Obama U.S. President Barack Obama smiles while delivering a statement from the White House Press Briefing Room ahead of a meeting with his national security council in Washington, August 28, 2014. Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing

The White House was quick Thursday afternoon to clarify President Barack Obama’s statement that the United States did not yet have a strategy for containing the Islamic State in Syria. The administration does have a general strategy but not the specifics of possible military action, a White House official told CNN within minutes after the president's press conference ended.

"Our strategy is much broader than just the use of military force," Press Secretary Josh Earnest told CNN. In Thursday’s briefing, the president said he had already asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to prepare a list of possible U.S. ways to intervene in Syria to defeat the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Earnest put out a fast series of tweets to add nuance and context to the president's "no strategy" quote. 



The speedy reaction suggested that the White House feared the Obama comment might make the U.S. look weak. That's not an unrealistic concern, considering the Islamic State was also listening to Obama’s press conference and the mention of a lack of U.S. strategy on Syria did not go unnoticed.  Several Twitter accounts widely believed to be ISIS-affiliated live-tweeted the president’s speech, even commenting on how much air time he has given the militant group.

The “overall” strategy presented in Thursday’s news briefing offered no specifics on Syria, other than the constant reiteration that defeating ISIS will require a regional coalition that would rely heavily on Sunni partners.

For now, Obama said, the U.S. main focus is to protect its people on the ground in Iraq.