Obama Tells Fundraiser Islamic Terror Fight Not as Big of an 'Existential Threat' as Cold War

Taking some time out from UN-related activities this week in New York to fundraise for his party, President Obama told a campaign crowd tonight that the threat posed by Islamic terrorism isn't as great of an existential threat as the Cold War.

Obama left the Waldorf Astoria hotel in the early evening to head over to a private home at West 90th and Central Park West for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee event, which was attended by DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

"I apologize for the traffic. Not much I can do about it. The blame is spread between me and another 160 or so world leaders who converge upon New York every single year," Obama said. "Yet unlike some of the previous U.N. General Assembly meetings, this one really counts."

Obama addressed the UN climate summit today and addresses the General Assembly tomorrow morning.

"We've gone through extraordinary challenges over the last decade, and when I came into office, the world economy was in a free fall -- something we hadn’t seen since the Great Depression. And we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We were still in the midst of two wars. Challenges like climate change weren’t being addressed," he said.

Despite the country being "better off" now "by every economic measure," the president continued, "I think there’s some anxiety across the country, and the question is: Why?"

"And I offer three reasons. The first, which is most prominent in the news right now, is that there is great disorder in the world. It's not unprecedented," Obama said. "In many ways, it doesn’t pose some of the same existential threats that we experienced during the Great Wars or during the Cold War, but the instability that we see in the Middle East, the Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the breakdown in public health systems -- or what public health systems ever existed in a place like Liberia -- in the face of the Ebola crisis, and the emergence of a terrorist threat in ISIL that threatens to destabilize an entire region -- all those things are justifiably making people wonder whether the center will hold."

"And the good news is this week what you're seeing is what American leadership means. I just came from a meeting in which we were actually able to get Arab countries, many of which have historically been on opposite sides of issues and sectarian conflict in the region, all united around fighting ISIL and eradicating the ideology, the extreme fanaticism that underlies what’s happening in ISIL."

That 40-minute meeting at the Waldorf included King Abdullah of Jordan, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

On Ebola, Obama said "as a consequence of our actions, we have a good chance of saving as many as a million lives."

He said the recent step-up in intervention efforts, including setting up a military command center in Liberia, is also "making sure that there’s not the kind of spillover that could end up being an epidemic in our country and affect our loved ones."

"Climate change -- we're going to be taking the lead and, in fact, potentially engaging with China in making sure that we move boldly and aggressively in confronting that significant threat," Obama continued. "We've unified the world in isolating Russia and supporting not just the Ukrainian people but the core principle that was part of the foundation of the United Nations, which is a respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of small countries relative to large ones."

"So what we've seen is American leadership at its best. It doesn’t mean that the problems are easy or that they’re solved anytime soon, but it indicates the degree to which we continue to be the one indispensable nation."

The president said the other issues causing "some disquiet" among the American people are income inequality and the belief that "they just think government doesn’t seem to be capable of working anymore."

"And it's popular to suggest that somehow that's a problem of both parties, a plague on both their houses. But the truth of the matter is it has to do with a very specific problem, which is, is that the opposition on the other side has become ideologically driven and doesn’t seem capable of compromise; cannot say yes even to things they used to be for; and there’s been a tendency to put politics ahead of what’s best for the next generation."

Obama predicted that with a Congress willing to "play those cards right," the next generation "will inherit a world that is safer and more prosperous and healthier and has less conflict than ever before in human history."