President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) each gave wide-ranging network interviews on Sunday, offering their perspectives on the war against the Islamic State, the 2014 midterm election campaign, and their economic records.
Boehner, appearing on ABC's This Week, made news by saying he would call the House back into session from its pre-election recess if Obama asked for a vote to authorize his military campaign against ISIS.
For his part, Obama acknowledged on CBS's 60 Minutes that his administration had underestimated the rise of ISIS over the past year, although he seemed to place the blame implicitly on James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.
Here's a breakdown of the president and the speaker's dueling statements on ISIS, the campaign and the economy.
The biggest area of disagreement over Obama's strategy to defeat ISIS is on the question of deploying U.S. ground troops. While stopping short of endorsing a large-scale deployment, Boehner echoed other Republican criticism by saying he would not have ruled out ground troops as definitively as Obama has.
If I were the president, I probably wouldn't have talked about what I wouldn't do. And maybe we can get enough of these forces trained to get ‘em on the battlefield. But somebody's boots have to be there."
The speaker also sided firmly with those arguing that if the Iraqi army and Syrian opposition groups on the ground can't repel ISIS with the help of U.S. air power, American combat brigades will have to go in.
We have no choice. These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don't destroy them first, we're gonna pay the price."
On 60 Minutes, Obama held firm to his insistence that only the Iraqis could fully secure their country and determine their future. Even if the U.S. mounted a larger ground offensive, he told Steve Kroft, Iraq would ultimately need a political resolution to avoid another endless American occupation.
We can't do this for them. We cannot do this for them because it's not just a military problem. It is a political problem. And if we make the mistake of simply sending U.S. troops back in, we can maintain peace for a while. But unless there is a change in how, not just Iraq, but countries like Syria and some of the other countries in the region, think about what political accommodation means. Think about what tolerance means."
As for the worst-case hypothetical, Obama wouldn't go where Boehner did.
I'm not going to speculate on failure at the moment. We're just getting started. Let's see how they do."
The president did concede that the 1,600 U.S. troops that he had deployed in an advisory role to Iraq were "boots on the ground." But he maintained there was an important distinction between soldiers assisting Iraqis and those who were leading offensive combat missions.
There's a difference between them advising and assisting Iraqis who are fighting versus a situation in which we got our Marines and our soldiers out there taking shots and shooting back."
Still, the president was far less confident that his strategy could fully succeed in Syria, where the U.S. is aiding moderate rebels who are caught between ISIS fighters on one side and the Bashar al-Assad regime on the other. "I think Syria is a more challenging situation," Obama said, acknowledging that the U.S. has "few viable allies on the ground there."