the return of ground troops there to protect American personnel.

    “The current military action that has been ordered in Iraq is vested in the powers of

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  • Obama ‘heartbroken’ by Foley beheading but vows no letup in U.S. operations

    President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared himself “heartbroken” by the beheading of U.S. journalist Jim Foley by ISIL extremists but defiantly vowed to press on with American military operations to cut the group’s “cancer” out of the Middle East.

    “Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world,” the president said from the makeshift workspace for media covering his Martha’s Vineyard vacation.

    Obama said he had spoken to Foley’s parents and told them “we are all heartbroken at their loss and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did.”

    His remarks came a day after the release online of a stomach-turning video showing a black-masked jihadi fighter from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) beheading Foley in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq. The video also warned that the extremists would murder American journalist Steven Joel Sotloff if Obama did not halt the bombardments.

    “The

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  • Obama will send Holder to Ferguson, says police should not be militarized

    President Obama announced Monday that he will send Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, Missouri, to take stock of the tense situation there and predicted that Congress will re-evaluate the merits of federal programs that arm local police with military gear.

    “There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement. And we don’t want those lines blurred that would be contrary to our traditions,” Obama said. “And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in re-examining some of those programs.”

    Obama, taking a two-day break from his family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, also expressed skepticism about Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s decision to call out the National Guard to help keep the peace in Ferguson, a low-income suburban St. Louis community torn asunder by the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old black man by a police officer nine days ago.

    “I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering

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  • Obama’s vacations and golf outings, by the numbers

    President Obama’s annual family vacation  an escape to tony Martha’s Vineyard  has once again served as an inviting target for critics. They ask how he can relax while the world burns, wring their hands about "optics" (aka "how it looks to the average American") and recycle decades-old complaints about presidents enjoying high-end resorts and historically patrician sports like golf.

    Just how many vacations has Obama taken since January 2009? How does he compare to his two-term predecessor, George W. Bush?

    The authoritative figures come from CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

    Knoller has meticulously chronicled presidential data since 1996 with an attention to detail that has made successive White Houses regard his figures as more reliable than their own. He keeps tabs on everything from the number of trips overseas to the number of foreign leaders who visit the White House to the number of formal press conferences. He also tracks how often presidents flee Washington for what he

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  • Pentagon warns airstrikes are not enough to roll back ISIL

    President Obama sent a clear message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday to step aside quietly after Iraq’s president moves to replace him, as the Pentagon warned that targeted American airstrikes won’t be enough to roll back the bloody advance of the Islamic State of Iraqi and the Levant (ISIL).

    American strikes have only “temporarily disrupted” the extremist group’s shockingly effective onslaught, the Pentagon’s Lieutenant General William Mayville told reporters. “I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained, or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of, the threat posed by ISIL,” he said.

    On the Martha’s Vineyard resort island, Obama – who has repeatedly said that resolution to the conflict in Iraq can only come through a political agreement, not a military one – used a hastily arranged public statement to declare his personal support for Iraqi prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi and to caution Maliki not to try to use force to disrupt his

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  • Obama’s new Iraq mission: No end date, but not ‘prolonged’

    How long will American airstrikes pummel fighters belonging to the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? The White House said Friday that the mission is open-ended but repeatedly promised that it will not be “prolonged.”

    What does that mean? It means that President Obama wants the maximum flexibility for tackling a dangerous threat to Iraq’s viability while confronting critics in the U.S. Congress and a war-weary U.S. public.

    “The president has not laid out a specific end date,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “We’re going to sort of take this approach in which those kinds of decisions are evaluated regularly and are driven by the security situation on the ground, both as it relates to the safety and security of American personnel but also as it relates to supporting the ongoing efforts of both Kurdish security forces and Iraqi security forces.”

    Earnest, who underlined that Obama campaigned in 2008 on ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq, said

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  • Feinstein puts Obama on the spot over CIA's ‘torture report’ edits

    The chief author of the Senate’s “torture report” urged President Obama on Tuesday to make more of the document available to the public, over the objections of the CIA. She charged that the intelligence agency’s edits “eliminate or obscure key facts” about controversial interrogation practices during the George W. Bush administration.

    “I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. The letter itself was not made public.

    “The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith,” she said, adding that “this process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.”

    Feinstein’s comments came one day after White House press secretary Josh Earnest defended the redactions, which the

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  • Obama: Senate report will show ‘we tortured some folks’

    President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Connor Radnovich)President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Connor Radnovich)
    President Barack Obama somberly warned on Friday that a forthcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report will show that the United States “tortured some folks” before he took office. But he dismissed “sanctimonious” calls to punish any individuals responsible and rejected calls for CIA Director John Brennan’s resignation.

    “When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques — techniques that I believe, and I think any fair-minded person would believe, were torture — we crossed the line,” Obama declared in the White House briefing room.

    “And that needs to be understood. And accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that hopefully we don’t do it again in the future,” the president said.

    Obama said the White House and CIA process of declassifying portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Rendition, Detention, Interrogation was complete and that the document would now be made public “at the pleasure” of the committee.

    The report is

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  • US tracked missile that brought down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17

    The United States detected the launch of the “specific missile” that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week, a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday.

    U.S. intelligence followed “this specific missile” as it was fired from “a geographic area” controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, said the official, who requested anonymity. It followed the near-vertical flight path characteristic of an SA-11 surface-to-air missile launch.

    “We did pick up a launch. We were able to have the ability to track this specific launch,” the official said. It was not clear whether the official was referring to real-time monitoring, or whether U.S. intelligence had gone back through surveillance data after learning of the attack.

    The official spoke as the United States ramped up efforts to convince skeptics that Moscow-backed rebels armed and trained by Russia shot down the passenger jet, killing all 298 people aboard. Russia has disputed the largely

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  • Obama: Pro-Russia separatists stealing Malaysia Airlines crash evidence

    President Obama on Monday bluntly accused pro-Moscow separatist fighters in Ukraine of stealing evidence and improperly removing bodies from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and pressed Russia to compel the rebels to stop blocking an international investigation.

    “What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama asked in a hastily arranged statement on the south lawn of the White House. “The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence.”

    The president noted that it has been four days since the passenger jet went down, killing all 298 people aboard. The United States blames a surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by the rebels, who have extensive support from Moscow, including advanced weapons and training.

    International investigators — including an American team — have traveled to Ukraine to carry out a full investigation.

    “Unfortunately, the Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the

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