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Right or Wrong, Obama Owns ISIS Strategy

The president rules out ground troops, and he opens himself up to criticism that he’s not listening to his commanders.
Image: Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks to a crowd of military personnel at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. The White House and the Pentagon are grappling with how to explain what American military forces are doing and could do in Iraq as they battle the Islamic State militants. Obama reiterated his pledge to keep American troops out of combat missions. But hours later, Vice President Joe Biden appeared to be less certain about ground troops. Biden's remarks echoed comments a day earlier from Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, who said he may, if necessary, recommend to the president that U.S. ground forces accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against Islamic State targets, particularly in certain complex missions or if there were threats to the U.S.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Yesterday we told you to watch President Obama’s words after Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey opened the door to the possibility of U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Syria. Well, Obama closed that door, and he did so in a speech at CENTCOM, of all places. “I want to be clear: The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission,” he said. “As your commander-in-chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our Armed Forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.” Bottom line: He’s taking massive ownership of the strategy against ISIS. If anything goes wrong, people won’t blame the generals or the military. This is the president, right or wrong, 100% ruling out U.S. combat troops. Another example of Obama taking the reins here: “The U.S. military campaign against Islamist militants in Syria is being designed to allow President Barack Obama to exert a high degree of personal control, going so far as to require that the military obtain presidential signoff for strikes in Syrian territory,” the Wall Street Journal reports. No one can say Obama is shirking his responsibility as commander-in-chief; he fully owns it -- whether it’s successful or not.

And he opens himself up to criticism that he’s not listening to his commanders

One other point here: Obama’s insistence on being emphatic about no ground troops also makes the president appear as if he's allowing political considerations (that is, the public's appetite or lack thereof for combat troops) to influence his thinking. Remember the battle cry of some Democrats during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war -- that Bush and Cheney were not listening to the commanders? Well, given where all the military leadership is on this strategy, it is now Obama, the Democrat, who is open to criticism that he is not listening to his commanders. Of course, again, it is Obama that is commander-in-chief. Not anyone at the Pentagon

Strange bedfellows in House pass authorization to train Syrian rebels, measure now heads to Senate

Talk about strange bedfellows in the usually partisan House of Representatives who voted to pass -- by a 273 to 156 margin -- legislation authorizing the training of Syrian rebels. Voting YES: House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and liberal Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Voting NO: Republicans Michele Bachmann, Tim Huelskamp, Mick Mulvaney, and Democrats Elijah Cummings, Charlie Rangel, and Tammy Duckworth. At a time when there isn’t much ideological diversity anymore, the one place where it can occur is when it comes to national security.

“They’ll never take our FREEDOM!!!”

The best political story of the day -- by far -- doesn’t take place inside the United States. Instead, it’s playing out in Scotland. “The fate of the United Kingdom was at stake Thursday as Scotland began voting in a referendum on becoming an independent state, deciding whether to unravel a marriage that helped build an empire but has increasingly been felt by many Scots as stifling and one-sided,” the AP writes. “The question on the ballot paper is simplicity itself: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ Yet it has divided Scots during months of campaigning - and in 15 hours on Thursday the future of the 307-year old union with England hangs in the balance.” Polling places close at 5:00 pm ET, the AP adds. And no one knows exactly how the referendum will turn out. And on the line are Prime Minister’s David Cameron’s job, as well as Great Britain’s economy.

Midterm polling is all over the place

Want to know how all over the place the midterm polling has been? On Wednesday, Quinnipiac released a poll showing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper trailing by 10 points among likely voters to Republican Bob Beauprez, 50%-40%. Then, just hours later, a USA Today/Suffolk poll showed Hickenlooper ahead by two points, 43%-41%. Similarly, a new Quinnipiac poll has Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) trailing by eight points, while USA Today/Suffolk has him trailing by just one. (Our NBC/Marist poll released 10 days ago had Hickenlooper up by four points and Udall ahead by six.) Here’s the honest truth: It’s really hard to get a handle on this year’s race because the likely-voter modeling is SO DIVERGENT, even among good pollsters with good reputations. It’s ironic: In the past two weeks, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of polling, and it’s created more uncertainty that anything else.

On transparency and aggregation

It does appear we’re headed for another year where the biggest disparity in polling is going to be over the modeling of the electorate. Good pollsters should be open and transparent about what they are up to. Don’t try to release a likely voter result without doing at least TWO things -- releasing the registered voter result AND indicate just how you came up with your likely voter model. With our Marist state polls, we use a probability of voting metric rather than simply relying on respondents to indicate whether they are likely voters, since that method has proven to be very inaccurate. As for whether to take any of these divergent polls seriously, we’d argue that the best way to view most polls is to focus on the trend line more than the actual head-to-head. Even with inconsistent state polling, the trend lines usually move in the same direction. That said, this year should be a reminder as to why to be leery of any political handicapping site ONLY using released polls as their basis for prediction. These aggregation and regression analysis sites are trying to find accuracy with incredibly inaccurate data. That’s not exactly scientific.

Grimes campaign:We HAVE been playing offense

Yesterday, we observed how the Alison Grimes campaign has been playing defense -- see that skeet-shooting TV ad -- in the Kentucky Senate contest. But the campaign objects to our observation, pointing out its ads tying opponent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and its dysfunction (see here and here). It also argues that the McConnell camp has had to respond to each one of the Grimes ads (so who’s playing defense? the campaign asks). And citing its internal poll showing Grimes ahead by one point, the campaign maintains that the “race remains neck and neck.” But the problem for Team Grimes is that until a non-partisan pollster shows a similar close contest -- our NBC/Marist poll had McConnell leading by eight points -- the perception will be that Grimes is behind. By the way, the Grimes camp has a brand-new TV ad out on Grimes’ grandfather and Medicare.

First Read’s Race of the Day: FL-26: Garcia vs. Curbelo

Republicans got their favored candidate in Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, who’s facing Democrat Joe Garcia in the general election. Garcia’s facing some tough ethics headlines; federal prosecutors are stepping up their criminal investigation against his former campaign manager for alleged election fraud. But Democrats hope to stir up trouble for Curbelo, urging investigators to look into his lobbying background.

Countdown to Election Day: 47 days

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