White House press secretary Josh Earnest had to be asked three times whether it’s the United States’ goal to defeat the Islamic State before he gave an answer.

AP

Asked during Wednesday’s White House press briefing by CNN’s Jim Acosta whether it’s “the president’s strategy to defeat ISIL?” Earnest did not answer the question directly.

“First and foremost Jim, the president’s strategy is to protect Americans who are in harm’s way,” Earnest said. “There are Americans in Iraq right now whose safety is threatened by the recent advance of ISIL across western and northern Iraq.

“That’s why the president ordered military strikes and that’s why the president has been so deeply engaged, and the vice president and others, have been so deeply engaged in encouraging the Iraqi government to unite that country in the face of that threat,” Earnest continued. “But principally, the president is focused on protecting the national security of the United States of America and in this case protecting American personal that are in harms way.”

Acosta followed: “That’s sort of a different question though. Does he want defeat ISIL?”

Earnest said, “Well, you asked what our goals are. That is the goal.”

Acosta referred to Obama’s remarks in a speech to the American Legion in which he called the Islamic State “a cancer.”

“When you have cancer, typically, you want to defeat cancer. You don’t want to die from cancer. Right?” Acosta asked.

“I’ll grant you that,” Earnest said.

Acosta then asked again: “If ISIS is a cancer, does he want to defeat it?”

“Of course, Jim,” Earnest finally said.

He went on: “But the goal of this action, and what the president is focused on as we pursue this strategy that includes elements of American military might, that includes diplomacy with governments in the region and around the world, that includes our intensive conversations with Iraq’s political leaders to unite that country – our focal point here is safeguarding the American people and putting the foreign policy interest of the United States first and foremost.”


Follow Fred Lucas (@FredVLucas3) on Twitter