Obama Defends Strategy To Destroy ISIS Without "Giving Into Fear"

The president spoke from the Oval Office on Sunday night.

Facing the camera and an American public that increasingly disapproves of his response to terrorism, President Obama made a rare address from the Oval Office on Sunday night outlining his strategy to wipe out the terrorism domestically and abroad, without falling prey to divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"Our success won't depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values or giving into fear," he said.

Less than a week after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Obama began his address by condemning the massacre with some of his strongest language to date, calling it "an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people."

"I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure," he added.

Obama stressed that the federal government is pursuing a multi-tiered strategy that would "destroy" terrorist groups abroad, but he also pled with Americans to reject measures that undermine civil liberties and to support restrictions on assault weapons used in many of the most brutal mass shootings.

A CNN/OCR poll released Sunday found Obama had a 60% disapproval rating for his handling of terrorism — nine points higher than it had been in May.

The president did not announce any new policy initiatives. He did, however, implore Congress to reauthorize his right to use military force in the Middle East and reiterated that lawmakers should ban people on the country's no-fly list from buying firearms.

Behind a lectern instead of the president's desk, Obama's started by addressing the massacre in San Bernardino, where 14 were killed by a couple apparently inspired by the terrorist group ISIS, also known ads the Islamic State or ISIL. But he said there was no evidence that any overseas terror group directed the killers.

Rather, he continued, since the United States has weakened groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, terrorists are increasingly pursuing soft targets and attempting to radicalize Westerners.

"The terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase," he said. "As groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers."

Obama reiterated a foreign anti-terrorism agenda by outlining four tactics: hunting down terrorists abroad, supporting forces in Iraq and Syria, working with allies to disrupt the terrorist groups, and collaborating with other countries to reach a cease fire in the Syrian war.

He said this "strategy to destroy" ISIS is backed by military commanders and anti-terrorism experts.

"Let me now say a word about what we should not do," he pivoted, apparently addressing critics and Republican presidential candidates who back a Middle East invasion. "We should not be dragged into a long and costly ground war in Iraq and Syria." Such an occupation, he argued, would allow terrorist groups to kill thousands of American troops and stoke further anti-American backlash.

The president then turned to the domestic front.

"What we must do is make it harder for them to kill," he said, arguing for a federal law that makes it more difficult to purchase military-style weapons.

The president spent a several minutes of the 15-minute address to distinguish extremist from the majority of Muslims, insisting that American values of equality should trump knee-jerk impulses for a religious inquisition.

"We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam," he said. "That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death. And they account for a tiny fraction of a more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim-Americans who reject their hateful ideology."

He continued: "Just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It's our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL."

Following Obama's call for a new Authorized Use of Military Force resolution, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff Sunday said he is preparing a new AUMF that he'll introduce in the coming days.

"I applaud the President for calling on Congress to pass legislation to deprive those on the no fly list of access to weapons and to curtail the wide availability of assault weapons. I also urge Congress to take up an authorization for the use of force against ISIS and end its abdication of responsibility over the war effort. Towards that end, I have been working on a new draft authorization to combat ISIS and Al Qaeda that I plan to present in the coming days," Schiff said in a statement.

Schiff is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have criticized Obama's use of the 2001 AUMF to conduct his war against both ISIS and Al Qaeda, insisting it has been interpreted overly broad to create essentially a world wide war that can target not only foreign born terrorists, but Americans as well.

Similarly Sen. Tim Kaine insisted in a statement that "The events of recent weeks demonstrate that Congress can no longer ignore this threat."

Despite that criticism, a new AUMF is unlikely: By passing a new version, lawmakers — including a number of presidential hopefuls — would end up owning a part of the war, something that few politicians want.

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