Obama on ISIS
In late 2015 and early 2016, President Barack Obama elaborated on U.S. efforts to counter ISIS – also known as ISIL, Daesh, or the Islamic State – in his remarks to the press. The following are excerpted statements from the president on ISIS.
Press conference after a meeting with national security officials
I last updated the American people on our campaign in June, shortly after the horrifying attack in Orlando. In the weeks since, we’ve continued to be relentless in our fight against ISIL -- and on the ground in Syria and Iraq, ISIL continues to lose territory. Tragically, however, we have also seen that ISIL still has the ability to direct and inspire attacks. So we've seen terrible bombings in Iraq and in Jordan, in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan; attacks on an Istanbul airport, a restaurant in Bangladesh, Bastille Day celebrations and a church in France, and a music festival in Germany. In fact, the decline of ISIL in Syria and Iraq appears to be causing it to shift to tactics that we've seen before -- an even greater emphasis on encouraging high-profile terrorist attacks, including in the United States.
As always, our military, diplomatic, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement professionals are working around the clock -- with other countries and with communities here at home -- to share information and prevent such attacks. And over the years, they’ve prevented many. But as we’ve seen, it is still very difficult to detect and prevent lone actors or small cells of terrorists who are determined to kill the innocent and are willing to die. And that’s why, as we discussed today, we’re going to keep going after ISIL aggressively across every front of this campaign.
Our air campaign continues to hammer ISIL targets. More than 14,000 strikes so far. More than 100,000 sorties --including those hitting the ISIL core in Raqqa and in Mosul. And in stark contrast to ISIL -- which uses civilians as human shields -- America’s armed forces will continue to do everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties. With our extraordinary technology, we’re conducting the most precise air campaign in history. After all, it is the innocent civilians of Syria and Iraq who are suffering the most and who need to be saved from ISIL’s terror. And so when there are allegations of civilian casualties, we take them very seriously. We work to find the facts, to be transparent, and to hold ourselves accountable for doing better in the future.
We continue to take out senior ISIL leaders and commanders. This includes ISIL’s deputy minister of war, Basim Muhammad al-Bajari; a top commander in Mosul, Hatim Talib al-Hamdani; and, in yet another significant loss for ISIL, its minister of war, Umar al-Shishani. None of ISIL’s leaders are safe -- and we are going to keep going after them.
On the ground in Iraq, local forces keep pushing ISIL back. In a major success, Iraqi forces, with coalition support, finally liberated Fallujah. Now they’re clearing ISIL fighters from more areas up the Euphrates Valley, and Iraqi forces retook the strategic airbase at Qayyarah -- just 40 miles from Mosul, now the last major ISIL stronghold in Iraq. Given this success, the additional 560 U.S. support personnel that I ordered to Iraq last month will help turn this base into a logistical hub and launch pad for Iraqi forces as they push into Mosul.
Meanwhile, in Syria, a coalition of local forces -- backed by our Special Operations Forces and airstrikes -- continues to take the fight to ISIL as well. The coalition is fighting its way into the town of Manbij -- a gateway for ISIL fighters coming in and terrorists heading out to attack Europe, which is why ISIL is fighting hard to hold it. As ISIL is beaten back, we’re gaining vast amounts of intelligence -- thousands of documents, thumb drives, digital files -- which we will use to keep destroying ISIL’s networks and stop foreign fighters. We also continue to intensify our efforts against al Qaida in Syria, which -- no matter what name it calls itself -- cannot be allowed to maintain a safe haven to train and plot attacks against us.
I do want to step back and note the broader progress that has been made in this campaign so far. Two years ago, ISIL was racing across Iraq, to the outskirts of Baghdad itself, and, to many observers, ISIL looked invincible. Since then, in Iraq, ISIL has lost at the Mosul Dam, at Tikrit, at Baiji, at Sinjar, at Ramadi, at Hit, at Rutbah and now Fallujah. In Syria, ISIL has lost at Kobani and Tal Abyad and the Tishrin Dam and al-Shaddadi. ISIL has lost territory across vast stretches of the border with Turkey and almost all major transit routes into Raqqa. And in both Iraq and Syria, ISIL has not been able to reclaim any significant territory that they have lost.
So I want to repeat -- ISIL has not had a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq in a full year. Even ISIL’s leaders know they’re going to keep losing. In their message to followers, they’re increasingly acknowledging that they may lose Mosul and Raqqa. And ISIL is right, they will lose them. And we’ll keep hitting them and pushing them back and driving them out until they do. In other words, ISIL turns out not to be invincible -- they’re, in fact, inevitably, going to be defeated.
But we do recognize at the same time that the situation is complex. And this cannot be solved by military force alone. That's why, last month, the United States and countries around the world pledged more than $2 billion in new funds to help Iraqis stabilize and rebuild their communities. It’s why we’re working with Iraq so that the military campaign to liberate Mosul is matched with humanitarian and political efforts to protect civilians and promote inclusive governance and development so ISIL cannot return by exploiting divisions or new grievances.
In Syria, as I’ve repeatedly said, defeating ISIL and al Qaeda requires an end to the civil war and the Assad regime’s brutality against the Syrian people, which pushes people into the arms of extremists. The regime and its allies continue to violate the Cessation of Hostilities, including with vicious attacks on defenseless civilians, medieval sieges against cities like Aleppo, and blocking food from reaching families that are starving. It is deplorable. And the depravity of the Syrian regime has rightly earned the condemnation of the world.
Russia's direct involvement in these actions over the last several weeks raises very serious questions about their commitment to pulling the situation back from the brink. The U.S. remains prepared to work with Russia to try to reduce the violence and strengthen our efforts against ISIL and al Qaeda in Syria. But so far, Russia has failed to take the necessary steps. Given the deteriorating situation, it is time for Russia to show that it is serious about pursuing these objectives.
Beyond Syria and Iraq, we’ll keep working with allies and partners to go after ISIL wherever it tries to spread. At the request of Libya’s Government of National Accord, we are conducting strikes in support of government-aligned forces as they fight to retake Sirte from ISIL, and we will continue to support the government’s efforts to secure their country.
In Afghanistan, one of the reasons that I decided to largely maintain our current force posture was so that we could keep eliminating ISIL’s presence there -- and we delivered another blow last month when we took out a top ISIL leader in Afghanistan, Umar Khalifa.
Finally, it should be clear by now -- and no one knows this better than our military leaders -- that even as we need to crush ISIL on the battlefield, their military defeat will not be enough. So long as their twisted ideology persists and drives people to violence, then groups like ISIL will keep emerging and the international community will continue to be at risk in getting sucked into the kind of global whack-a-mole where we’re always reacting to the latest threat or lone actor. That’s why we’re also working to counter violent extremism more broadly -- including the social, economic and political factors that help fuel groups like ISIL and al Qaeda in the first place.
Nothing will do more to discredit ISIL and its phony claims to being a caliphate than when it loses its base in Raqqa and in Mosul. And we're going to keep working with partners -- including Muslim countries and communities -- especially online -- to expose ISIL for what they are: murderers who kill innocent people, including Muslim families and children as they break their Ramadan fast, and who set off bombs in Medina near the Prophet’s Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
Moreover, we refuse to let terrorists and voices of division undermine the unity and the values of diversity and pluralism that keep our nation strong. One of the reasons that America’s armed forces are the best in the world is because we draw on the skills and the talents of all of our citizens, from all backgrounds and faiths, including patriotic Muslim Americans who risk and give their lives for our freedom. And I think the entire world was inspired this past Sunday, when Muslims across France joined their Catholic neighbors at Mass and, in a moving display of solidarity, prayed together. The greeting they extended to each other has to be the message we echo in all of our countries and all of our communities -- peace be with you, and also with you.
--Aug. 4, 2016, in remarks to the press
Remarks after a meeting at the Treasury Department
I just met with my National Security Council as part of our regular effort to review and intensify our campaign to destroy the terrorist group ISIL. Our meeting was planned before the terrible attack in Orlando. But obviously that tragedy -- the awful loss of life -- shaped much of our work today. In all of our efforts, foremost in our minds is the loss and the grief of the people of Orlando -- those who died, those who are still recovering, the families who have seen their loved ones harmed, the friends of ours who are lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender who were targeted. I want to remind them that they are not alone. The American people, and our allies and friends all over the world, stand with you and are thinking about you, and are praying for you. As Director Comey has said, we currently do not have any information to indicate that a foreign terrorist group directed the attack in Orlando. It is increasingly clear, however, that the killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet. He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized. As we know all too well, terrorist groups like ISIL have called on people around the world and here in the United States to attack innocent civilians. Their propaganda, their videos, their postings are pervasive and more easily accessible than we want. This individual appears to have absorbed some of that. And during his killing spree, the shooter in Orlando pledged allegiance to ISIL. As I’ve said before, these lone actors or small cells of terrorists are very hard to detect and very hard to prevent. But across our government, at every level -- federal, state and local, military and civilian -- we are doing everything in our power to stop these kinds of attacks. We work to succeed a hundred percent of the time. An attacker, as we saw in Orlando, only has to succeed once. Our extraordinary personnel -- our intelligence, our military, our homeland security, our law enforcement -- have prevented many attacks and saved many lives. And we can never thank them enough. But we are all sobered by the fact that, despite the extraordinary hard work, something like Orlando can occur. In our meeting today, Director Comey updated us on the investigation in Orlando. Secretary Johnson reviewed the measures we continue to take on behalf of our homeland security. Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford reviewed the military campaign against ISIL. And I want to thank Secretary Lew and his team here at Treasury for hosting us and for their tireless efforts to cut off the money that ISIL relies on to fund its terror network. At the outset, I want to reiterate our objective in this fight. Our mission is to destroy ISIL. Since I last updated the American people on our campaign two months ago, we’ve seen that this continues to be a difficult fight -- but we are making significant progress. Over the past two months, I’ve authorized a series of steps to ratchet up our fight against ISIL: additional U.S. personnel, including Special Forces, in Syria to assist local forces battling ISIL there; additional advisors to work more closely with Iraqi security forces, and additional assets, including attack helicopters; and additional support for local forces in northern Iraq. Our aircraft continue to launch from the USS Harry Truman, now in the Mediterranean. Our B-52 bombers are hitting ISIL with precision strikes. Targets are being identified and hit even more quickly -- so far, 13,000 airstrikes. This campaign at this stage is firing on all cylinders. And as a result, ISIL is under more pressure than ever before. ISIL continues to lose key leaders. This includes Salman Abd Shahib, a senior military leader in Mosul; Abu Sa’ad al-Sudani, who plotted external attacks; Shakir Wahayb, ISIL’s military leader in Iraq’s Anbar province; and Maher al-Bilawi, the top ISIL commander in Fallujah. So far, we’ve taken out more than 120 top ISIL leaders and commanders. And our message is clear: If you target America and our allies, you will not be safe. You will never be safe. ISIL continues to lose ground in Iraq. In the past two months, local forces in Iraq, with coalition support, have liberated the western town of Rutbah and have also pushed up the Euphrates River Valley, liberating the strategic town of Hit and breaking the ISIL siege of Haditha. Iraqi forces have surrounded Fallujah and begun to move into the city. Meanwhile, in the north, Iraqi forces continue to push up the Tigris River Valley, making gains around Makhmour, and now preparing to tighten the noose around ISIL in Mosul. All told, ISIL has now lost nearly half of the populated territory that it once controlled in Iraq -- and it will lose more. ISIL continues to lose ground in Syria as well. Assisted by our Special Operations Forces, a coalition of local forces is now pressuring the key town of Manbij, which means the noose is tightening around ISIL in Raqqa as well. In short, our coalition continues to be on offense. ISIL is on defense. And it’s now been a full year since ISIL has been able to mount a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq. As ISIL continues to lose territory, it also continues to lose the money that is its lifeblood. As a result of our strikes against its oil infrastructure and supply lines, we believe that we’ve cut ISIL’s revenue from oil by millions of dollars per month. In destroying the storage sites where they keep their cash, we’ve deprived ISIL of many millions more. Thanks to the great work of Secretary Lew and many others here today -- and working with nations and financial institutions around the world -- ISIL is now effectively cut off from the international financial system. Cutting off ISIL’s money may not be as dramatic as military strikes, but it is critically important. And we’re seeing the results. ISIL’s cash reserves are down. It has had to cut salaries for its fighters. It’s resorting to more extortion of those trapped in its grip. And by ISIL’s own admission, some of its own leaders have been caught stealing cash and gold. Once again, ISIL’s true nature has been revealed: These are not religious warriors, they are thugs and they are thieves. In continuing to push on this front, I want to mention that it is critical for our friends in the Senate to confirm Adam Szubin, my nominee for Under Secretary of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Adam has served in Democratic and Republican administrations. Everyone agrees he’s eminently qualified. He has been working on these kinds of issues for years. It’s now been more than a year since I nominated him -- more than 420 days -- and he still has not been given a full vote. There is no good reason for it. It is inexcusable. So it’s time for the Senate to do its job, put our national security first, and have a vote on Adam Szubin that can lead our financial fight against ISIL and help keep our country safe. ISIL’s ranks are shrinking as well. Their morale is sinking. As one defender -- as one defector said, ISIL “is not bringing Islam to the world, and people need to know that.” Thanks to international efforts, the flow of foreign fighters -- including from America to Syria and Iraq -- has plummeted. In fact, our intelligence community now assesses that the ranks of ISIL fighters has been reduced to the lowest levels in more than two and half years. Even as we continue to destroy ISIL militarily, we’re addressing the larger forces that have allowed these terrorists to gain traction in parts of the world. With regard to Iraq, this means helping Iraqis stabilize liberated communities and promote inclusive governance so ISIL cannot return. With regard to Syria, it means our continued support for the fragile cessation of hostilities there. The cessation of hostilities has not stopped all or even most of the hardship on the Syrian people, the hardship on civilians. And the Assad regime has been the principal culprit in violating the cessation of hostilities. ISIL and al Nusra, which is al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, also continue to terrorize Syrians. But as fragile and incomplete as the cessation is, it has saved lives and it has allowed the delivery of some lifesaving aid to Syrians who are in desperate need. And as difficult as it is, we will continue to push for a political process that can end the civil war and result in a transition away from Assad. Beyond Syria and Libya -- beyond Syria and Iraq, ISIL is also losing ground in Libya. Forces of the Libyan unity government are going after ISIL in their stronghold in Sirte. And we’ll continue to assist the new Libyan government as it works to secure its country. Lastly, here at home, if we really want to help law enforcement protect Americans from homegrown extremists, the kind of tragedies that occurred at San Bernardino and that now have occurred in Orlando, there is a meaningful way to do that. We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents. It is absolutely true we cannot prevent every tragedy. But we know that, consistent with the Second Amendment, there are common-sense steps that could reduce gun violence and could reduce the lethality of somebody who intends to do other people harm. We should give ATF the resources they need to enforce the gun laws that we already have. People with possible ties to terrorism who aren't allowed on a plane shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun. Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually be tough on terrorism, and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons. Reinstate the assault weapons ban. Make it harder for terrorists to use these weapons to kill us. Otherwise, despite extraordinary efforts across our government by local law enforcement, by our intelligence agencies, by our military, despite all the sacrifices that folks make, these kinds of events are going to keep on happening. And the weapons are only going to get more powerful. And let me make a final point. For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase “radical Islam.” That’s the key, they tell us -- we can’t beat ISIL unless we call them “radical Islamists.” What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction. Since before I was President, I’ve been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism. As President, I have repeatedly called on our Muslim friends and allies at home and around the world to work with us to reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world’s great religions. There has not been a moment in my seven and a half years as President where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label "radical Islam." Not once has an advisor of mine said, man, if we really use that phrase, we're going to turn this whole thing around. Not once. So if someone seriously thinks that we don’t know who we're fighting, if there's anyone out there who thinks we're confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we've taken off the battlefield. If the implication is that those of us up here and the thousands of people around the country and around the world who are working to defeat ISIL aren't taking the fight seriously, that would come as a surprise to those who have spent these last seven and a half years dismantling al Qaeda in the FATA, for example -- including the men and women in uniform who put their lives at risk and the Special Forces that I ordered to get bin Laden and are now on the ground in Iraq and in Syria. They know full well who the enemy is. So do the intelligence and law enforcement officers who spend countless hours disrupting plots and protecting all Americans, including politicians who tweet and appear on cable news shows. They know who the nature of the enemy is. So there’s no magic to the phrase “radical Islam.” It’s a political talking point; it's not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people; that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda. That's how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion -- then we’re doing the terrorists' work for them. Now, up until this point, this argument about labels has mostly just been partisan rhetoric. And, sadly, we've all become accustomed to that kind of partisanship, even when it involves the fight against these extremist groups. And that kind of yapping has not prevented folks across government from doing their jobs, from sacrificing and working really hard to protect the American people. But we are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be. We're starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we're fighting, where this can lead us. We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America. We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests that entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer -- they were all U.S. citizens. Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith? We’ve heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign. Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that's not the America we want. It doesn't reflect our democratic ideals. It won’t make us more safe; it will make us less safe -- fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims, making young Muslims in this country and around the world feel like no matter what they do, they're going to be under suspicion and under attack. It makes Muslim Americans feel like they're government is betraying them. It betrays the very values America stands for. We've gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear -- and we came to regret it. We've seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens. And it has been a shameful part of our history. This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion. We don't have religious tests here. Our Founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights are clear about that. And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect -- the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties -- the very things that make this country great; the very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won. And we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen. Two weeks ago, I was at the commencement ceremony at the Air Force Academy. And it could not have been more inspiring to see these young people stepping up, dedicated to serve and protect this country. And part of what was inspiring was the incredible diversity of these cadets. We saw cadets, who are straight, applauding classmates who were openly gay. We saw cadets, born here in America, applauding classmates who are immigrants and love this country so much they decided they wanted to be part of our armed forces. We saw cadets and families of all religions applaud cadets who are proud, patriotic Muslim Americans serving their country in uniform, ready to lay their lives on the line to protect you and to protect me. We saw male cadets applauding for female classmates, who can now serve in combat positions. That’s the American military. That’s America -- one team, one nation. Those are the values that ISIL is trying to destroy, and we shouldn’t help them do it. Our diversity and our respect for one another, our drawing on the talents of everybody in this country, our making sure that we are treating everybody fairly -- that we’re not judging people on the basis of what faith they are or what race they are, or what ethnicity they are, or what their sexual orientation is -- that’s what makes this country great. That’s the spirit we see in Orlando. That’s the unity and resolve that will allow us to defeat ISIL. That’s what will preserve our values and our ideals that define us as Americans. That’s how we’re going to defend this nation, and that’s how we’re going to defend our way of life. Thank you very much.– June 14, 2016, in remarks to the press
State of the Union address, Jan. 12, 2016
Both Al Qaida and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; their actions undermine and destabilize our allies. We have to take them out.
But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages, they pose an enormous danger to civilians, they have to be stopped, but they do not threaten our national existence. That is the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.
We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.
We just need to call them what they are: killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.
And that’s exactly what we’re doing. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their vicious ideology.
With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons. We’re training, arming and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.
If this Congress is serious about winning this war and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote.
Take a vote. But the American people should know that, with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.
Ask — ask the leader of Al Qaida in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell. When you come after Americans, we go after you. And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.
Our foreign policy has to be focused on the threat from ISIL and Al Qaida, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, even without Al Qaida, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America and Africa and Asia.
Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks. Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.
The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.
We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis...even if it’s done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam. It’s the lesson of Iraq, and we should have learned it by now.
Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power. It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies, but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.
That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.
And that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics that targets people because of race or religion.
Let me just say this. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal, it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I’m standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad, or fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it what — telling it like it is, it’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.
Click here for a full transcript via The New York Times
Televised address to the nation, Dec. 6, 2015
On Wednesday, 14 Americans were killed as they came together to celebrate the holidays. They were taken from family and friends who loved them deeply. 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 and all of them were part of our American family.
Tonight, I want to talk with you about this tragedy, the broader threat of terrorism, and how we can keep our country safe.
The FBI is still gathering the facts about what happened in San Bernardino, but here is what we know. The victims were brutally murdered and injured by one of their coworkers and his wife. 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. So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people.
Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11. In the process, we’ve hardened our defenses -- from airports to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe. Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas -- disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and 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 turned 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. 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, I’ve confronted this evolving threat each morning in my intelligence briefing. And since the day I took this office, I’ve authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is. As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people. As a father to two young daughters who are the most precious part of my life, I know that we see ourselves with friends and coworkers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino. I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris. 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.
Here’s how. First, our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary. In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure. And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies -- including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign, which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.
Second, we will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground so that we take away their safe havens. In both countries, we’re deploying Special Operations Forces who can accelerate that offensive. We’ve stepped up this effort since the attacks in Paris, and we’ll continue to invest more in approaches that are working on the ground.
Third, we’re working with friends and allies to stop ISIL’s operations -- to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters. Since the attacks in Paris, we’ve surged intelligence-sharing with our European allies. We’re working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria. And we are cooperating with Muslim-majority countries -- and with our Muslim communities here at home -- to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online.
Fourth, with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process -- and timeline -- to pursue ceasefires and a political resolution to the Syrian war. Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country, including our allies, but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL -- a group that threatens us all.
This is our strategy to destroy ISIL. It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts, together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition. And we constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done. That’s why I’ve ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa *Waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country. And that’s why I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.
Now, here at home, we have to work together to address the challenge. There are several steps that Congress should take right away.
To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.
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 is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do -- and must do -- is make it harder for them to kill.
Next, we should put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to warzones. And we’re working with members of both parties in Congress to do exactly that.
Finally, if Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists. For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.
My fellow Americans, these are the steps that we can take together to defeat the terrorist threat. Let me now say a word about what we should not do.
We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield. ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq. But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.
The strategy that we are using now -- airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country -- that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory. And it won’t require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.
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. 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 more than a billion Muslims around the world -- including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we 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. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. 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.
My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity -- that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.
Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges -- whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks -- by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people. So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.
Click here for his full remarks
Joint press conference with French president Francois Hollande, Nov. 24, 2015
“This barbaric terrorist group -- ISIL, or Daesh -- and its murderous ideology pose a serious threat to all of us. It cannot be tolerated. It must be destroyed. And we must do it together. This is the unity of purpose that brings us here today.
“It’s been noted that the terrorists did not direct their attacks against the French government or military. Rather, they focused their violence on the very spirit of France -- and by extension, on all liberal democracies. This was an attack on our free and open societies -- where people come together to celebrate and sing and compete. In targeting venues where people come together from around the world -- killing citizens of nearly 20 countries, including America -- this was an attack on the very idea that people of different races and religions and backgrounds can live together in peace.
“In short, this was not only a strike against one of the world’s great cities, it was an attack against the world itself. It’s the same madness that has slaughtered the innocent from Nigeria to the Sinai, from Lebanon to Iraq. It is a scourge that threatens all of us. And that’s why, for more than a year, the United States, France, and our coalition of some 65 nations have been united in one mission -- to destroy these ISIL terrorists and defeat their vile ideology.
“Today, President Hollande and I reviewed our coalition’s progress. More than 8,000 airstrikes, combined with local partners on the ground, have pushed ISIL back from territory in both Iraq and Syria. Today, President Hollande and I agreed that our nations must do even more together. U.S. assistance has supported recent French strikes in Syria, and we’re going to keep stepping up that coordination. And as we saw with the attack in Mali, the terrorist threat goes beyond ISIL. This week, I’ll sign legislation to sustain our support -- including airlift and intelligence -- to allies like France, as we work together to root out terrorist networks in Africa.
“We’ll do even more to prevent attacks at home. Building on our recent intelligence agreement, the United States will continue to quickly share threat information with France. And in the wake of Paris, and with the threats in Belgium, there’s also a growing recognition among European nations that they need to ramp up additional efforts to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. As part of that, I’m calling on the European Union to finally implement the agreement that’s been long in the works that would require airlines to share passenger information, so we can do more to stop foreign terrorist fighters from entering our countries undetected. And I’m prepared to send teams of our experts to work on this with our European partners to make sure we’re redoubling our efforts together.
“Regarding the broader crisis in Syria, President Hollande and I agree that Russia’s strikes against the moderate opposition only bolster the Assad regime, whose brutality has helped to fuel the rise of ISIL. We agree that Russia could play a more constructive role if it were to shift the focus of its strikes to defeating ISIL. And likewise, President Hollande and I agree that the best way to bring peace to Syria is through the principles reaffirmed in Vienna, which require active Russian support for a ceasefire and a political transition away from Assad to a democratically elected government that can unite the Syrian people against terrorism.
“Finally, François and I understand that one of our greatest weapons in the fight against ISIL is the strength and resilience of our people. And, here, I want to speak directly to the American people. What happened in Paris is truly horrific. I understand that people worry that something similar could happen here. I want you to know that we will continue to do everything in our power to defend our nation. Since 9/11, we’ve taken extraordinary measures to strengthen our homeland security. Our counterterrorism, homeland security, and law enforcement professionals -- federal, state and local -- they are tireless. They have prevented attacks and they have saved lives. They are working every hour, every day for our security. They did so before Paris, they do so now, and they will not stop. They’re the best in the world.
“But it’s not just our security professionals who will defeat ISIL and other terrorist groups. As Americans, we all have a role to play in how we respond to threats. Groups like ISIL cannot defeat us on the battlefield, so they try to terrorize us at home -- against soft targets, against civilians, against innocent people. Even as we’re vigilant, we cannot, and we will not, succumb to fear. Nor can we allow fear to divide us -- for that’s how terrorists win. We cannot give them the victory of changing how we go about living our lives.
“The good news is Americans are resilient. We mourned the lives lost at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, at Chattanooga. But we did not waver. Our communities have come together. We’ve gone to ballgames and we've gone to concerts, and we've gone shopping. And men and women who want to serve our country continue to go to military recruiting offices. We're vigilant, we take precautions, but we go about our business. To those who want to harm us, our actions have shown that we have too much resolve and too much character. Americans will not be terrorized.
“I say all this because another part of being vigilant, another part of defeating terrorists like ISIL, is upholding the rights and freedoms that define our two great republics. That includes freedom of religion. That includes equality before the law. There have been times in our history, in moments of fear, when we have failed to uphold our highest ideals, and it has been to our lasting regret. We must uphold our ideals now. Each of us, all of us, must show that America is strengthened by people of every faith and every background.
“So, President Hollande, my fellow Americans -- let’s remember we’ve faced greater threats to our way of life before. Fascism. Communism. A first world war. A second. A long Cold War. Each and every time, we prevailed. We have prevailed because our way of life is stronger. Because we stay united. Because even as we are relentless in the face of evil, we draw on what’s best in ourselves and in the character of our countries. It will be no different this time. Make no mistake, we will win, and groups like ISIL will lose. And standing with allies like France, we will continue to show the world the best of American leadership.
“Vive la France. And God bless the United States of America.”
Click here for his full remarks
Press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 22, 2015
“For more than a year, the United States has built and led a broad coalition against ISIL of some 65 nations. Given the frequent focus on America’s leadership of this campaign, sometimes the contributions of our partners are overlooked. In fact, since the G20, a number of our coalition members have stepped up with new commitments. So today I want to take a moment to recognize how our allies and partners help advance every element of our strategy.
“Nearly two dozen nations -- among them Turkey and our Arab partners -- contribute in some way to the military campaign, which has taken more than 8,000 strikes against ISIL so far. And as I’ve said, we’re ready to welcome or cooperate with other countries that are determined to truly fight ISIL as well. Fifteen countries have deployed personnel to train and support local forces in Iraq. The United Arab Emirates and Germany are organizing 25 coalition partners in helping to stabilize areas in Iraq liberated from ISIL. Italy is coordinating the multinational effort to train Iraqi police.
“On the political front, U.S. leadership brought all the key countries together in the Vienna to discuss a common understanding on the principles for ending the Syrian civil war. On the humanitarian front, the United States is helping to lead the effort to mobilize more aid for the Syrian people, including refugees.
“More than 40 countries have now passed or strengthened laws to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, and 34 nations, including the United States, have arrested foreign terrorist fighters. Saudi Arabia is helping to coordinate the crackdown on ISIL financing. The United Arab Emirates’ new messaging center is working to discredit ISIL’s propaganda, and Malaysia just announced the creation of its own center to do the same. And by joining our summit at the United Nations that we organized this fall, more than 100 nations, more than 20 multilateral institutions and some 120 civil society groups -- including many leaders from Muslim communities around the world -- have become part of a global movement against ISIL and its twisted ideology.
“All of which is to say that our coalition will not relent. We will not accept the idea that terrorist assaults on restaurants and theaters and hotels are the new normal -- or that we are powerless to stop them. After all, that’s precisely what terrorists like ISIL want, because, ultimately, that’s the only way that they can win. That’s the very nature of terrorism --they can’t beat us on the battlefield, so they try to terrorize us into being afraid, into changing our patterns of behavior, into panicking, into abandoning our allies and partners, into retreating from the world. And as President, I will not let that happen.
“In our diverse societies, everybody can do their part. And we will not give in to fear, or start turning on each other, or treating some people differently because of religion or race or background. That wouldn’t just be a betrayal of our values, it would also feed ISIL’s propaganda -- there assertion, which is absolutely false, that we must absolutely reject, that we are somehow at war with an entire religion. The United States could never be at war with any religion because America is made up of multiple religions. We're strengthened by people from every religion, including Muslim Americans.
“So I want to be as clear as I can on this: Prejudice and discrimination helps ISIL and undermines our national security. And so, even as we destroy ISIL on the battlefield -- and we will destroy them -- we will 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. And we can all do our part by upholding the values of tolerance and diversity and equality that help keep America strong.
“The United States will continue to lead this global coalition. We are intensifying our strategy on all fronts, with local partners on the ground. We are going to keep on rolling back ISIL in Iraq and in Syria, and take out more of their leaders and commanders so that they do not threaten us. And we will destroy this terrorist organization.
“And we’ll keep working with our allies and partners for the opportunity and justice that helps defeat violent extremism. We’ll keep standing up for the human rights and dignity of all people -- because that is contrary to what these terrorists believe. That's part of how we defeat them. And I'm confident we will succeed. The hateful vision of an organization like ISIL is no match for the strength of nations and people around the world who are united to live in security and peace and in harmony.”
“… destroying ISIL is not only a realistic goal, we're going to get it done, and we're going to pursue it with every aspect of American power and with all the coalition partners that we’ve assembled. It’s going to get done.
“It will be helpful if Russia directs its focus on ISIL, and I do think that as a consequence of ISIL claiming responsibility for bringing down their plane, there is an increasing awareness on the part of President Putin that ISIL poses a greater threat to them than anything else in the region. The question at this point is whether they can make the strategic adjustment that allows them to be effective partners with us and the other 65 countries who are already part of the counter-ISIL campaign. And we don't know that yet.
“So far, over the last several weeks, when they started taking strikes in Syria, their principal targets have been the moderate opposition that they felt threatened Assad. Their principal goal appeared to be -- if you follow the strikes that they took -- to fortify the position of the Assad regime. And that does not add to our efforts against ISIL. In some ways, it strengthens it because ISIL is also fighting many of those groups that the Russians were hitting.
“When we were in Turkey I discussed with President Putin, in a brief pull-aside, his need to recognize that he needs to go after the people who killed Russian citizens. And those aren’t the groups that they were currently hitting with strikes. So they're going to have to make an adjustment in terms of what they're prioritizing.
“More broadly -- I’ve said this before; I said it to President Putin five years ago and I repeated it to him just a few days ago -- the issue with Assad is not simply the way that he has treated his people. It’s not just a human rights issues. It’s not just a question of supporting somebody who has been ruthlessly dropping bombs on his own civilian populations. As a practical matter, it is not conceivable that Mr. Assad can regain legitimacy in a country in which a large majority of that country despises Assad and will not stop fighting so long as he’s in power, which means that the civil war perpetuates itself.
“And so the goal in Vienna is to see if -- with all the countries around the table, including Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, and Iran, and Russia, as well as the United States and other countries that have concerns about this -- whether we can arrive at a political transition process that recognizes the need for a new government and can quell the fighting and bring about a ceasefire and allows all of us to refocus our attention on this barbaric organization that is killing so many people.
“Russia has not officially committed to a transition of Assad moving out, but they did agree to the political transition process. And I think we’ll find out over the next several weeks whether or not we can bring about that change of perspective with the Russians.
“Keep in mind that we all have an interest in maintaining a Syrian state because we don’t want complete chaos. I mean, and there are problems that we’ve seen in, for example, Lebanon, when the machinery of state entirely breaks down. So there’s going to be a need for the international community and the United Nations to work in order to maintain -- maintaining a Syrian state and be able to move forward with a political transition that’s orderly. And that’s going to be difficult, but that’s what we have to focus on.
“In terms of the position of the United States and the other 65 members of the coalition, my view on Assad is it will not work to keep him in power. We can’t stop the fighting. Even if I were to cynically say that my priority is ISIL and not removing Assad regardless of the terrible things that he’s done to his people, the United States could not stop the fighting in Syria by those who are opposed to Assad’s rule. And so this is a practical issue, not just a matter of conscience. And I think that there are a large number of members of this coalition, including President Hollande, who agree with me on that.”
“One of the things I insisted on the day I walked into the Oval Office was that I don’t want intelligence shaded by politics. I don’t want it shaded by the desire to tell a feel-good story. We can’t make good policy unless we’ve got good, accurate, hard-headed, clear-eyed intelligence. I believe that the Department of Defense and all those who head up our intelligence agencies understand that, and that I have made it repeatedly clear to all my top national security advisors that I never want them to hold back, even if the intelligence or their opinions about the intelligence, their analysis or interpretations of the data contradict current policy. So that’s a message that we’ve been adamant about from the start.
“I don’t know what we’ll discover with respect to what was going on at CENTCOM. I think that’s something that’s best left to the IG and the processes. I have communicated once again to both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as well as Secretary Carter that I expect that we get to the bottom of whether or not what you describe has been happening.
“There are always going to be some disputes with respect to how to interpret facts on the ground. I get intelligence briefings every single day, and there are times where they’re making their best judgments -- they’ll say, with moderate confidence, or low confidence, or high confidence, this is what we think is happening. There may be times where there are disputes internally among various intelligence agencies about that. But I don’t know the details of this. What I do know is my expectation, which is the highest fidelity to facts, data -- the truth.
“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.
“One last thing I’ll say, though -- as a consumer of this intelligence, 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.”
“I guess you want to know how the atmosphere, as a consequence of the attack in Paris would affect [the climate talks to be held in Paris]. Look, I think it is absolutely vital for every country, every leader to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business, and that Paris -- one of the most beautiful, enticing cities in the world -- is not going to be cowered by the violent, demented actions of a few.
“And that's part of the overall message that I want to very clearly send the American people. We do not succumb to fear. That's the primary power that these terrorists have over us. They cannot strike a mortal blow against the United States, or against France, or against a country like Malaysia. But they can make people fearful. And that's understandable, because that could have been us; that could have been our families; that could have been our children in these places. And our hearts are broken when we see these images.
“But in addition to hunting down terrorists, in addition to effective intelligence, and in addition to missile strikes, and in addition to cutting off financing and all the other things that we're doing, the most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL is to say that we’re not afraid; to not elevate them; to somehow buy into their fantasy that they’re doing something important. They’re a bunch of killers. And there have been people throughout human history who can find an excuse to kill people because they don’t think like them or look like them. And we fight them, and we beat them, and we don’t change our institutions and our culture and our values because of them.
“I want to be very clear about this. I am not afraid that ISIL will beat us because of their operations. When I see a headline that says this individual who designed this plot in Paris is a mastermind -- he’s not a mastermind. He found a few other vicious people, got hands on some fairly conventional weapons, and, sadly, it turns out that if you’re willing to die, you can kill a lot of people.
“And so it is in our capacity to roll up those networks. Now, we got to take precautions, we have to take it seriously, and we have to go at the heart of the problem that exists inside of Syria and Iraq right now. And we have to address the broader issues that exist in a tiny fraction of the Muslim community. But it is a real problem that leaders -- from Prime Minister Najib to the President of Indonesia and others who have large Muslim populations -- acknowledge. A country like Indonesia has 250 million people; if just a tiny fraction of those are in some ways attracted by a vicious ideology like ISIL’s, then that’s a real problem for us. And so tools like countering this narrative, and Muslim clerics and political leaders and community leaders coming forward and making sure that our children are not being fed this kind of bile, that’s critically important as well.
“But in all of this, we cannot respond from fear. And the American people, in the past, have confronted some very real, enormous threats, and we beat them. We vanquished them. This will be no different.”
Rules of engagement
“With respect to rules of engagement, we are in a constant conversation inside the Situation Room about how do we apply force most effectively to go after key ISIL targets, key ISIL leaders, strategic positions, their infrastructure, their supply lines, while minimizing civilian casualties. We do so for two reasons: One, because it’s the right thing to do. There are people who are caught up in Mosul right now, for example, who despise ISIL, who are essentially captive to ISIL, are being brutalized by ISIL. And to the extent that we can avoid them being killed by those of us who are trying to defeat ISIL, that’s a legitimate concern in any military campaign. Because if we’re not careful about it -- and this brings us to the practical element of it -- then you can alienate the very populations that you need to win over, because ultimately those are the folks who are going to have to drive ISIL out, stomp it out all the way.
“The good news is, is the U.S. military has become very good at this. I think that there have been some circumstances where the military proceeds in steps and are continually reevaluating whether, well, maybe this is a situation where we can, in fact, take the strike without a lot of civilian casualties.
“A good example with the recent trucks that were struck. There may be ways in which warnings can be given to the drivers -- many of whom may not work for ISIL, they may just be for hire or being forced into it -- so that they better abandon those trucks before we shoot them down, because we’re shooting them down. So that’s the kind of conversation, and that’s been ongoing throughout the process.
“I think that the American people are right to be concerned, and to expect that we in the government and in law enforcement are doing everything we can to disrupt terrorist attacks, to intercept intelligence that may lead us to individuals who are willing to carry out these attacks, that we make sure that these terrorists are not gaining the kinds of weaponry that would make it easier for them to cause mass attacks. This is a serious problem. And as somebody who more often than I would like has met with or comforted families of victims of terrorism, the losses are real and they're devastating. So this is a serious problem. And we have to work collectively across the board, as we’ve been doing since I became President and since previous administrations identified the kinds of organized terrorist activity like al Qaeda that we’ve seen -- we’ve got to do everything we can to stop it.
“But there is a difference between being vigilant and being concerned and taking this seriously and taking precautions and, in some cases, changing our security arrangements, as we’ve done, for example, in aviation -- there’s a difference between smart applications of law enforcement and military and intelligence, and succumbing to the kind of fear that leads us to abandon our values, to abandon how we live, to abandon -- or change how we treat each other.
“And the good news is, there, 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.
“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.
“And so the message I have is that those of us who are charged with protecting the American people are going to do everything we can to destroy this particular network. Once this network is destroyed -- and it will be -- there may be others that pop up in different parts of the world, and so we're going to have to continue to take seriously how we maintain the infrastructure that we’ve built to prevent this. But it doesn't have to change the fundamental trajectory of the American people. And that we should feel confident about.
“And the media needs to help in this. I just want to say -- during the course of this week, a very difficult week, it is understandable that this has been a primary focus. But one of the things that has to happen is how we report on this has to maintain perspective, and not empower in any way these terrorist organizations or elevate them in ways that make it easier for them to recruit or make them stronger.
“They're a bunch of killers with good social media. And they are dangerous, and they’ve caused great hardship to people. But the overwhelming majority of people who go about their business every day, the Americans who are building things, and making things, and teaching, and saving lives as firefighters and as police officers -- they're stronger. Our way of life is stronger. We have more to offer -- we represent 99.9 percent of humanity. And that's why we should be confident that we’ll win.”
“With respect to the refugee program, Paris just happened a week ago. News moves so fast these days that sometimes we just lose track. It’s been so recent and so pervasive in the news, and people have, understandably, been so concerned given how similar Paris is to many American cities that I get why legislation in the House moved forward quickly.
“My hope, though, is, is that now that we’ve got some time to catch our breath and take a look at this carefully, people understand that refugees who end up in the United States are the most vetted, scrutinized, thoroughly investigated individuals that ever arrive on American shores; that the process that's been constructed over the course of several administrations on a bipartisan basis is extraordinarily thorough and currently takes between 18 to 24 months for somebody to be approved.
“And so although, on its face, the House legislation simply says, well, we can just certify -- and this is not along the lines of some of the more radical proposals that we were hearing earlier in the week from some presidential candidates -- the fact of the matter is, is that if it gums up the work so much, then effectively you don’t end up seeing any refugees admitted. If you layer it with more and more bureaucracy, that doesn’t actually make us safer because it doesn’t do a better job of screening but simply makes it almost impossible to process individuals who are coming in, then you’re effectively ending the refugee program for people who desperately need it.
“And when I referred to a betrayal of our values, I was being very specific about some of the commentary that was made that would suggest, for example, that we might let Christians in but not Muslims; that we -- somehow we’re so fearful that a four-year-old orphan might be let in. And those of you who joined me to the refugee center yesterday and you saw those kids, that’s who we’re talking about. If you are a parent and you saw those kids, and you thought about what they had gone through, the notion that we couldn’t find a home for them anywhere in the United States of America, that is contrary to our values.
“And the good news is, is that the overwhelming majority of the people who know that we are screening and all the precautions that are already taken -- if they saw those kids, they’d say, yeah, we need to do right by those children.”
"The Islamists" is a book and website on the origins, evolution, and positions of Islamist movements in the Middle East. The movements are redefining the order and borders in the world’s most volatile region. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals. Read more