President Obama reiterated on Tuesday that U.S. combat troops "will not be returning to fight in Iraq," even as he warned the Islamic State terrorists who beheaded James Foley that "America does not forget."
Speaking to an American Legion conference in Charlotte, Obama mixed rhetorical bluster toward ISIL with a defense of his limited military intervention in Iraq to protect U.S. personnel and blunt the terrorist advances.
Obama's message to ISIL:
America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done."
He cautioned that "rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy, and it won't quick."
Yet the president was adamant that despite rising pressure from Republican hawks, he would not send U.S. ground forces back to Iraq after ordering a withdrawal from America's nearly decade-long war.
Let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq. I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another ground war in Iraq."
Obama made no mention of the possibility of additional airstrikes against ISIL forces in Syria, despite reports Tuesday that he gave the go-ahead for surveillance flights that could be a precursor to an attack.
The president devoted much of his speech to the ongoing crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs, hailing a legislative response passed by Congress last month and announcing 19 new executive actions aimed at improving veterans' access to mental health care.
Obama called the reports of long waiting lists and preventable deaths at V.A. facilities "outrageous and inexcusable."
He promised to "fix what's wrong" with the V.A. health care system and "do right" by veterans and their families.
"That is a solemn pledge and commitment that I am making to you here," the president said.
Obama received polite but not enthusiastic applause from members of the American Legion, which had spent months calling for a more robust response from the administration to the V.A. scandal.
Republicans have touted the bill they passed with Senate Democrats to increase V.A. funding and make it easier to fire incompetent senior executives, but they were nonetheless unimpressed with Obama's speech.
We agree with POTUS that #VA problems need to be fixed. But he was warned about these problems 6 years ago. Nothing has changed.— House Republicans (@HouseGOP) August 26, 2014