On Sunday night President Barack Obama seized the spotlight for a rare prime time address, and he came with one major message: It’s going to be OK. Obama spoke four days after that deadly massacre and 48 hours after the FBI first described the case as a terrorism investigation.
Standing in the Oval Office, Obama sought to calm nerves and quiet a chorus of critics who claim the president has been too slow to acknowledge the threat posed by Islamic radicalism.
He said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group “The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us…. We will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”
Obama’s short address lasted just 13 minutes and he used the Oval Office as a backdrop, a favorite of past presidents, just three times since taking office seven years ago. Obama is disinclined to make dramatic changes in reaction to current climate of fear.
According to one senior administration official, who asked for anonymity to discuss strategy, said the speech was primarily aimed at explaining the president’s current plan to ordinary Americans who’ve been rattled by the rash of attacks in Paris, the Sinai Peninsula and, most recently, San Bernardino.
Despite the rash of violence, Obama argued his strategy is appropriate for what he dubbed a “new phase” of terrorism. President Obama argued the U.S. is successfully targeting IS leaders, infrastructure and financing, while Western allies are contributing more to the fight.
He also said the effort to train and equip Iraqi and Syrian forces will continue. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to forge a cease-fire in the Syrian civil war are making slow progress.
The president’s most specific policy announcement was to order a review of the fiancee visa program that the female shooter in California used to enter the U.S. Obama said he would urge private companies and law enforcement leaders to work together to ensure potential attackers can’t use technology to evade detection.
The president also called on Congress to pass new authorization for military actions underway against IS in Iraq and Syria and to approve legislation to keep people on the “no-fly list” from buying guns. He said “What we can do, and must do, is make it harder for them to kill.” Obama’s gun push has no chance of passing a Republican-led Congress.
Last week the Senate rejected legislation barring people suspected by the government of being violent extremists from purchasing firearms. Gun-rights advocates say such a ban would violate the rights of people who haven’t been convicted of crimes.
However Congress and the presidential candidates haven’t created an alternative and lawmakers have refused to formally authorize use of force against IS. Obama repeated his long-standing opposition to an American-led ground war in the Middle East and made no mention of the more aggressive action others have suggested, including enforcing a no-fly zone and safe corridors in Syria.
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