In his prime-time speech to the nation on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, President Obama vowed to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq and Syria with airstrikes and 475 U.S. boots on the ground – but he also made a particular point of declaring that the Islamic State terrorists “are not Islamic.”
“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic,” Obama said, speaking from the state floor of the White House residence. “No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.”
He added, “And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”
Obama said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, poses a threat to Iraq, Syria and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities.
“If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States,” he said. “While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.
“I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve.”
The president announced “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” to “degrade, and ultimately destroy,” ISIS.
“First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists,” he said. “Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. …
“Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission. We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.”
The U.S. currently has a CIA program in place to train Syrian rebels, but Obama indicated he wants a more overt show of military force.
“[I]n Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition,” he said. “Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”
Obama also pledged the U.S. would continue to draw on counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIS attacks by cutting off its funding, improving intelligence, strengthening U.S. defenses and stemming the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.
“And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort,” he added.
Lastly, Obama said the U.S. would provide humanitarian aid to civilians, including Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities who have been driven from their homes.
He proposed increased support for Iraqi security forces and emphasized military and diplomatic commitments from partner nations.
“This is American leadership at its best: We stand with people who fight for their own freedom,” Obama said, “and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.”
Obama has not requested Congress’ authorization of military force against ISIS. On Tuesday, Obama sought to build support for his strategy as he met with the top four congressional leaders at the White House: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The president reportedly told the members of Congress he doesn’t need their authorization for his military campaign.
However, in his speech Wednesday night, he invited members of Congress to support his military endeavor: “My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.”
The Obama administration has already launched about 150 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq without official consent from Congress.
“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” Obama promised, despite his earlier statement in the speech indicating he would send 475 additional service members to Iraq.
“This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”
He concluded, “[O]ur own safety – our own security – depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for – timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”
Talk-radio giant Rush Limbaugh questioned Obama’s motives in giving the speech to the nation.
On his show Wednesday, Limbaugh asked, “How do you go from it’s not important enough to have a strategy, it’s not important to even consider them bigger than the JV team, to all of a sudden a national address to the nation on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11?”
Answering his own question, Limbaugh explained, “Like everything else, Obama is attempting to find a way to have the Republicans share – if not totally own, but at least share – in political culpability here, the Republicans in Congress.
“That’s one of the things that’s being maneuvered by the regime to make it look like a lot of this is still a hangover, a leftover from Bush and the Republicans and their unwillingness to help, and their unwillingness to compromise, and their lack of ability or willingness to participate. Leaving our poor president alone on an island to deal with all of this stuff.”
A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 registered voters conducted Sept. 3-7 and released Wednesday revealed only 32 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy – an all-time low.
With regard to ISIS, Americans were asked, “[S]hould military action against ISIS be limited to only air strikes, should it include both air strikes and American combat troops on the ground, or should U.S. military action not be taken at all?”
Sixty-one percent of voters supported military action against ISIS. However, 40 percent of respondents said action should be limited to air strikes only, while 34 percent believed it should include air strikes and combat troops. Fifteen percent said no military action should be taken, and 11 percent of respondents were unsure.”