Obama: Strategy to Defeat ISIS 'Won't Depend on Tough Talk'
President Obama's address to the nation tonight on the fight against ISIS included a push for gun-control legislation and telling people it's the "responsibility of Americans of all faiths to reject discrimination" against Muslims.
It was the president's third address from the Oval Office, and he chose to speak standing from a podium placed in front of his desk instead of sitting at his desk. The two previous addresses were both in 2010.
He began by noting the 14 dead in San Bernardino. " They were white and black, Latino and Asian, immigrants, and American born, moms and dads, daughters and sons. Each of them served their fellow citizens. All of them were part of our American family."
While the FBI is "still gathering the facts about what happened" in the attack on a county holiday party at the Inland Regional Center by Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Obama said that "so far we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home."
"But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West. They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs," he said. "So this was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people."
Obama noted that under his tenure Osama bin Laden was killed and he claimed that the U.S. has been "decimating al-Qaeda's leadership."
"Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase. As we've become better at preventing complex multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turn to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009, in Chattanooga earlier this year, and now in San Bernardino," he said.
"And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers."
For seven years, Obama said, "I've confronted this evolving threat each and every morning in my intelligence briefing, and since the day I took this office, I have authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is... And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure."
"Well, here's what I want you to know. The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won't depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That's what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power," the president said.
That will involve continuing "to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary," providing training and equipment to Iraqi and Syrian forces, "working with friends and allies to stop ISIL's operations, to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters," and working for a resolution to the Syrian war. "This is our strategy to destroy ISIL," he declared.
He then chastised Congress; last week the Senate failed to pass an amendment that would have banned people on the no-fly list from buying guns. "What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security," Obama exclaimed.
"We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons, like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. I know there are some who reject any gun-safety measures, but the fact is that our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, no matter how effective they are, cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual was motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology," he continued. "What we can do, and must do, is make it harder for them to kill."
Congress can also, Obama said, "go ahead" and pass an authorization of military force for the ISIS fight.
"For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of air strikes against ISIL targets," he said. "I think it's time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united and committed to this fight."
The president said the U.S. cannot "be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria," because that's "what groups like ISIL want."
"Here's what else we cannot do. We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want," Obama added.
"ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death. And they account for a tiny fraction of a more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim-Americans who reject their hateful ideology."
He said to win Americans must "enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate."
"That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. It's a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse," said Obama. "Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda promote, to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity."
"But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It's our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim-Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes. And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that."
Obama added that "freedom is more powerful than fear" and "we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) quickly lashed out at Obama's closing line: "Neither should we fear to acknowledge the nature and severity of the threats we face and do everything within our power to confront them."
“President Obama offered no changes to his reactive, indirect, and incremental strategy. He continues to assume that time is on our side. It is not," McCain said. "If we do not destroy this threat now, and fast, no one should be surprised if America gets attacked again."