President Obama stressed at a press conference today in Malaysia that “the United States could never be at war with any religion because America is made up of multiple religions.”
He also hit at critics — namely, the Politico headline “Obama’s Asian Distraction?” — who have suggested that his focus on the Asia pivot came at a bad time with new ISIS and al-Qaeda attacks.
“This region is not a distraction from the world’s central challenges, like terrorism. The Asia Pacific is absolutely critical to promoting security, prosperity and human dignity around the world,” he said. “That’s why I’ve devoted so much of my foreign policy to deepening America’s engagement with this region.”
Obama said the American victims over the past several days — Nohemi Gonzalez in Paris and Anita Datar in Mali — “remind me of my daughters, or my mother, who, on the one hand, had their whole life ahead of them, and on the other hand, had devoted their lives to helping other people.”
The president vowed to “destroy” ISIS and “take back land that they are currently in.”
“We will cut off their financing. We will hunt down their leadership. We will dismantle their networks and their supply lines, and we will ultimately destroy them. Even as we are in the process of doing that, we want to make sure that we don’t lose our own values and our own principles,” he said. “And we can all do our part by upholding the values of tolerance and diversity and equality that help keep America strong.”
Responding to reports that have been dribbling out for months that intelligence analysts are having their assessments doctored to present a rosier picture of the ISIS threat, which is now the subject of an expanded Pentagon investigation, Obama insisted he doesn’t want “intelligence shaded by politics.”
“I don’t want it shaded by the desire to tell a feel-good story,” he added. “…And if there are disagreements in terms of how folks are interpreting the facts, then that should be reflected in the reports that we receive — that some folks think this is going on; other folks thinks that’s going on. And that’s part of what I weigh in terms of making decisions.”
“It’s not as if I’ve been receiving wonderfully rosy, glowing portraits of what’s been happening in Iraq and Syria over the last year and a half. So to the extent that it’s been shaded — again, I don’t know the details of what the IG may discover — but it feels to me like, at my level at least, we’ve had a pretty clear-eyed, sober assessment of where we’ve made real progress and where we have not.”
Obama said “the most powerful tool” we have in fighting “a bunch of killers with good social media” in ISIS “is to say that we’re not afraid, to not elevate them, to somehow buy into their fantasy that they’re doing something important.”
He responded to a Washington Post/ABC News poll that said 83 percent of Americans believe that a mass-casualty terrorist attack against the United States is likely in the near future.
“Americans actually have been resilient. They’ve been tested. We had a mass casualty attack on 9/11. And as I said before, I was very proud of the fact that the fundamental nature of America and how we treated each other did not change,” the president said.
“I think we made some bad decisions subsequent to that attack in part based on fear, and that’s why we have to be cautious about it. We have to think things through. But overall, the American people went about their lives. Times Square is filled with people — rightly so. After the Boston bombing attack, folks went right back to the ballpark and sang, ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ That’s what they needed to do.”