In a calm and well-reasoned manner, President Barack Obama on Sunday night laid out a short-hand version of his administration’s strategic effort to defeat the Islamic State.
It will require votes in Congress, level-headed thinking by the American people and a coalition of other countries working toward the same goal: Stop the threat of terrorism posed by the group, which he calls ISIL and is also known as ISIS.
The top points of Obama’s speech to the nation made a great deal of sense.
He supported intensified efforts to knock out the militants’ assets, including training grounds, as well as the petroleum fields and refineries they control.
Obama said more special operations forces will be used to continue to train and supply Iraqi troops and other anti-ISIS forces in the region.
And he touted sensible attempts to cut off ISIS financing as well as to share more intelligence among allied nations.
Nothing Obama said, of course, would have satisfied his critics in the Republican Party, who seem hellbent on bogging American forces down in another deadly ground war in the Middle East. Obama once again properly dismissed that option, given its costs in soldiers’ lives and in U.S. funds.
But much of this speech wasn’t aimed at the GOP or its presidential candidates.
A majority of American people do not think Obama has focused enough on dealing with the threat of terrorism. The anxiety among some went up last week when two people, whom authorities now say were radicalized and had offered words of support for ISIS, massacred 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.
So Obama on Sunday offered assurances that “I know how real the danger is.” He mentioned that he is the father of two young daughters he wants to keep safe.
The president made the logical contention that Congress should pass a bill preventing anyone on a no-fly list from being able to buy a gun. Unfortunately, Republican senators shunted aside that very action late last week, the kind of stance that reflects the influence of the National Rifle Association.
Obama did properly note that the United States will have to put in place stronger screenings for people obtaining visas to come to the country. Visas for fiancés — which is how one of the San Bernardino suspects got into the country so easily — as well as for students and workers from foreign countries will be under the microscope now, more than ever.
The president appealed quite rightly to the fact that “freedom is more powerful than fear” in calling on Americans to reject the Islamic State’s attempts to make their war a religious war. Don’t fall into the trap of labeling all Muslims as enemies or Islam as a religion of hate. Neither is true.
Overall, the president showed that he continues to favor using a coalition of countries — including allies such as France, Great Britain and Germany — to destroy ISIS. That coalition would be even stronger if it could draw in more assistance from Arab countries, with large Muslim populations, to wipe out the viciously extremist ISIS.
That battle is nowhere near over, and Obama wisely did not offer any timetable. But the nation does have a strategy that can succeed in the long term — if Americans won’t do what ISIS wants and, as Obama warned, “turn against one another.”