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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 29th, 2014
05:31 PM ET

Obama's foreign policy criticized in wake of 'no strategy' remark

By CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper, and Eric Marrapodi

(CNN) – ISIS is a terror group with big ambitions. The group, also known as ISIL, has taken cities in Iraq and Syria, and even killed an American citizen.

In response, the United Kingdom elevated its terror threat from "substantial" to "severe."

"Today I want to set out the scale and nature of the threat we face, and the comprehensive approach that we are taking to combat it," Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday. "This is not some foreign conflict thousands of miles from home that we can hope to ignore. The ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is a threat to our own security here in the U.K."

Cameron's announcement seemed a stark contrast to the message conveyed by President Obama Thursday.

"I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet. I think what I've seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we're at than we currently are," Obama told reporters in Washington.

Those comments seemed hardly reassuring, and required his press secretary to engage in some clean-up.

"We do have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIL. What the President is still waiting on are military options that are being developed by the professionals at the Department of Defense for possible military strikes against ISIL in Syria," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday.

But to Obama's critics, the comments symbolize their larger issues with the President's leadership on the world stage.

"For years we dealt with what we called the Vietnam syndrome, where we were so scared by what happened in Vietnam we were afraid to use power wisely in the years that followed. Now there's an Iraq syndrome, where there's a reluctance to think concretely about what military power can be used and how, without dragging us into a full scale war," said CNN political analyst David Gergen.

Even Democrats say they cannot recall a president who spends so much time announcing what he is not willing to do in the name of protecting the U.S. and its allies.

This and a less engaged U.S, the President's critics say, leaves a vacuum, particularly in the Middle East.

While it is true that the U.S. is engaged in humanitarian missions and bombing ISIS in Iraq, the President suggested the goal so far of that mission is not to defeat ISIS.

"Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected," Obama said.

That vacuum can spill over into other areas, too.

"There's a perception that the U.S. has the capability to deal with these situations but lacks the will. Whether or not it's true the White House needs to deal with that immediately," said The Atlantic Council's Barry Pavel. "That perception is contributing to the aggression we're seeing."

Most recently, the UAE and Egypt teamed up to take military action against extremists in Libya, convinced the U.S. would not do it, those two countries did not tell the u-s about their operation.

Israel and Egypt took military actions against Hamas without us involvement – with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly telling the Obama administration "not to ever second guess me again."

Russian president Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and despite his adamant denials, now seems determined to grab the rest.

The President's defenders see it quite differently – pointing out that Putin annexed part of Georgia during the Bush years, and note the U.S. should have learned its lesson in Iraq in 2003 when it comes to rushing into military engagement

"We don't want to replicate some of the mistakes we made in 2002 and 2003 when we made assumptions we had – in fact it turned out to be erroneous – and then took military action. We want to be very careful and deliberate in this," Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island.

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