Obama's Final National Security Speech: 'Stigmatize Good, Patriotic Muslims,' and You Fuel Terrorism

President Obama looks out at the crowd after speaking at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama emphasized the absence of another 9/11-scale attack on the homeland during his two terms in office and argued that acting “like this is a war between the United States and Islam” would result in more American deaths and “the loss of the very principles we claim to defend.”


Speaking to service members at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa today, Obama highlighted policy moments during his tenure including the Iraq pullout and Afghanistan surge. He claimed that “by any measure, core al-Qaeda, the organization that hit us on 9/11, is a shadow of its former self.”

In the Middle East, he noted, “most dangerously, we saw the emergence of ISIL, the successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which fights as both a terrorist network and an insurgency.” He added that keeping U.S. forces in Iraq to help prevent the creation of the Islamic State “was not an option” since “Iraqis wanted our military presence to end.”

The president blamed factors including “the government in Baghdad that pursued a sectarian agenda, a brutal dictator in Syria who lost control of large parts of the country, social media that reached a global pool of recruits and a hollowing out of Iraq security forces, which were ultimately overrun in Mosul in 2014.”

Washington’s response to the fall of Mosul refused, Obama said, “to repeat some of the mistakes of the 2003 invasion that have helped to give rise to the organization that became ISIL in the first place.”

“The campaign against ISIL has been relentless, it has been sustainable, it has been multilateral, and it demonstrates a shift in how we’ve taken the fight to terrorists everywhere, from south Asia to the Sahel,” he said. “Instead of pushing all of the burden onto American ground troops, instead of trying to mount invasions wherever terrorists appear, we’ve built a network of partners.”


“No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland,” Obama declared. “And it’s not because they didn’t try. Plots have been disrupted, terrorists have been taken off the battlefield.”

The president acknowledged attacks on the homeland “carried out by homegrown and largely isolated individuals who were radicalized online.”

“These deranged killers can’t inflict the sort of mass casualties that we saw on 9/11,” he said. “But the pain of those who lost loved ones in Boston and San Bernardino and Fort Hood and Orlando, that pain continues to this day. And in some cases, it has stirred fear in our populations and threatens to change how we think about ourselves and our lives.”

“…Technology makes it impossible to completely shield impressionable minds from violent ideologies. And somebody who’s trying to kill and willing to be killed is dangerous, particularly when we live in a country where it’s very easy for that person to buy a very powerful weapon.”

Obama emphasized that “today’s terrorists can kill innocent people, but they don’t pose an existential threat to our nation and we must not make the mistake of elevating them as if they do.”

He advocated shutting down Guantanamo — “we’re wasting hundreds of millions of dollars to keep fewer than 60 people in a detention facility in Cuba; that’s not strength” — and defended his use of drones to take out terror suspects.


He also noted “there are times where we need to help refugees who’ve escaped the horrors of war, in search of a better life.”

“We are fighting terrorists who claim the fight on behalf of Islam. But they do not speak for over a billion Muslims around the world. And they do not speak for American Muslims, including many who wear the uniform of the United States of America’s military,” Obama continued. “If we stigmatize good, patriotic Muslims, that just feeds the terrorists narrative. It fuels the same false grievances that they use to motivate people to kill.”

“The United States of America is not a country that imposes religious tests as a price for freedom. We’re a country that was founded so that people could practice their faiths as they choose. The United States of America is not a place where some citizens have to withstand greater scrutiny or carry a special ID card or prove that they’re not an enemy from within. We’re a country that has bled and struggled and sacrificed against that kind of discrimination and arbitrary rule here in our own country and around the world,” he said.

“We’re a nation that believes freedom can never be taken for granted. And that each of us has a responsibility to sustain it, the universal right to speak your minds and to protest against authority, to live in a society that’s open and free, that can criticize our president without retribution.”


On the eve of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Obama said the Greatest Generation “fought and bled and died to build an international order of laws and institutions that could preserve the peace and extend prosperity and promote cooperation among nations.”

“And for all of its imperfections, we depend on that international order to protect our own freedom. In other words, we are a nation that at our best has been defined by hope and not fear; a country that went through the crucible of the Civil War to offer a new birth of freedom, that stormed the beaches of Normandy, climbed the hills at Iwo Jima, that saw ordinary people mobilize to extend the meaning of civil rights,” he said. “That’s who we are. That’s what makes us stronger than any act of terror.”


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