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 progress in Ferguson,” the president said, underlining that he had expressed his concerns to Nixon by telephone.
Obama, who received a briefing from Holder earlier in the day on the crisis in Ferguson, said the attorney general would travel to the St. Louis suburb on Wednesday. Holder will meet with FBI agents and Department of Justice personnel running the federal response.
“He will receive an update from them on their progress. He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson,” the president said.
Obama condemned violence on the part of “a small minority” of demonstrators and warned that “there’s no excuse for excessive force by police.”
“Ours is a nation of laws for the citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them,” the president said.
“While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving in to that anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice,” Obama said.
Turning to a violent conflict overseas, the president savored the role U.S. airstrikes played in helping Kurdish and Iraqi forces recapture the strategically pivotal Mosul Dam from the rampaging extremist forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS.
Obama said U.S. bombardments had “pushed back the terrorists” and made it possible for local forces to take “a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq, near the city of Mosul.”
But the president underlined that long-term success will hinge on the formation of a new, inclusive Iraqi government that unites the war-torn country’s fractious sectarian groups.
“They’ve got to get this done, because the wolf’s at the door,” he said.
Obama brushed aside concerns of American “mission creep” in Iraq, insisting that he had been “very firm” about imposing limits on U.S. operations there.
“We’re not the Iraqi military. We’re not even the Iraqi air force,” he said.
“Typically, what happens with mission creep is when we start deciding that we’re the ones who have to do it all ourselves, and, you know, that — because of the excellence of our military, that can work for a time,” he said. “We learned that in Iraq. But it’s not sustainable. It’s not lasting.”
Still, he admitted, “this is going to take time. There are going to be many challenges ahead.”
The president’s brief return to Washington had been scheduled before he ordered military action against the Islamist extremists and before chaos erupted in Ferguson with the killing of Michael Brown.
Obama’s two-day Washington, D.C., pit stop provided the opportunity to address those serious matters publicly with the White House as a backdrop rather than the beautiful settings of his Martha’s Vineyard resort vacation.
The president's remarks came after the U.S. military reported carrying out 15 airstrikes on ISIL targets near the Mosul Dam in Iraq. The assault brought the total number of U.S. airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq to 68 since August 8.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf declared that "we believe that ISIS needs to be taken out.”