President Barack Obama is ready to authorize airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State, according to a report by the New York Times. A White House statement released Tuesday indicated that Obama would not be seeking congressional approval to authorize military action in Syria.
The Times cited a senior administration official as saying the president was willing to order the strikes against the Sunni militants inside Syrian territory. The move would broaden the U.S. campaign that is already taking place in Iraq, where the U.S. has launched more than 100 targeted airstrikes on the group.
The approval of airstrikes in Syria is likely to be a major component of the international coalition's strategy to fight ISIS. Obama is expected to lay out that strategy Wednesday night in a prime-time speech (9 p.m. EDT). The Syrian government has previously warned the U.S. against intervening militarily without direct approval from Damascus.
Airstrikes in Syria would mark a major shift from Obama's initial stance on the war there. For the past three years, the president has refrained from authorizing any military action in the country, even after the Assad regime used chemical weapons on civilians in Ghouta in August of 2013.
But recent events have pushed the Obama administration to more seriously consider the strategy in Syria. The beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff by ISIS fighters prodded the administration to formation an international coalition. The graphic killings instigated a new discussion about how much of a threat the militant group was to the American homeland. Although senior U.S. officials have said ISIS is not capable of a 9/11-style attack, it clearly threatens the security of Americans overseas.
The U.S. will need to balance its interest in defeating ISIS, propping up the moderate opposition and avoid supporting Assad if it intervenes militarily in Syria. As of this week, spokesmen at the White House and State Department have said they do not support a Syria with Assad in power. But airstrikes in Syrian territory that targeted ISIS could actually help the Assad regime regain land it lost in the north and east.