State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday refused to say the U.S. is at war with the Islamic State, even after the reported beheading of a second U.S. journalist, and tried to pass off humanitarian action in Iraq as proof that the Obama administration is committed to fighting the Islamic State in Syria.
When asked whether the reported execution of Steve Sotloff means the U.S. is at war, Psaki said she would not “put new labels on it.”
“I’m not going to put new labels on it,” she said. “We certainly consider this reported act, [and] the act of the killing of James Foley, as a horrific terrorist act that… has been one of the motivating factors in the effort… to undergo the creation of an international coalition to address this threat.”
When pressed further, Psaki deferred by saying State has not yet confirmed the authenticity of the video that purportedly shows Sotloff’s execution.
Psaki said the Obama administration’s actions against the Islamic State show that it is committed to addressing the threat that group poses.
“Our actions speak for our commitment to this,” she said. “The president has authorized more than 100 strikes in Iraq as has been confirmed by the Department of Defense.”
However, one reporter pointed out that the White House itself has not said U.S. airstrikes are aimed at fighting the Islamic State directly, but at protecting U.S. assets in Iraq and ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid. Those airstrikes, the reporter added, were in Iraq, not Syria.
“That’s only part of what our effort is,” Psaki replied.
Psaki’s briefing seemed to lack any of the seriousness that some might expect given the news about Sotloff, which had been out for about an hour before she began. Psaki started her briefing by smiling, joking with reporters, and starting the briefing with two irrelevant announcements.
One was that Secretary of State John Kerry and former secretaries of State would break ground Wednesday on a new U.S. Diplomacy Center, and the other was her welcoming of foreign service people to the briefing.
Later in the briefing, Psaki refused to say that Ukraine has been invaded by Russian troops.
“I think in our view, it doesn’t matter what we call it,” she said. “We’re calling it an illegal incursion, we’re saying they’re violating the sovereignty of Ukraine.”
Psaki even declined to say Russia is lying when it insists there are none of its troops in Ukraine.
“I think that contradicts the facts on the ground,” she said.