Obama on ISIS: Our Strategy Is Going to Work

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as members of the Group of 20 (G-20) prepare for the traditional family photo during the G-20 leaders summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, on November 15. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

During a speech at the G-20 conference in Turkey on Monday, President Barack Obama defended his strategy against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), saying that his policy has always been a long-term plan.

"The strategy we've put forward is ultimately what's going to work," he said, describing airstrikes against the leaders of the militant group, as well as partnering with local ground forces.

"I've said...it's going to take time," he added while speaking at the conference, in Turkey's coastal province of Antalya.

The U.S. president was visibly frustrated by questions from reporters about his willingness to act against the group and his understanding of the conflict. U.S. troops could mount an effective and rapid ground assault on ISIS territory, he said, but in the aftermath of such a conflict, other groups would arise to take the so-called caliphate's place.

"A strategy has to be one that can be sustained," he said.

Obama's political rivals in the Republican Party have routinely accused him of having no actual strategy in the Middle East.

"Typically, the things they're saying we should do, we're already doing," Obama told reporters. The exception, he said, are ideas that he continues to rule out: a large U.S. ground force in Syria and a no-fly zone—ISIS doesn't have an air force or use air-to-ground attacks, meaning such a strategy could be of limited utility.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, some politicians have openly linked terroristic threats to the Syrian refugee crisis, suggesting that the U.S. should close its doors. On Saturday, GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush suggested that the U.S. should "focus our efforts as it relates to Christians that are being slaughtered."

Hinting at a criticism of Bush's comments, Obama did something rare—he praised Jeb's brother, George W. Bush.

"He was very adamant and very clear" after the 9/11 attacks, Obama said, "that this is not a war on Islam."

"We don't have religious tests for our compassion," he added, saying that the United States should not shut out refugees fleeing terrorism in their homeland.

Obama also disavowed the rhetoric of the presidential race, in which many candidates have criticized him for backing America out of leadership in the world. The current administration, he said, doesn't plan to do things that "in the abstract, make America look tough...or make me look tough."