Republicans are trying to make hay out of a sound bite of President Obama saying ISIL is contained. But as I explained yesterday, the full context of his quote made it quite clear that anyone doing this is being dishonest. He was asked specifically about Iraq and Syria and he was correct in his response. Today I learned that PolitiFact agrees.
Looking back at Obama’s interview where he made this comment, it is quite clear that it’s within a narrowly defined scope: ISIS’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria. He did not rule out the potential for a terrorist attack, and he also made it clear that the United States’ anti-ISIS efforts are a work in progress.
References or suggestions that Obama claimed ISIS no longer presents an active threat are incorrect.
Experts agree that the President was correct, though his choice of words wasn’t great, given some people’s inability to understand stateless terrorism.
Perhaps the problem is that the people jumping to conclusions aren’t able to keep up with the President’s nuanced, in-depth understanding of fighting stateless terrorism, and only understand delusional bumper sticker slogans that make them feel better, in spite of not actually addressing the problem at all.
Speaking today at a press conference at the Kaya Palazzo Resort in Antalya, Turkey, President Obama demonstrated a remarkable grasp of how to fight ISIL (aka, ISIS). But it wasn’t just his prepared remarks, it was the agile, nuanced answers he gave to complex questions.
In fact, President Obama’s answers were so long that I can only fit one full response in this post. Read it in full and compare it to every single Republican presidential candidate’s “solution”. For that matter, compare it to each Democratic presidential candidate’s.
The following transcript is from the White House Press Secretary:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. One hundred and twenty-nine people were killed in Paris on Friday night. ISIL claimed responsibility for the massacre, sending the message that they could now target civilians all over the world. The equation has clearly changed. Isn’t it time for your strategy to change?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what we have been doing. We have a military strategy that is putting enormous pressure on ISIL through airstrikes; that has put assistance and training on the ground with Iraqi forces; we’re now working with Syrian forces as well to squeeze ISIL, cut off their supply lines. We’ve been coordinating internationally to reduce their financing capabilities, the oil that they’re trying to ship outside. We are taking strikes against high-value targets — including, most recently, against the individual who was on the video executing civilians who had already been captured, as well as the head of ISIL in Libya. So it’s not just in Iraq and Syria.
And so, on the military front, we are continuing to accelerate what we do. As we find additional partners on the ground that are effective, we work with them more closely. I’ve already authorized additional Special Forces on the ground who are going to be able to improve that coordination.
On the counterterrorism front, keep in mind that since I came into office, we have been worried about these kinds of attacks. The vigilance that the United States government maintains and the cooperation that we’re consistently expanding with our European and other partners in going after every single terrorist network is robust and constant. And every few weeks, I meet with my entire national security team and we go over every single threat stream that is presented, and where we have relevant information, we share it immediately with our counterparts around the world, including our European partners.
On aviation security, we have, over the last several years, been working so that at various airports sites — not just in the United States, but overseas — we are strengthening our mechanisms to screen and discover passengers who should not be boarding flights, and improving the matters in which we are screening luggage that is going onboard.
And on the diplomatic front, we’ve been consistently working to try to get all the parties together to recognize that there is a moderate opposition inside of Syria that can form the basis for a transition government, and to reach out not only to our friends but also to the Russians and the Iranians who are on the other side of this equation to explain to them that ultimately an organization like ISIL is the greatest danger to them, as well as to us.
So there will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work. But as I said from the start, it’s going to take time.
And what’s been interesting is, in the aftermath of Paris, as I listen to those who suggest something else needs to be done, typically the things they suggest need to be done are things we are already doing. The one exception is that there have been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.
And keep in mind that we have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world, and I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options, and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisors that that would be a mistake — not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is, if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface — unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.
And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?
So a strategy has to be one that can be sustained. And the strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.
And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those.
Oh, okay, then. That sounds like a pretty thorough strategy. Hard to criticize unless one is suggesting endless occupation.
We all want to believe what the Republicans sell: That there’s a big daddy in the White House who will fix everything with his tough words and a big hat, but this is real life. The United States can’t fix this problem alone, we aren’t all powerful, and our President is brilliant and using the best minds in the business but he also can’t deliver a world in which zero military activity is required. Targeting ISIL means collateral damage as well, due to the way they hide among civilians. The real world is brutal sometimes.
It would be instructive to have the press ask the 2016 presidential candidates the same question President Obama was just asked, and to compare the answers side by side.