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Obama: It's Not My ISIS Plan That Deserves Criticism, But Messaging

President Obama stressed that ISIS “is not an organization that can destroy the United States” or “pose great risks to us institutionally or in a systematic way.”

“But they can hurt us, and they can hurt our people and our families. And so I understand why people are worried,” he told NPR in an interview aired today.

“The most damage they can do, though, is if they start changing how we live and what our values are, and part of my message over the next 14 months or 13 months that I remain in office is to just make sure that we remember who we are and make sure that our resilience, our values, our unity are maintained. If we do that, then ISIL will be defeated.”

Obama blamed “saturation” of news coverage of the Paris attack for people’s fear.

“If you’ve been watching television for the last month, all you have been seeing, all you have been hearing about is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you,” he said. “And so I understand why people are concerned about it, and this is a serious situation, but what is important is for people to recognize that the power, the strength of the United States and its allies are not threatened by an organization like this; in the same way that al-Qaeda was able to carry out one spectacular attack, we ended up making some significant changes to harden homeland defenses.”

The president said the “legitimate criticism of what I’ve been doing and our administration has been doing” against ISIS is all a matter of bad messaging — “we haven’t, you know, on a regular basis I think described all the work that we’ve been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL.”

“And so part of our goal here is to make sure that people are informed about all the actions that we’re taking. But one of the interesting things that you’ve seen evolve over the last several weeks, including in the debates that are taking place between the Republican candidates, is that those who are critics of our administration response, or the military, the intelligence response that we are currently mounting, when you ask them, well, what would you do instead, they don’t have an answer,” Obama said.

“And the reason they don’t have an answer is because the truth is that the approach that we are taking is one that’s based on the best counsel and best advice of our top military, top intelligence, top diplomatic teams. And we are going after ISIL effectively. We are going after them hard. And we are confident that we are going to prevail.”

Obama credited Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who suspended his campaign today, for offering a counter-plan to the administration’s beyond just “being louder or sounding tougher in the process.”

The president predicted that his party would hold on to the White House next year and take back the Senate, blaming stumbles in legislative elections in recent years on redistricting.

If Democrats make issue-based arguments “clearly and forthrightly and aren’t defensive, then I’m actually confident we will do just fine.”

Obama accused Donald Trump of “exploiting” grievances of blue-collar men.

“When you combine that demographic change with all the economic stresses that people have been going through because of the financial crisis, because of technology, because of globalization, the fact that wages and incomes have been flatlining for some time, and that particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck, you combine those things and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear,” he said. “Some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that.”

When asked about his current thoughts on voters clinging to gun and religion, the president just noted, “I was elected twice by decent majorities.”

“So the fact of the matter is that in a big country like this there is always going to be folks who are frustrated, don’t like the direction of the country, are concerned about the president. Some of them may not like my policies, some of them may just not like how I walk, or my big ears or, you know. So, I mean, no politician I think aspires to 100 percent approval ratings,” Obama continued.

“If you are referring to specific strains in the Republican Party that suggest that somehow I’m different, I’m Muslim, I’m disloyal to the country, etc., which unfortunately is pretty far out there and gets some traction in certain pockets of the Republican Party, and that have been articulated by some of their elected officials, what I’d say there is that that’s probably pretty specific to me and who I am and my background, and that in some ways I may represent change that worries them.”