The White House insisted on Tuesday that Russia's engagement in Syria is not forcing Russia and the U.S. into a "proxy war" with each other, and blamed Republicans for trying to coax President Obama into that situation.

"There certainly is ample rhetoric that we see from Republican critics essentially goading the president to try to engage in a proxy war with Russia," White House spokesman Josh Earnest charged on Tuesday. "They say that ostensibly because they think maybe that it makes them look tough, but I think they would have a very difficult time articulating why that would be in the clear national security interest of the United States of America."

Republicans have charged that Obama's unwillingness to do more in Syria gave Russia an opening that it's now using not to fight the Islamic State, but to attack U.S. allies that are fighting Assad. The Obama administration has acknowledged that most of Russia's actions in Syria have been against groups opposed to Assad.

But Earnest repeated that Russia's involvement in Syria stems from a "position of weakness" in which money and equipment were no longer enough to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, forcing Moscow to directly engage militarily in its "client" state.

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