President Obama's reason for not sending ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS: The White House figures it would mean 100 US troop deaths per month, 500 wounded, and a monthly tab of $10 billion, all to fight a group that doesn't pose an "existential threat" to the US, per what the president told news columnists in a private session Tuesday, the New York Times reports. The meeting was off the record, but some attendees started speaking anonymously to the Times after writer David Ignatius posted a column Wednesday in the Washington Post that revealed much of Obama's thought process without attributing it to that meeting, notes the Times. That piece, in which Ignatius calls Obama a "tortoise" and the GOP "harebrained," spells out the president's determination to stick to his "small-footprint" approach of fighting ISIS: a slow, steady strategy of airstrikes and local military training that's been denounced by critics as weak.
"Though Obama gets hammered on all sides for an allegedly feckless policy, he has resisted being forced into this commitment by a media firestorm that the White House sees as combining jihadist propaganda, GOP presidential politics, and cable news hype," Ignatius writes. The president also reportedly "expressed pique" during the meeting at the GOP for being alarmist and noted that, thanks to Republican efforts, "many Americans believe [Obama] is a Muslim who was not born in [the US]," per the Times. The paper adds the president knows that the public thinks he was too laid-back in his reaction to the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, so he's been trying to to combat that perception, including with a visit this week to the National Counterterrorism Center. One thing that could force Obama's hand on ground troops? "A big, orchestrated terrorist incident that so frightened the public that it began to prevent the normal functioning of America," writes Ignatius. (Obama had a lot to say about ISIS in his recent Oval Office address.)