WASHINGTON (AP) — Taking a two-day break from summer vacation, President Barack Obama huddled with top advisers at the White House Monday to review developments in Iraq and in racially charged Ferguson, Missouri, two trouble spots where Obama has ordered his administration to intervene.
Obama made a brief return to Washington, swapping images of him bicycling and golfing on Martha’s Vineyard with those of him at work in the White House.
Aides said the unusual interruption of his vacation was strictly to confer with aides about the military and political situation in Iraq, where he recently authorized airstrikes, and in the St. Louis suburb that erupted in protests over the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old man.
The day appeared aimed in part at countering criticism that Obama was spending two weeks on the Massachusetts island in the midst of multiple crises.
After a week of photos depicting the president golfing or riding his bike with his family, the White House permitted press photographers to get pictures of Obama meeting with national security aides in the White House Roosevelt Room Monday morning and discussing the Ferguson shooting with Attorney General Eric Holder in the afternoon.
Still, Obama’s brief return to Washington was planned even before the U.S. military began striking targets in Iraq and before the standoff between police and protesters in Ferguson. The president was scheduled to return to Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday night.
The meetings came as conditions in Ferguson deteriorated overnight and after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to step in. Holder over the weekend ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on the teenager, Michael Brown. Among those joining Obama in his meeting with Holder was White House Counsel Neil Eggleston and Lisa Monaco, Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism.
In Iraq, a new round of U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq on Monday aimed to help Iraqi forces regain control of the Mosul dam and averting a potential dam failure. An Iraqi Army spokesman in Baghdad said Iraqi and Kurdish forces had regained control of the dam from the Islamic State militants who captured it earlier this month, but the Pentagon said it was too early to reach that conclusion.
The strikes against the militants drew praise from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two of Obama’s most vocal foreign policy critics.
But in a joint statement, McCain and Graham urged Obama to expand the military action to go after the Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria. Obama has described the strikes as a narrow mission aimed at protecting U.S. personnel and facilities and preventing humanitarian disasters.
Campaigning for Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown in New Hampshire, McCain faulted Obama for not leaving a residual U.S. force in Iraq after withdrawing U.S. military personnel from the country in December 2011.
“Since he’s become president, I have never seen the world in more turmoil than it is in today,” McCain said.
While Obama has had plenty of downtime since arriving in Martha’s Vineyard a week ago, he also made two public statements about the situations in Iraq and Ferguson. The president had ordered the Iraq strikes days before leaving for vacation, while the tensions in Ferguson that stem from the shooting death of an unarmed teen boiled over during his vacation.
“I think it’s fair to say there are, of course, ongoing complicated situations in the world, and that’s why you’ve seen the president stay engaged,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.