Calling ISIS a “network of death” that needs to be “degraded and ultimately destroyed,” President Obama appealed to the United Nations General Assembly to fight the Islamic State while vowing “America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism.”
“In this century, we have faced a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions,” Obama said. “With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels, killing as many innocent civilians as possible, employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities.”
His speech ran the gamut of global poverty, carbon emissions, Ebola and Pacific power before delving into ISIS nearly halfway through.
Before addressing the terror network, he touched on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “a vision of the world in which might makes right — a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another.”
“America stands for something different,” Obama said. “We believe that right makes might.”
The president vowed to “impose a cost on Russia for aggression” and to “counter falsehoods with the truth” as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin listened with stoic faces.
And while last year was hailed as a historic occasion for Obama’s phone call to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Republic got a brief mention today.
“America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them. And this can only take place if Iran seizes this historic opportunity,” he said. “My message to Iran’s leaders and people has been simple and consistent: do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.”
There was no mention of Khorasan or Iran’s sheltering of al-Qaeda leaders.
He then turned to “the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.”
“We have reaffirmed again and again that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them. There is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country,” Obama said. “So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations.”
“Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along the fault lines of tribe or sect, race or religion.”
The president vowed that, without sending U.S. troops to “occupy foreign lands,” airstrikes would “roll back” ISIS while a global coalition is forged to crush the group. “No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil,” he said. “The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”
“Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone.”
Obama then called on Muslim communities to “explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject” ideology espoused by al-Qaeda and ISIS.
“There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they’re Jewish, or because they’re Christian or because they’re Muslim,” he continued, adding that virtual space occupied by terrorists “including the Internet and social media” must be contested.
“All religions have been attacked by extremists from within at some point, and all people of faith have a responsibility to lift up the value at the heart of all great religions: do unto thy neighbor as you would do — you would have done unto yourself,” he said.
“The ideology of ISIL or al-Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed and confronted and refuted in the light of day.” It was the only mention of the Nigerian al-Qaeda affiliate that has steadily been gaining ground in the northeast part of the country.
Obama also called for addressing the “cycle of conflict,” particularly sectarian divisions that create a breeding ground for terrorism.
“There’s nothing new about wars within religions. Christianity endured centuries of vicious sectarian conflict. Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery,” he said. “It is time to acknowledge the destruction wrought by proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East, and it is time that political, civic and religious leaders reject sectarian strife. Let’s be clear. This is a fight that no one is winning.”
While acknowledging the “brutality” of Bashar al-Assad and some 200,000 deaths since the rebellion against his regime began, Obama said “an inclusive political transition” is the only solution for Syria.
“Cynics may argue that such an outcome can never come to pass, but there is no other way for this madness to end, whether one year from now or ten,” he added. “…I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort.”
He said the effort to combat terrorism needs to be rounded out by expanding opportunities for youth and rights for women in the Muslim world.
“The United States will never shy away from defending our interests, but we will also not shy away from the promise of this institution and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the notion that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of a better life,” the president said.
“I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. This is true.”
Over the summer as other problems in the world raged, Obama noted, “the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri, where a young man was killed, and a community was divided.”
“So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear,” he said. “But we welcome the scrutiny of the world, because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems, to make our union more perfect, to bridge the divides that existed at the founding of this nation.”
“…After nearly six years as president, I believe that this promise [of American ideals] can help light the world.”