Vacation over; No red lines established in Middle East

WASHINGTON (USA TODAY)— Islamic State militants dominated President Obama's first day back from vacation Monday as the White House weighed its options in Iraq and Syria.

Obama will meet Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel Monday afternoon.

"The president has not made a decision to pursue any military action in Syria," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

He said the Pentagon is working on giving the president military options for pursuing the Islamic State.

"There are entire wings of that very large building that are dedicated to ensuring that the president has a wide range of options," Earnest said.

But he said direct military action is not the only option. "Military might is not the only tool in the toolbox," he said. Obama is also pushing for a stronger, more unified Iraqi government to counter the Islamic State.

Indeed, the White House seemed reluctant to draw any red lines that would trigger U.S. military intervention beyond the air strikes that Obama has already ordered. While the Obama administration's policy toward the Assad regime in Syria hasn't changed, Earnest acknowledged that a blow against IS would help keep Assad in power. "There are a lot of cross pressures in this situation. There's no doubt about it," he said.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that U.S. officials have seen no evidence of "active plotting against the homeland." Still, the White House has a "significant concern" about individuals with Western passports fighting alongside IS and then "returning to the west to conduct terrorist attacks," Earnest said.

Obama returned from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Sunday night after two weeks of vacation interrupted by meetings in Washington a week ago. Earnest dismissed criticism of the president leaving for the golf course immediately after delivering a stern statement on IS' execution of American journalist James Foley.

"The president's not worried about politics. He's worried about the safety and security of the American people," he said, saying Obama kept in touch with national security officials and world leaders from his vacation retreat. "Like many other Americans this time of year, the president did enjoy spending some time with his family."


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