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Airstrikes Raise the Stakes for Obama’s U.N. Pitch

Image: An AV-8B Harrier jet launching from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Makin Island during flight operations in the Arabian Gulf

An AV-8B Harrier jet launching from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Makin Island during flight operations in the Arabian Gulf, 22 September 2014. The Makin Island is deployed in support of maritime and theater security operations in the US Fifth Fleet area of responsibility. The United States and allied forces launched airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syrian territory for the first time, the Pentagon said late 22 September 2014. The military was 'using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,' in the ongoing operation. The bombings were the first against Islamic State militants in Syria. The US had previously bombed Islamic State targets in Iraq, but said that it would pursue the group in Syria if necessary. U.S. Navy via EPA

This week’s gathering at the United Nations in New York was already slated to be a big event in President Obama’s efforts to rally the world against ISIS. And now it’s even bigger. Beginning at approximately 8:30 pm ET last night, the United States -- with help from five Arab nations -- launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, escalating the military campaign against ISIS for the first time beyond Iraq. Those airstrikes change the tone and the focus at the U.N. meeting. How do Russia and the Security Council react, especially since Syria is a Russian ally? What about other nations who had been questioning the United States’ resolve? Does the U.S. get any additional participation from other nations? Do already-supportive nations become a little more supportive? Bottom line: The timing of this new military campaign inside Syria couldn’t be more striking. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports that President Obama will make a statement from the White House at 10:00 am ET before he leaves for the U.N. meeting in New York. The rest of the president’s schedule: At 12:50 pm ET, he speaks at the U.N.’s climate summit; at 2:00 pm, he gives a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative; at 5:15 pm ET, he attends an event for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (does he keep that event given the airstrikes?); and at 9:00 pm ET, he and the first lady attend a reception for the visiting world leaders.

The five Arab allies that assisted last night

Per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, the five Arab countries that assisted last night’s airstrikes against ISIS were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar. While we don’t know the degree to these nations’ involvement, that their names are officially attached to the effort is a short-term victory for the Obama White House, which had made enlisting Arab nations a priority in the effort against ISIS. As the Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg mused, “So the president who can’t build coalitions built a coalition, I guess.” Don’t lose sight of the fact that the only allies joining the United States last night were Arab countries. That was done on purpose.

Syria becomes seventh country in which the U.S. has launched airstrikes or military operations in the Obama Era

Here is something to chew on: By our count, President Obama has now launched airstrikes and military operations in seven countries during his six years in office -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria. Six of the seven have been (mostly) in the name of counter-terrorism. The one exception here: Libya, which remains the president’s biggest regret (due to the power vacuum Khadaffy’s ouster created).

Syria was “notified” of the airstrikes

By the way, NBC’s Abigail Williams passes along this statement from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki: “The Syrian regime was notified that the coalition was going to take direct action ISIL inside Syria. We did not seek the regime's permission, we didn't coordinate our actions with the Syrian government, and Secretary Kerry did not send a letter to the Syrian regime.”

It wasn’t just ISIS that was targeted in Syria

In a statement, the Pentagon revealed that the United States also took action against Al Qaeda veterans -- called the Khorasan Group -- in its military campaign in Syria last night. The Khorasan Group is considered by many to be a bigger short-term threat to the U.S. homeland than ISIS is. From the Pentagon’s statement: “Separately, the United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qa'ida veterans - sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group - who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations. These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets. In total, U.S. Central Command conducted eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets west of Aleppo to include training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.” Also, here’s one other event for today’s schedule: Director of Operations Lt. Gen. William Mayville will conduct a briefing today on operations in Syria at 11:00 am, per NBC’s Courtney Kube.

Pentagon: Khorasan Group in 'Final Stages' of Plots on 'Western Targets' 0:26

Midterms take a backseat

Today, we are officially six weeks out until Election Day, and the midterms, well, seem more like a backburner issue than even before, especially since the military campaign against ISIS began. We’re political reporters and junkies, so of course we believe covering all of the midterm races is a big deal. And we love the different contests and politicians running in them. But more likely than not, the midterms will take a backseat to other world events. And THAT could have an impact on the races and voters’ moods six weeks from now.

First Read’s Race of the Day: IL-GOV: Quinn vs. Rauner

This contest is probably the GOP’s top gubernatorial pick-up opportunity, given Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s low approval ratings and the state’s higher-than-national-average unemployment rate (though it’s dropped significantly since last year). The Republican nominee is wealthy political novice Bruce Rauner, whom Democrats have tried to portray as another Mitt Romney (Rauner admitted belonging to a $100,000-plus wine club). A recent Chicago Tribune poll found Quinn leading Rauner by double digits, 48%-37%, but it also showed Quinn with a 36% job-approval rating, which is DANGEROUS territory for an incumbent governor.

Countdown to Election Day: 42 days

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