On Sunday evening, December 6, 2015, President Barack Obama delivered the third Oval Office address of his presidency. In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, he attempted to ease the minds of Americans shaken by the threat of ISIS and the bloody terrorist attacks, both domestic and international, that have taken so many lives in recent months.
It was 2010 the last time Obama spoke to the nation from this symbolic space, one reserved for especially urgent speeches. That he chose to address United States citizens from the Oval Office tonight emphasizes the gravity his administration has placed upon the fight against ISIS.
However, the president maintained his familiar equanimity as he transitioned into his plans to protect the nation.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” he declared. “We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.” CBS News explains that President Obama “[uses] an alternate acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”
The president organized his speech into three sections, first delineating what his administration will do to ensure America’s safety, then listing steps Congress should take to aid in counterterrorism efforts, and finally concluding with remarks on what we must as a country avoid in order to play into the narrative ISIS has spun about the United States and western culture.
The administration, Obama explains, will continue to perform the following protective measures:
- Deploy military troops to hunt down terrorist plotters wherever they may be, especially in Iraq and Syria
- Provide both training and weapons to Iraqis and Syrians so that they can put domestic pressure on ISIS forces
- Continue working with allies to stop terrorist attacks before they occur, while simultaneously combatting the extremist ideology of ISIS
The president noted that 65 countries have joined an American-spearheaded coalition in order to engage in counterterrorist efforts.
President Obama then turned to Congress, urging them to immediately close the loophole that allows those identified on the no-fly list to still purchase a gun. He also argued that we must make it more difficult to obtain assault weapons, and finally to “enhance screening for visa waiver entrants and pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is specific to the fight against ISIS.”
Finally, as he began discussing what we must avoid in these antiterrorism efforts, Obama asserted that we must not become entangled in a “long and costly” ground war in Iraq and Syria. This, he explained, is precisely what ISIS wants — a way to draw out combat on their soil, killing more and more of our soldiers in the meantime.
But in the conclusion of the address, the president shifted his focus from aggression to tolerance. From CBS News:
“‘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,’ the president said, noting that the ‘vast majority’ of terror victims around the world are Muslim.”
Although Obama averred that Muslims must “confront without excuse” the extremist ideologies being touted in the name of Islam, he noted that it is the “responsibility of all Americans of every faith to reject discrimination.” We must see Muslim communities as “allies” in this fight rather than to conflate them with the brutality of ISIS.
“Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our coworkers, 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 said.
He moreover urged us to unite over our common values and to hold fast to the idea that “freedom is more powerful than fear.”
Unsurprisingly, 2016 presidential candidates watched President Obama’s address and offered their own commentary. We begin with Donald J. Trump’s insights:
Senator Bernie Sanders echoes Obama’s views:
Senator Ted Cruz made some characteristically gladiatorial remarks:
Hillary Clinton has not posted a response to her Twitter account at this time.
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