Josh Earnest Struggles to Answer Ed Henry’s Simple Question About Battle Against Islamic State

It took White House press secretary Josh Earnest four tries to answer a fairly direct question about the U.S. and coalition battle against the Islamic State.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks about the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson amid a recent White House security breach, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“Are we winning?” Henry asked,

Earnest initial response was, “I’m sorry.”

Henry repeated, “Are we winning?

Earnest then said it was a coalition effort.

“Again, we are talking about a coalition of 60 nations working closely with Iraqi security forces and working to build up Syrian opposition fighters,” Earnest said. “And there is no doubt that we can point to the success in the early days.”

Henry acknowledged he was talking about a coalition, and then asked again, “Are we winning?”

Earnest responded, “I mean, when you say we, we’re talking about a coalition of 60 nations working closely with Iraq.”

Henry asked again, “So we are winning?”

Earnest said, “And yes, we are succeeding in this effort.”

He never went so far as to use the word winning.

Obama and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Tuesday at Andrews Air Force base with military commanders from 21 different countries joining the United States in its effort against the Islamic State. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander U.S. Central Command, was in the meeting. The 21 officials were their country’s equal to the U.S. chairman of the joint chiefs.

During the briefing, Earnest cited liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson whose Tuesday column said, “It’s not too soon to state the obvious: At this point, the war against the Islamic State can be seen only as failing.”

Robinson went on to write, “But patience is justified only if there is a reasonable expectation that the myriad political obstacles barring the path toward success can be overcome. I’m not sure whether the president and his aides are guilty of optimism or self-delusion.”

Earnest said he understands Robinson’s sense of urgency.

“I assure you, it’s a sense of urgency that the president himself feels as he has conveyed at this podium and other settings over the last several months,” Earnest said. “That’s why you seen the administration move quickly to build out this broad international coalition and to move aggressively in carrying out air strikes that have an effect against ISIL targets in Iraq and in Syria.”