In an effort to address “the significant concerns and very real and legitimate fears in the United States and around the world,” US President Barack Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office for only the third time in his presidency and the first time since 2010 on Sunday evening. He took the opportunity to acknowledge the growing threat of terrorism, but offered nothing of substance to the conversation.
Following the attack in San Bernardino, California, in which a Muslim couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, shot up a holiday party at the husband’s work, killing 14 and injuring another 21, Obama admitted, “This was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.” He also recognized the need to reexamine the visa program which allowed the Pakistani Malik to enter the country as Farook’s fiancee, in an effort to improve the screening process.
He denied, however, the possibility that the attack was part of a greater or organized plot. “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,” he said. Obama did note, though, that Farook and Malik “had gone down the dark path of radicalization.” Malik had pledged her support and allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) leader on Facebook.
According to the president, the global terror threat has entered a “new phase.” However, he said “I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.”
Yet Obama’s strategy to combat this “new phase” remains the same: continue to carry out airstrikes against ISIS, continue to train and equip Iraqi and Syrian ground forces, and avoid entering a ground war with US troops at all costs.
Obama did suggest tightening gun control laws, because “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 [ISIS] or some other hateful ideology. What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill.” He also wishes to pursue a peace agreement with Syria to reduce tensions with Russia and allow the two nations to focus on the common goal of fighting ISIS.
Through it all, Obama stressed the importance of not equating ISIS with Islam because it feeds into the goals of such radical groups which embrace “a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.”
“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 [ISIS] want. [ISIS] does not speak for Islam.”
Obama’s critics were quick to pounce upon his speech, full of sound and fury yet signifying nothing.
Former Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush posted on Facebook, “President Obama has finally been forced to abandon the political fantasy he has perpetuated for years that the threat of terrorism was receding.”
He rejected Obama’s approach to the terror threat. “We need to remove the self-imposed constraints President Obama has placed on our intelligence community and military, and we need to put in place an aggressive strategy to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism…This is the war of our time. It should not be business as usual.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also suggested Obama’s plan was ineffectual. According to NBC, he stated, “The path laid out by President Obama and supported by Hillary Clinton has not worked, and ISIS has only gained in strength. The attacks in San Bernardino should serve as a wake-up call for Obama and Clinton that the way to victory is not through the status quo but refocusing our efforts to defeat ISIS.”
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“The enemy is adapting, and we must too. That’s why what we heard tonight was so disappointing: no new plan, just a half-hearted attempt to defend and distract from a failing policy,” Ryan said in a statement.
While Corker saw potential in Obama’s desire to reexamine the visa process, he said the current situation demands a “more robust strategy” than anything Obama has suggested.
“What the president needed to do tonight, but failed to do, is to articulate to the American people a new, clear strategy to defeat ISIS and protect our country and our allies from more terrorist attacks. Instead, what we heard was more of the same containment strategy,” he wrote in a statement.