REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENTON PROGRESS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ISIL
4:10 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend -- especially our men and women in uniform. This Fourth of July we were honored to once again welcome some of our incredible troops and their families to share Fourth of July and fireworks at the White House. It was another chance for us, on behalf of the American people, to express our gratitude for their extraordinary service around the world every day.
And that includes the work that brings me here today -- our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group ISIL. This is a cause, a coalition, that’s united countries across the globe -- some 60 nations, including Arab partners. Our comprehensive strategy against ISIL is harnessing all elements of American power, across our government -- military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, development and perhaps most importantly, the power of our values.
Last month, I ordered additional actions in support of our strategy. I just met with my national security team as part of our regular effort to assess our efforts -- what’s working and what we can do better. Secretary Carter, Chairman Dempsey, I want to thank you and your team for welcoming us and for your leadership, including General Austin who’s leading the military campaign. And I want to summarize briefly where we stand.
I want to start by repeating what I’ve said since the beginning. This will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign. ISIL is opportunistic and it is nimble. In many places in Syria and Iraq, including urban areas, it’s dug in among innocent civilian populations. It will take time to root them out -- and doing so must be the job of local forces on the ground, with training and air support from our coalition.
As with any military effort, there will be periods of progress, but there are also going to be some setbacks -- as we’ve seen with ISIL’s gains in Ramadi in Iraq and central and southern Syria. But today, it’s also important for us to recognize the progress that's been made.
Our coalition has now hit ISIL with more than 5,000 airstrikes. We’ve taken out thousands of fighting positions, tanks, vehicles, bomb factories, and training camps. We’ve eliminated thousands of fighters, including senior ISIL commanders. And over the past year, we’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back.
In Iraq, ISIL lost at the Mosul Dam. ISIL lost at Mount Sinjar. ISIL has lost repeatedly across Kirkuk Province. ISIL lost at Tikrit. Altogether, ISIL has lost more than a quarter of the populated areas that it had seized in Iraq. In Syria, ISIL lost at Kobani. It’s recently endured losses across northern Syria, including the key city of Tal Abyad, denying ISIL a vital supply route to Raqqa, its base of operations in Syria.
So these are reminders that ISIL’s strategic weaknesses are real. ISIL is surrounded by countries and communities committed to its destruction. It has no air force; our coalition owns the skies. ISIL is backed by no nation. It relies on fear, sometimes executing its own disillusioned fighters. Its unrestrained brutality often alienates those under its rule, creating new enemies. In short, ISIL’s recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated.
Indeed, we’re intensifying our efforts against ISIL’s base in Syria. Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations. We’re going after the ISIL leadership and infrastructure in Syria -- the heart of ISIL that pumps funds and propaganda to people around the world. Partnering with other countries -- sharing more information, strengthening laws and border security -- allows us to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria as well as Iraq, and to stem, obviously, the flow of those fighters back into our own countries. This continues to be a challenge, and, working together, all our nations are going to need to do more, but we're starting to see some progress.
We’ll continue cracking down on ISIL’s illicit finance around the world. By the way, if Congress really wants to help in this effort, they can confirm Mr. Adam Szubin, our nominee for Treasury Under Secretary to lead this effort. This is a vital position to our counterterrorism efforts. Nobody suggests Mr. Szubin is not qualified. He’s highly qualified. Unfortunately, his nomination has been languishing up on the Hill, and we need the Senate to confirm him as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, we continue to ramp up our training and support of local forces that are fighting ISIL on the ground. As I’ve said before, this aspect of our strategy was moving too slowly. But the fall of Ramadi has galvanized the Iraqi government. So, with the additional steps I ordered last month, we’re speeding up training of ISIL [Iraqi] forces, including volunteers from Sunni tribes in Anbar Province.
More Sunni volunteers are coming forward. Some are already being trained, and they can be a new force against ISIL. We continue to accelerate the delivery of critical equipment, including anti-tank weapons, to Iraqi security forces, including the Peshmerga and tribal fighters. And I made it clear to my team that we will do more to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria.
Now, all this said, our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it’s matched by a broader effort -- political and economic -- that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction. They have filled a void, and we have to make sure that as we push them out that void is filled. So, as Iraqi cities and towns are liberated from ISIL, we’re working with Iraq and the United Nations to help communities rebuild the security, services and governance that they need. We continue to support the efforts of Prime Minister Abadi to forge an inclusive and effective Iraqi government that unites all the people of Iraq -- Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and all minority communities.
In Syria, the only way that the civil war will end -- and in a way so that the Syrian people can unite against ISIL -- is an inclusive political transition to a new government, without Bashar Assad -- a government that serves all Syrians. I discussed this with our Gulf Cooperation Council partners at Camp David and during my recent call with President Putin. I made it clear the United States will continue to work for such a transition.
And a glimmer of good news is I think an increasing recognition on the part of all the players in the region that given the extraordinary threat that ISIL poses it is important for us to work together, as opposed to at cross-purposes, to make sure that an inclusive Syrian government exists.
While the focus of our discussions today was on Iraq and Syria, ISIL and its ideology also obviously pose a grave threat beyond the region. In recent weeks we’ve seen deadly attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. We see a growing ISIL presence in Libya and attempts to establish footholds across North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Southeast Asia. We’ve seen attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, France and Copenhagen.
So I’ve called on the international community to unite against this scourge of violent extremism. In this fight, the United States continues to lead. When necessary to prevent attacks against our nation, we’ll take direct action against terrorists. We’ll continue to also partner with nations from Afghanistan to Nigeria to build up their security forces. We’re going to work day and night with allies and partners to disrupt terrorist networks and thwart attacks, and to smother nascent ISIL cells that may be trying to develop in other parts of the world.
This also includes remaining vigilant in protecting against attacks here in the homeland. Now, I think it's important for us to recognize the threat of violent extremism is not restricted to any one community. Here in the United States, we’ve seen all kinds of homegrown terrorism. And tragically, recent history reminds us how even a single individual motivated by a hateful ideology with access to dangerous weapons can inflict horrendous harm on Americans. So our efforts to counter violent extremism must not target any one community because of their faith or background, including patriotic Muslim Americans who are our partners in keeping our country safe.
That said, we also have to acknowledge that ISIL has been particularly effective at reaching out to and recruiting vulnerable people around the world, including here in the United States. And they are targeting Muslim communities around the world. Numerous individuals have been arrested across the country for plotting attacks or attempting to join ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Two men apparently inspired by ISIL opened fire in Garland, Texas. And because of our success over the years in improving our homeland security, we’ve made it harder for terrorists to carry out large-scale attacks like 9/11 here at home.
But the threat of lone wolves or small cells of terrorists is complex -- it's harder to detect and harder to prevent. It’s one of the most difficult challenges that we face. And preventing these kinds of attacks on American soil is going to require sustained effort.
So I just want to repeat, the good news is that because of extraordinary efforts from law enforcement as well as our military intelligence, we are doing a better job at preventing any large-scale attacks on the homeland. On the other hand, the small, individual lone wolf attacks or small cells become harder to detect and they become more sophisticated, using new technologies. And that means that we're going to have to pick up our game to prevent these attacks.
It's also true why, ultimately, in order for us to defeat terrorist groups like ISIL and al Qaeda it's going to also require us to discredit their ideology -- the twisted thinking that draws vulnerable people into their ranks. As I’ve said before -- and I know our military leaders agree -- this broader challenge of countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas -- a more attractive and more compelling vision.
So the United States will continue to do our part, by working with partners to counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online. We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam. We’re fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims. But around the world, we’re also going to insist on partnering with Muslim communities as they seek security, prosperity and the dignity that they deserve. And we're going to expect those communities to step up in terms of pushing back as hard as they can, in conjunction with other people of goodwill, against these hateful ideologies in order to discredit them more effectively, particularly when it comes to what we're teaching young people.
And this larger battle for hearts and minds is going to be a generational struggle. It's ultimately not going to be won or lost by the United States alone. It will be decided by the countries and the communities that terrorists like ISIL target. It’s going to be up to Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, to keep rejecting warped interpretations of Islam, and to protect their sons and daughters from recruitment. It will be up to all people -- leaders and citizens -- to reject the sectarianism that so often fuels the resentments and conflicts upon which terrorists are currently thriving. It will be up to governments to address the political and economic grievances that terrorists exploit.
Nations that empower citizens to decide their own destiny, that uphold human rights for all their people, that invest in education and create opportunities for their young people -- those can be powerful antidotes to extremist ideologies. Those are the countries that will find a true partner in the United States.
In closing, let me note that this Fourth of July we celebrated 239 years of American independence. Across more than two centuries, we’ve faced much bigger, much more formidable challenges than this -- Civil War, a Great Depression, fascism, communism, terrible natural disasters, 9/11. And every time, every generation, our nation has risen to the moment. We don’t simply endure; we emerge stronger than before. And that will be the case here.
Our mission to destroy ISIL and to keep our country safe will be difficult. It will take time. There will be setbacks as well as progress. But as President and Commander-in-Chief, I want to say to all our men and women in uniform who are serving in this operation -- our pilots, the crews on the ground, our personnel not only on the ground but at sea, our intelligence teams and our diplomatic teams -- I want to thank you. We are proud of you, and you have my total confidence that you’re going to succeed.
To the American people, I want to say we will continue to be vigilant. We will persevere. And just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.
Thank you very much, everybody. And thanks to the team up on the stage here with me -- they’re doing an outstanding job.
Q Take a question?
THE PRESIDENT: You know what, I will take a question. Go ahead.
Q Every servicemember who is listening to you today, Mr. President, is wondering, are you going to veto the defense bills that are going to pay me? What is your latest thinking on that? Because we've heard secondhand through statements of policy that your advisors would threaten a veto. What’s your take, sir? Would you veto the appropriations bills?
THE PRESIDENT: Our men and women are going to get paid. And if you’ll note that I've now been President for six and a half years and we've had some wrangling with Congress in the past -- our servicemembers haven't missed a paycheck.
But what is also important in terms of our budget is making sure that we are not short-changing all the elements of American power that allow us to secure the nation and to project our power around the world. So what we're not going to do is to accept a budget that short-changes our long-term requirements for new technologies, for readiness. We're not going to eat our seed corn by devoting too much money on things we don't need now and robbing ourselves of the capacity to make sure that we're prepared for future threats.
I've worked very closely with the Chairman and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a budget that is realistic and that looks out into the future and says this is how we're going to handle any possible contingency. And we can't do that if we've got a budget that short-changes vital operations and continues to fund things that are not necessary.
We also have to remind ourselves that the reason we have the best military in the world is, first and foremost, because we've got the best troops in history. But it's also because we've got a strong economy, and we've got a well-educated population. And we've got an incredible research operation and universities that allow us to create new products that then can be translated into our military superiority around the world. We short-change those, we're going to be less secure.
So the way we have to look at this budget is to recognize that, A, we can't think short term, we've got to think long term; and B, part of our national security is making sure that we continue to have a strong economy and that we continue to make the investments that we need in things like education and research that are going to be vital for us to be successful long term.
Q As an Army reservist, I'm curious to know if you have any plans to send any more American troops overseas right now, any additional forces.
THE PRESIDENT: There are no current plans to do so. That's not something that we currently discussed. I've always said that I'm going to do what’s necessary to protect the homeland.
One of the principles that we all agree on, though, and I pressed folks pretty hard because in these conversations with my military advisors I want to make sure I'm getting blunt and unadultered [sic] uncensored advice. But in every one of the conversations that we've had, the strong consensus is that in order for us to succeed long-term in this fight against ISIL we have to develop local security forces that can sustain progress.
It is not enough for us to simply send in American troops to temporarily set back organizations like ISIL, but to then, as soon as we leave, see that void filled once again with extremists. It is going to be vital for us to make sure that we are preparing the kinds of local ground forces and security forces with our partners that can not only succeed against ISIL, but then sustain in terms of security and in terms of governance.
Because if we try to do everything ourselves all across the Middle East, all across North Africa, we'll be playing Whack-a-Mole and there will be a whole lot of unintended consequences that ultimately make us less secure.
All right? Thank you. I didn’t even plan to do this. (Laughter.) You guys got two bonus questions.
Transcript: President Obama's Remarks on ISIS After Orlando Mass Shooting
Below is a full transcript of President Barack Obama's June 14 remarks on the government's effort to destroy the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In his address, which came two days after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Obama also demanded reinstatement of an assault weapons ban and called out his critics, including Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, for implying he doesn't take the fight against ISIS seriously.
I just met with my National Security Council as part of our regular effort to review and intensify our campaign to destroy the terrorist group ISIL. Our meeting was planned before the terrible attack in Orlando. But obviously that tragedy -- the awful loss of life -- shaped much of our work today. In all of our efforts, foremost in our minds is the loss and the grief of the people of Orlando -- those who died, those who are still recovering, the families who have seen their loved ones harmed, the friends of ours who are lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender who were targeted. I want to remind them that they are not alone. The American people, and our allies and friends all over the world, stand with you and are thinking about you, and are praying for you.
As Director Comey has said, we currently do not have any information to indicate that a foreign terrorist group directed the attack in Orlando. It is increasingly clear, however, that the killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet. He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized. As we know all too well, terrorist groups like ISIL have called on people around the world and here in the United States to attack innocent civilians. Their propaganda, their videos, their postings are pervasive and more easily accessible than we want. This individual appears to have absorbed some of that. And during his killing spree, the shooter in Orlando pledged allegiance to ISIL.
As I've said before, these lone actors or small cells of terrorists are very hard to detect and very hard to prevent. But across our government, at every level -- federal, state and local, military and civilian -- we are doing everything in our power to stop these kinds of attacks. We work to succeed a hundred percent of the time. An attacker, as we saw in Orlando, only has to succeed once. Our extraordinary personnel -- our intelligence, our military, our homeland security, our law enforcement -- have prevented many attacks and saved many lives. And we can never thank them enough. But we are all sobered by the fact that, despite the extraordinary hard work, something like Orlando can occur.
In our meeting today, Director Comey updated us on the investigation in Orlando. Secretary Johnson reviewed the measures we continue to take on behalf of our homeland security. Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford reviewed the military campaign against ISIL. And I want to thank Secretary Lew and his team here at Treasury for hosting us and for their tireless efforts to cut off the money that ISIL relies on to fund its terror network.
At the outset, I want to reiterate our objective in this fight. Our mission is to destroy ISIL. Since I last updated the American people on our campaign two months ago, we've seen that this continues to be a difficult fight -- but we are making significant progress. Over the past two months, I've authorized a series of steps to ratchet up our fight against ISIL: additional U.S. personnel, including Special Forces, in Syria to assist local forces battling ISIL there additional advisors to work more closely with Iraqi security forces, and additional assets, including attack helicopters and additional support for local forces in northern Iraq. Our aircraft continue to launch from the USS Harry Truman, now in the Mediterranean. Our B-52 bombers are hitting ISIL with precision strikes. Targets are being identified and hit even more quickly -- so far, 13,000 airstrikes. This campaign at this stage is firing on all cylinders.
And as a result, ISIL is under more pressure than ever before. ISIL continues to lose key leaders. This includes Salman Abd Shahib, a senior military leader in Mosul Abu Sa'ad al-Sudani, who plotted external attacks Shakir Wahayb, ISIL's military leader in Iraq's Anbar province and Maher al-Bilawi, the top ISIL commander in Fallujah. So far, we've taken out more than 120 top ISIL leaders and commanders. And our message is clear: If you target America and our allies, you will not be safe. You will never be safe.
ISIL continues to lose ground in Iraq. In the past two months, local forces in Iraq, with coalition support, have liberated the western town of Rutbah and have also pushed up the Euphrates River Valley, liberating the strategic town of Hit and breaking the ISIL siege of Haditha. Iraqi forces have surrounded Fallujah and begun to move into the city. Meanwhile, in the north, Iraqi forces continue to push up the Tigris River Valley, making gains around Makhmour, and now preparing to tighten the noose around ISIL in Mosul. All told, ISIL has now lost nearly half of the populated territory that it once controlled in Iraq -- and it will lose more.
ISIL continues to lose ground in Syria as well. Assisted by our Special Operations Forces, a coalition of local forces is now pressuring the key town of Manbij, which means the noose is tightening around ISIL in Raqqa as well. In short, our coalition continues to be on offense. ISIL is on defense. And it's now been a full year since ISIL has been able to mount a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq.
As ISIL continues to lose territory, it also continues to lose the money that is its lifeblood. As a result of our strikes against its oil infrastructure and supply lines, we believe that we've cut ISIL's revenue from oil by millions of dollars per month. In destroying the storage sites where they keep their cash, we've deprived ISIL of many millions more.
Thanks to the great work of Secretary Lew and many others here today -- and working with nations and financial institutions around the world -- ISIL is now effectively cut off from the international financial system. Cutting off ISIL's money may not be as dramatic as military strikes, but it is critically important. And we're seeing the results. ISIL's cash reserves are down. It has had to cut salaries for its fighters. It's resorting to more extortion of those trapped in its grip. And by ISIL's own admission, some of its own leaders have been caught stealing cash and gold. Once again, ISIL's true nature has been revealed: These are not religious warriors, they are thugs and they are thieves.
In continuing to push on this front, I want to mention that it is critical for our friends in the Senate to confirm Adam Szubin, my nominee for Under Secretary of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Adam has served in Democratic and Republican administrations. Everyone agrees he's eminently qualified. He has been working on these kinds of issues for years. It's now been more than a year since I nominated him -- more than 420 days -- and he still has not been given a full vote. There is no good reason for it. It is inexcusable. So it's time for the Senate to do its job, put our national security first, and have a vote on Adam Szubin that can lead our financial fight against ISIL and help keep our country safe.
ISIL's ranks are shrinking as well. Their morale is sinking. As one defender -- as one defector said, ISIL "is not bringing Islam to the world, and people need to know that." Thanks to international efforts, the flow of foreign fighters -- including from America to Syria and Iraq -- has plummeted. In fact, our intelligence community now assesses that the ranks of ISIL fighters has been reduced to the lowest levels in more than two and half years.
Even as we continue to destroy ISIL militarily, we're addressing the larger forces that have allowed these terrorists to gain traction in parts of the world. With regard to Iraq, this means helping Iraqis stabilize liberated communities and promote inclusive governance so ISIL cannot return.
With regard to Syria, it means our continued support for the fragile cessation of hostilities there. The cessation of hostilities has not stopped all or even most of the hardship on the Syrian people, the hardship on civilians. And the Assad regime has been the principal culprit in violating the cessation of hostilities. ISIL and al Nusra, which is al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, also continue to terrorize Syrians. But as fragile and incomplete as the cessation is, it has saved lives and it has allowed the delivery of some lifesaving aid to Syrians who are in desperate need. And as difficult as it is, we will continue to push for a political process that can end the civil war and result in a transition away from Assad.
Beyond Syria and Libya -- beyond Syria and Iraq, ISIL is also losing ground in Libya. Forces of the Libyan unity government are going after ISIL in their stronghold in Sirte. And we'll continue to assist the new Libyan government as it works to secure its country.
Lastly, here at home, if we really want to help law enforcement protect Americans from homegrown extremists, the kind of tragedies that occurred at San Bernardino and that now have occurred in Orlando, there is a meaningful way to do that. We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents. It is absolutely true we cannot prevent every tragedy. But we know that, consistent with the Second Amendment, there are common-sense steps that could reduce gun violence and could reduce the lethality of somebody who intends to do other people harm. We should give ATF the resources they need to enforce the gun laws that we already have. People with possible ties to terrorism who aren't allowed on a plane shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun.
Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually be tough on terrorism, and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons. Reinstate the assault weapons ban. Make it harder for terrorists to use these weapons to kill us. Otherwise, despite extraordinary efforts across our government by local law enforcement, by our intelligence agencies, by our military, despite all the sacrifices that folks make, these kinds of events are going to keep on happening. And the weapons are only going to get more powerful.
And let me make a final point. For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase "radical Islam." That's the key, they tell us -- we can't beat ISIL unless we call them "radical Islamists." What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction. Since before I was President, I've been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism. As President, I have repeatedly called on our Muslim friends and allies at home and around the world to work with us to reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world's great religions.
There has not been a moment in my seven and a half years as President where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn't use the label "radical Islam." Not once has an advisor of mine said, man, if we really use that phrase, we're going to turn this whole thing around. Not once. So if someone seriously thinks that we don't know who we're fighting, if there's anyone out there who thinks we're confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we've taken off the battlefield.
If the implication is that those of us up here and the thousands of people around the country and around the world who are working to defeat ISIL aren't taking the fight seriously, that would come as a surprise to those who have spent these last seven and a half years dismantling al Qaeda in the FATA, for example -- including the men and women in uniform who put their lives at risk and the Special Forces that I ordered to get bin Laden and are now on the ground in Iraq and in Syria. They know full well who the enemy is. So do the intelligence and law enforcement officers who spend countless hours disrupting plots and protecting all Americans, including politicians who tweet and appear on cable news shows. They know who the nature of the enemy is.
So there's no magic to the phrase "radical Islam." It's a political talking point it's not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people that they speak for Islam. That's their propaganda. That's how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion -- then we're doing the terrorists' work for them.
Now, up until this point, this argument about labels has mostly just been partisan rhetoric. And, sadly, we've all become accustomed to that kind of partisanship, even when it involves the fight against these extremist groups. And that kind of yapping has not prevented folks across government from doing their jobs, from sacrificing and working really hard to protect the American people.
But we are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be. We're starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we're fighting, where this can lead us. We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America. We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests that entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer -- they were all U.S. citizens.
Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith? We've heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign. Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that's not the America we want. It doesn't reflect our democratic ideals. It won't make us more safe it will make us less safe -- fueling ISIL's notion that the West hates Muslims, making young Muslims in this country and around the world feel like no matter what they do, they're going to be under suspicion and under attack. It makes Muslim Americans feel like they're government is betraying them. It betrays the very values America stands for.
We've gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear -- and we came to regret it. We've seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens. And it has been a shameful part of our history.
This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion. We don't have religious tests here. Our Founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights are clear about that. And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect -- the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties -- the very things that make this country great the very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won. And we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.
Two weeks ago, I was at the commencement ceremony at the Air Force Academy. And it could not have been more inspiring to see these young people stepping up, dedicated to serve and protect this country. And part of what was inspiring was the incredible diversity of these cadets. We saw cadets, who are straight, applauding classmates who were openly gay. We saw cadets, born here in America, applauding classmates who are immigrants and love this country so much they decided they wanted to be part of our armed forces. We saw cadets and families of all religions applaud cadets who are proud, patriotic Muslim Americans serving their country in uniform, ready to lay their lives on the line to protect you and to protect me. We saw male cadets applauding for female classmates, who can now serve in combat positions. That's the American military. That's America -- one team, one nation. Those are the values that ISIL is trying to destroy, and we shouldn't help them do it.
Our diversity and our respect for one another, our drawing on the talents of everybody in this country, our making sure that we are treating everybody fairly -- that we're not judging people on the basis of what faith they are or what race they are, or what ethnicity they are, or what their sexual orientation is -- that's what makes this country great. That's the spirit we see in Orlando. That's the unity and resolve that will allow us to defeat ISIL. That's what will preserve our values and our ideals that define us as Americans. That's how we're going to defend this nation, and that's how we're going to defend our way of life.
Remarks by Vice President Harris on the Progress Made During the First 100 Days in Office
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you all. You know, I — as Chris Van Hollen was saying, together with the Governor and Dr. Fauci, we were walking around downstairs and meeting with all the folks, our members of the National Guard, all the frontline workers.
And I said, you know, I do believe, in moments of crisis, that they reveal the heroes walking among us, the angels walking among us. And I would say Melissa Wesby is one of those individuals. Thank you, Melissa, for that incredible introduction. (Inaudible.) (Applause.) There you are.
So, to the governor, Larry Hogan, thank you. And Team Maryland — Mayor Brandon Scott, to General Janeen Birckhead, thank you for the warm welcome and for all the work you do.
And it is certainly a point of personal privilege, for me, as the President of the Senate, to acknowledge some folks that are my friends. And I worked with them both over the four years I was in the Senate. And that, of course, is Senator Ben Cardin and Senator Chris Van Hollen.
Senator Cardin — (applause) — I will tell you — I mean, I’ve seen them both — I just have to tell you, Maryland, you got some real leaders on your hand in the United States Senate. They represent Maryland, but they are also national leaders.
Ben, I’ve watched him do exceptional work for Maryland’s businesses as the Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee. And, of course, Chris, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, has brought critical resources to Baltimore, in terms of housing infrastructure and water infrastructure and so much more. So, it is wonderful to be with you both.
I also want to thank Congressman John Sarbanes and Congressman Kweisi Mfume, who I’ve known for years. Thank you both for your leadership.
And it is always a wonderful day to spend time with Dr. Anthony Fauci. And thank you always, Dr. Fauci. (Applause.)
So, it is wonderful to be back in Baltimore, and especially on this, our 100th day of our administration. I would say, today is a good day, Baltimore.
You know, 100 days ago, just after President Joe Biden and I were sworn in, I stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And I talked about what I call “American aspiration.” American aspiration.
I talked about how, in America, we not only dream we do. We not only see what has been we see what can be. We shoot for the moon, and then we plant our flag on it.
So, for a minute, let’s go back to where our nation was 100 days ago. About 2 out of 330 million Americans, at that time, were fully vaccinated. More than 10 million Americans were out of work. Schools were closed. Businesses were closed. And beyond the pandemic, our democracy was under assault. And our Capitol had just been attacked by insurgents.
All of that was going on when the President and I took our oath of office. But as daunting as these challenges were, we were not deterred. And our nation was not deterred.
We had a plan to get America back on track. We had faith
that the American people, when given the opportunity, would come together and would rise to meet the moment. And you have. You have.
And because you have, American aspiration has defined these first 100 days. American aspiration is how we got to more than 200 million shots in arms in less than 100 days.
In fact, just this morning, we got new data on how the economy did in the first quarter of this year. And things are looking up. America is once again on the move. And that’s, in big part, thanks to the exactly what’s happening here in this stadium, which is this vaccination effort. And I thanked the National Guard earlier I will thank you again.
And Baltimore — Mayor, look at what you are doing here. People can walk right into this stadium and get vaccinated. And this is happening around the country.
I have visited a local pharmacy in Southeast D.C., and a Community Health Center right outside of Denver, and a vaccine distribution site at the university — a university in Las Vegas. I’ve been to a site in Chicago run by union members, and another site in Jacksonville run by military members.
And, America, you must know: The people working to administer vaccines are heroes. And so, too, are — just like those folks we visited with downstairs — so too are the Americans who sign up for that appointment, make the time, and step up and get the shot.
And if you haven’t been vaccinated yet or if you know somebody who hasn’t, please ask folks to just roll up their sleeves. It’s time for each one of us to do our part. (Applause.) Yes.
And we have also seen American aspiration in our effort to deliver relief directly to American families. The pandemic has taken a toll on families — on their physical health, their mental health, ability to pay the bills. And the President and I, we knew that before we took office.
So, we developed a plan called the American Rescue Plan. And it was designed and intended to help people out. And it was a big plan to tackle a big crisis. And some said it was too big, but we went for it anyway. And the American people rallied around it. Across our country, Democrats and Republicans alike voiced their support.
And on day 50 of our administration, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law. (Applause.)
And as I said then, President Joe Biden, well, he had a clear vision and clear purpose.
And let me tell you something: He never forgets who we are doing this for. It is for the American people. It is for the American people that we have delivered relief checks to 160 million folks. It is for the American people that we have lowered healthcare premiums. It is for the American people that we have cut taxes for families with children. And it is because of this law that we are lifting half of America’s children who are living in poverty out of poverty. (Applause.)
Think about that. Think about that: Half of America’s children that are living in poverty will be lifted out of poverty. So that, folks, is what I call American aspiration.
And we have also delivered support directly to small businesses because, of course, small businesses are part of the fabric and the culture of a community. Baltimore knows that well. Our small businesses employ about half of America’s workers. And making sure small businesses has — and have access to capital is a big part of the work that I’ve been doing. I am proud to report that we have provided relief to 4 million small businesses in our country, which brings me then to jobs.
In 100 days, we have created more new jobs than any other administration in history. (Applause.) And, Baltimore, we are just getting started.
Right now we have two more plans that we are working to get past. The first is the American Jobs Plan. It will be the largest job investment that our nation has made since World War Two. Because the fact is, too many people, including too many people right here in Maryland, are still out of work. So while we have made significant proce- — progress on the jobs front, there’s so much more to be done.
We are going to put Americans to work — fixing the roads you drive on every day, getting rid of the lead pipes that poison our children, and expanding broadband so that every American has access to high-speed and affordable high-speed Internet.
In the 21st century, broadband is critical infrastructure. You know, last week, I was in New Hampshire. I was visiting an — a site in the New Hampshire Electric Co-Op. And I was there because we were remembering that in 1936 — Ben Cardin and Chris, you’ll probably remember — Congress — and together with Congressman Sarbanes and Mfume — in 1936, the United States Congress said, “You know what? We got this thing called electricity, but there are folks that are being left out. And that’s not going to be right because they will be left behind.”
So, in 1936, there was the Rural Electrification Plan.
And on that basis, our federal government invested to make sure all Americans had access to electricity.
Well, fast forward to the year of our Lord 2021 we got this thing called “broadband.” We have this thing called the “Internet.”
And let’s think about it: Over the past year alone, which really highlighted the importance of it, a lot of people — the only way they could work, if they had the ability, was to work online. Our children had to go to school online. Seniors and others — the way they could see their doctor: telemedicine — online. Small businesses — how are they going to connect with their customers? How are they going to move their product? Online. How did so many of us connect with our families? Folks otherwise we might see at a family reunion or a holiday or a birthday — online — if we had access and if it was affordable.
So too many people either — in this period of time, it has been highlighted — don’t have Internet access or cannot afford a broadband bill.
And let’s be clear: When we connect Americans to affordable and accessible broadband, we are connecting our children to education. We are connecting our seniors to telemedicine. We are connecting families to each other. And we connect Americans to economic opportunity. And at the same time, we build up our broadband infrastructure such that we create good jobs — good union jobs.
And as I have said it before — I will say it again — the best path to a good job is through a strong union. So the American Jobs Plan — (applause) — so the American Jobs Plan will put America to work. And the second plan is the American Families Plan, which will make it possible for people to work.
So what am I talking about? Well, the President — in his speech last night, he talked about this — this plan that will establish universal pre-K and lower the cost of childcare, making childcare affordable and accessible, which has been a priority for so many of us.
Just think: Nearly 2 million women have been forced out of the workforce in just the last year, and the lack of childcare is often the reason why.
You know, I’ll tell you my personal story on this. You know, when my mother, who raised my sister and me — Dr. Fauci knows this. I’m very proud to say that my mother used to go to this place, Governor, when we were young. Mommy was going always to this place called Bethesda. She was going to the Bethesda, I learned later, because a place called NIH is in Bethesda. Because, you see, my mother was a breast cancer researcher, and she had two goals in her life: to raise her two daughters, and — and breast cancer. And so she used to go out to NIH to help do some of the work that happens there.
And so when my mother, though, on a daily basis was at work every day — long hours she worked on weekends. And when she was at work and it was after school, often, my sister and I, we would walk two houses down to the home of Mrs. Regina Shelton, who was a second mother to us, and she was a lifeline for our mother. And here’s the thing I know: She would talk, on a daily basis, about how but for Ms. Shelton, she could not have done the work that she did.
Every working mother needs that support. Every working parent needs that support. (Applause.) And a competitive economy requires it. A competitive economy requires a skilled workforce too, which is why we will also create more opportunities for education after high school.
So let’s think about that. Twelve years of education is the norm — has been the norm, but in today’s world, 12 years of education is just not enough. So let’s invest in education after high school, understanding that we also must invest in opportunities for folks about which path of education after high school they want to take, that they choose to take. Let’s think about what we need to do — education after high school — to invest in apprenticeships.
We will give every American, with this plan, two years of free community college, and we will make college more affordable for millions of students. Because there shouldn’t only be one educational path to success.
The American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan — this is what Americans deserve. And this is what our future depends on.
And we must also be clear-eyed: These last 100 days haven’t only been defined by progress. There have been too many days when we woke up to news of another mass shooting another Black or brown person shot by the police another act of hate against Asian Americans another law designed to make it harder for people to vote. These are reminders that we still have so much more work to do in the fight for reasonable gun laws, in the fight for racial justice, the fight for voting rights.
And some days I know it feels exhausting, but we cannot give up and we will not give up. Because here is the truth: American aspiration is about the courage to see beyond crisis and to build beyond crisis. It is about our endurance. It is about our perseverance. It is about our ability to keep pushing forward.
American aspiration is what drove our nation to build the railroad from coast to coast in the middle of the Civil War. It is what drove our nation to bring electricity to every household in the middle of the Great Depression. It is what drove our nation to race to the moon in the middle of the arms race.
American aspiration is what will continue to drive all of us to keep reaching high even when we know it may be difficult,
especially when it is difficult.
So, I want to end with one more story. So, about a month ago, I met this little girl. Her name is Galya and she’s five years old. And so, I walk into the classroom, and she’s there. This — this little one — I mean, she is really something. Okay. So, I walk into the room, and she introduced me to everybody in the classroom. Knew everyone. Five years old. And immediately came glued to my side the whole time I was in the classroom introduced me to everyone in the classroom, by name, including her teachers. She just self-appointed to do this, by the way. It was not the plan.
And at one moment, I went down to — I kneeled to speak to her, and I said to her — I said, “Galya, you can be anything you want to be.” And this little one looked at me in my eyes, and do you know what she said? “I want to be everything.” (Laughter.) “I want to be everything.” (Applause.) Right?
So that is the spirit of American aspiration. That is the spirit which, at that moment, was wrapped up in the little body of a five-year-old. And moving forward, that is the spirit we must summon.
So, thank you, Baltimore. Thank you, Maryland, for making these 100 days what they have been — as so many of you have spoken and said, “where we see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Thank you for marking these 100 days with the President and with me. And please know that the President and I are grateful for your trust, and we will never ever take it for granted.
My God bless you, and may God bless America. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
President Obama on U.S. Strategy Against ISIS
2016-02-25T23:42:10-05:00 https://images.c-span.org/Files/14c/20160225235622001_hd.jpg President Obama spoke at the State Department following a meeting with his National Security Council on efforts to combat ISIL*. He said that the U.S. and its partners in the fight were making progress every day and there would be no ceasefire against ISIL targets but that the U.S. would remain relentless in going after them. President Obama also said that his administration was working with high tech leaders in Silicon Valley to help counter ISIL online.
* The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAISH/DAESH in Arabic is a militant group that has called itself the Islamic State.
President Obama spoke at the State Department following a meeting with his National Security Council on efforts to combat ISIL*. He said… read more
President Obama spoke at the State Department following a meeting with his National Security Council on efforts to combat ISIL*. He said that the U.S. and its partners in the fight were making progress every day and there would be no ceasefire against ISIL targets but that the U.S. would remain relentless in going after them. President Obama also said that his administration was working with high tech leaders in Silicon Valley to help counter ISIL online.
* The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAISH/DAESH in Arabic is a militant group that has called itself the Islamic State. close
Obama slams GOP in update on fight against Islamic State
WASHINGTON, June 14 (UPI) — President Barack Obama gave a spirited speech Tuesday while providing an update on the American fight against radical extremists — taking Republicans to task for standing in the way of the fight.
Obama’s remarks, which lasted for about a half-hour, followed a meeting with the National Security Council. Present during the update were U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
Obama opened his comments by reiterating that no ties have been found between the Orlando shooting suspect, Omar Mateen, and the Islamic State, which Obama referred to by one of its acronyms, ISIL.
“The killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet. He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama will travel to Orlando on Thursday to meet with officials and families of the victims.
Forty-nine people were killed in the Central Florida nightclub during the shooting early Sunday, plus Mateen. On Tuesday, Obama condemned the attack and said efforts to fight terror in the United States is often as difficult as fighting terror overseas.
“These lone actors are very hard to detect and very hard to prevent,” he said. “We work to succeed 100 percent of the time. An attacker, as we saw in Orlando, only has to succeed once.”
Obama then detailed various ongoing efforts in Iraq and Syria to destroy the Islamic State, saying U.S. and allied forces have made “significant progress” and are “firing on all cylinders.” He noted that B-52 bombers have and will continue to make “precision strikes” against militant targets in both nations.
The president named four terror leaders who have been killed in Iraq in recent months — and warned terror leaders everywhere, “If you target America and our allies, you will not be safe. You will never be safe.”
Obama also stated that the Islamic State has lost half of the territory it used to control and that it’s been more than a year since IS has launched a successful offensive in either Syria or Iraq.
Toward the end of his remarks, the president took on a more animated demeanor and set his sights on Republican leaders, who he says often stand in the way of progress.
Obama’s criticisms of the GOP ranged from the Senate’s refusal to give a confirmation hearing to Adam J. Szubin as Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence — who was nominated for the post more than 400 days ago — to the failure of Congress to take action on gun control.
“Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually be tough on terrorism,” he said.
Obama then spent several minutes responding to a common and repeated criticism from some Republicans: His lack of use for the term “radical Islam.”
Some conservatives say Obama refuses to use the term because either he is trying to be politically correct, or that it signals a sympathetic ideology. On Tuesday, Obama didn’t mince words.
“What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to killing Americans?” Obama said. “Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that would be served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by another name does not make it go away. … This is a political distraction.
“Not once has an adviser of mine said, ‘Man, if we really use that phrase were gonna turn this thing around.’ Not once.
“Someone seriously thinks we don’t know who we’re fighting? If there’s anyone out there who thinks we’re confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists we have taken off the battlefield.”
Obama said he isn’t trying to be politically correct by avoiding the term, but rather he is trying to counter a core recruiting strategy of the IS: Making impressionable Muslim youths believe there’s a war between the United States and the entire Islamic faith.
“If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war — with an entire religion? Then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them,” Obama said emphatically. “We are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset can be.”
The president wrapped his speech by shaking his head at remarks made in recent days, and months, by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating to America,” Obama said of a proposal Trump floated last fall, and reiterated Monday. “You hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?”
On Monday, Trump elaborated on the idea, saying as president he would suspend immigration to the United States from nations that have a history of hostility or terrorist ideologies against Washington “until we understand how to end these threats.”
Obama, though, noted that the perpetrators in the Orlando shooting, the San Bernardino plot and the attack at Fort Hood were all U.S. citizens.
“Do Republican officials actually agree with this?” Obama asked incredulously. “Because that’s not the America we want.
Obama gives update on ISIS fight
LANGLEY, Va. (AP) — President Barack Obama claimed progress Wednesday in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State group, even as political turmoil in Iraq and renewed violence in Syria threatened to jeopardize hard-fought gains.
During a rare presidential visit to CIA headquarters, Obama said it had been "a bad few months" for the Islamic State and gave a detailed account of areas where U.S.-backed forces have wrested territory back from the extremist group. Though he acknowledged the fight remains difficult and complex, he said IS was on the defensive and that the U.S. intends to "keep that momentum."
"Every day, ISIL leaders wake up and understand that it could be their last," Obama said, using an acronym for the extremist group.
Obama offered no new steps or specifics about how the U.S. will beef up the fight against IS, although U.S. officials have suggested those steps are in the works. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said the Pentagon is seeking ways to increase military support for the fight, including a likely increase in U.S. forces, along with the possible use of Apache helicopters for Iraqi-led combat missions.
The visit to the CIA's campus in suburban Virginia was designed to assure Americans that the U.S. is fully engaged in the fight, despite persistent complaints from Obama's critics that his strategy isn't aggressive enough. Indeed, in recent months Obama has made similar field trips to the Pentagon and the State Department to illustrate how all facets of the U.S. government are on the case.
"They are working around the clock to keep us safe," Obama said, adding that CIA operatives had thwarted terrorists repeatedly without being able to acknowledge it publicly. "They don't get a lot of attention."
Though Obama gave an optimistic portrayal of progress in both Iraq and Syria, the picture on the ground remains muddled at best.
In Syria, escalating fighting between the government and militants has threatened to jeopardize a fragile cease-fire the U.S. and Russia brokered earlier this year. Peace talks resumed Wednesday in Geneva aimed at resolving Syria's civil war, though deep disagreements about who should participate have continued to plague that process.
Syrians living in parts of the country still under government control also voted Wednesday in parliamentary elections that Syrian President Bashar Assad's opponents dismissed as a sham intended to lend an air of legitimacy to his beleaguered government, in yet another worrying sign for the peace talks.
The uptick in violence in Syria has raised difficult questions about how to proceed if the truce falls apart and frees Assad and his Russian backers to resume attacks on U.S.-supported opposition groups. Russia, which had been bolstering Assad with an air campaign against his opponents, recently ordered a drawdown in warplanes, but said strikes would continue against IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. Both of those groups are excluded from the cease-fire.
In Iraq, Obama pointed to the Iraqi military's preparations to retake the IS stronghold of Mosul as an example of increased momentum in the fight. Yet modest signs of progress have been tempered by ongoing sectarian challenges and a political crisis in Baghdad that have threatened to further destabilize the country.
Obama's remarks at the CIA came the week before he travels to Saudi Arabia for a summit with Persian Gulf leaders focused largely on the threat from the Islamic State. Previewing his request to countries attending that summit, Obama said "the entire world" must step up to help Iraq restore stability "so that ISIL cannot return."
Barack Obama: ‘This is not America against ISIL’
While U.S. forces in Iraq were able to fight alongside Sunnis in Iraq to degrade Al Qaeda and force its remaining fighters underground, the &ldquochaos&rdquo of the Syrian civil war created an atmosphere where ISIL could grow, Obama said. &ldquoEssentially, you had huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned [and] they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.&rdquo
In that environment, ISIL was able to &ldquoattract foreign fighters who believed in their jihadist nonsense and traveled everywhere from Europe to the United States to Australia to other parts of the Muslim world, converging on Syria,&rdquo he said. &ldquoAnd so this became ground zero for jihadists around the world.&rdquo
At the same time, Obama acknowledged, his administration believed that the Iraqi army was capable of pushing back ISIL fighters in Iraq. Instead, as Clapper said, the United States overestimated the will and ability of the Iraqi army to fight the budding threat of ISIL.
&ldquoThat&rsquos true. That&rsquos absolutely true,&rdquo the president said.
Part of the U.S. response to ISIL has been through military action, but political progress must also be part of a solution, he added.
&ldquoWhat we also have to do is we have to come up with political solutions in Iraq and Syria, in particular, but in the Middle East generally, that arise an accommodation between Sunni and Shia populations that right now are the biggest cause of conflict, not just in the Middle East, but in the world.&rdquo
The new Iraqi government has begun moving in the right direction but still has a long way to go. &ldquoSome progress &hellip I wouldn&rsquot say great, yet,&rdquo he said. &ldquoIt&rsquos going to take time.&rdquo
Some critics have said that the United States is playing too big a role in the military action against ISIL, and that other countries that are part of the international coalition should be committing more to the fight. But, Obama said, it&rsquos to be expected that the United States is shouldering much of the burden.
&ldquoThat&rsquos always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world,&rdquo he said. &ldquoAnd when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don&rsquot call Beijing. They don&rsquot call Moscow. They call us.&rdquo
Asked to describe the endgame, Obama demurred. &ldquoI&rsquom not going to speculate on failure at the moment. We&rsquore just getting started. Let&rsquos see how they do,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI think that right now, we&rsquove got a campaign plan that has a strong chance for success in Iraq. I think Syria is a more challenging situation.&rdquo
After months of tension over Russia&rsquos incursion into eastern Ukraine, U.S. and international intervention is starting to prove effective, Obama said, as Russian President Vladimir Putin feels the pressure of sanctions and has allowed a tentative ceasefire to take root. &ldquoThe good news is, because of American leadership, we have been able to impose a cost on Mr. Putin. We&rsquove put together sanctions that have hurt their economy, that have given them cause,&rdquo he said.
And, just as he insisted at the start of 2014, Obama said he still does not believe that the United States or NATO will have to engage in a military conflict with Russia but promises to stand up for Ukraine and other Eastern European and Baltic allies. His message to Putin: &ldquoGo back to trying to abide by international norms and it&rsquoll be better for the Russian people and it&rsquoll certainly be better for Europe. We&rsquore not looking for confrontation, but we&rsquore going to be very firm about the principles at stake.&rdquo
U.S. Department of State
Well, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Corker and all of my former colleagues, it really is a pleasure for me to be back before the Foreign Relations Committee. During my time here, I think we got some things right and we certainly wound up wishing we&rsquod done some things differently. But I think most of us would agree &ndash and I saw it during both parties&rsquo chairmanships, including the years that Senator Lugar and I were here &ndash that this committee works best and makes the greatest contribution to our foreign policy and our country when it addresses the most important issues in a strong bipartisan fashion.
And this is one of those issues. The chairman and the ranking member have both said that. This is one of the moments when a bipartisan approach really is critical.
As you know, the President is committed to engaging with the committee and all of your colleagues in the House and Senate regarding a new authorization for use of military force &ndash as we call it in short, the AUMF &ndash specifically against the terrorist group known as ISIL, though in the region is it called Daesh, and specifically because they believe very deeply it is not a state and it does not represent Islam.
So we are looking for this authorization with respect to efforts against Daesh and affiliated groups, and I want to thank Chairman Menendez and the entire committee for leading the effort in Congress and for all of the important work that you have already done on this complicated and challenging issue. It is important that this committee lead the Congress and the country, and I think you know I believe that.
Now, I realize we may not get there overnight. I&rsquove heard the ranking member&rsquos comments just now, and we understand the clock. We certainly won&rsquot resolve everything and get there this afternoon, in the next few hours. But I do think this discussion is important, and I think we all agree that this discussion has to conclude with a bipartisan vote that makes clear that this is not one party&rsquos fight against Daesh, but rather that it reflects our united determination to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. And the world needs to understand that from the United States Congress, above all.
Our coalition partners need to know that from all of you, and the men and women of our armed forces deserve to know it from all of you. And Daesh&rsquos cadre of killers and rapists and bigots need to absolutely understand it clearly. That&rsquos why this matters.
Now toward that end, we ask you now to work closely with us on a bipartisan basis to develop language that provides a clear signal of support for our ongoing military operations against Daesh. Our position on the text is really pretty straightforward. The authorization, or AUMF, should give the President the clear mandate and flexibility he needs to successfully prosecute the armed conflict against Daesh and affiliated forces, but the authorization should also be limited and specific to the threat posed by that group and by forces associated with it.
Now, I&rsquoll come back to the question of the AUMF in a minute. But we believe that as we embark on this important discussion context matters. All of us want to see the United States succeed and all of us want to see Daesh defeated, so we&rsquore united on that. And I want to bring the committee up to date on precisely where our campaign now stands.
Mr. Chairman, less than three months ago &ndash perhaps two and a half months, a little more &ndash have passed since the international community came together in a coalition, whose purpose is to degrade and defeat Daesh. Two and a half months ago, it didn&rsquot exist &ndash not it, Daesh, but the coalition &ndash and the 60 countries that assembled recently in Brussels. We organized, and I had the privilege of chairing the first ministerial-level meeting of the coalition last week in Brussels.
We heard Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi describe to us the effort that his leadership team is making to bring Iraqis together, strengthen their security forces, take the fight to Daesh, and improve and reform governance. We also heard General John Allen, our special envoy to the coalition, review the progress that is being made in the five lines of coalition effort: to shrink the territory controlled by Daesh, to cut off its financing, to block its recruitment of foreign fighters, to expose the hypocrisy of its absurd religious claims, and to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of its violence.
During the meeting, I have to tell you, I was particularly impressed by the leadership activism, and quite frankly, the anger towards Daesh that is being displayed by Arab and Muslim states. Governments that do not always agree on other issues are coming together in opposition to this profoundly anti-Islamic terrorist organization.
And now, to be clear, ISIL continues to commit serious vicious crimes and it still controls more territory than al-Qaida ever did. It will be years, not months, before it is defeated. We know that. But our coalition is measurably already making a difference.
To date, we have launched more than 1,150 today air strikes against Daesh. These operations have reduced its leadership, undermined its propaganda, squeezed its resources, damaged its logistical and operational capabilities, and compelled it to disperse its forces and change its tactics. It is becoming clear that the combination of coalition airstrikes and local ground partners is a potent one. In fact, virtually every time a local Iraqi force has worked in coordination with our air cover they have not only defeated Daesh, they have routed it.
In Iraq, progress also continues in the political arena. And this is no less important, frankly. Last week, after years of intensive efforts, the government in Baghdad reached an interim accord with the Kurdistan Regional Government on hydrocarbon exports and revenue sharing. That has been long sought after, and it&rsquos a big deal that they got it. It&rsquos good for the country&rsquos economy, but it&rsquos even better for its unity and stability and for the imprint of the direction that they&rsquore moving in.
In addition, a new defense minister is a Sunni, whose appointment was an important step towards a more inclusive government. And with his leadership and that of the new interior minister, the process of reforming the nation&rsquos security forces has a genuine chance for success.
Meanwhile, the prime minister is taking bold steps to improve relations with his country&rsquos neighbors. And those neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey, have been responding. Now, I want to underscore it&rsquos too early to declare a new era in regional relations, but countries that had been drifting apart or even in conflict with each other are now in the process of coming together and breaking down the barriers that were created. And that is helpful to our coalition and it is bad news for Daesh.
Beating back the threat that Daesh poses to Iraq is job number one for our Iraqi partners and for our coalition. But even if the government in Baghdad fulfills its responsibilities, it is still going to face a dire challenge because of the events in Syria.
Now, if you recall, the coalition&rsquos decision to carry out airstrikes in Syria came in response to a request from Iraq for help in defending against Daesh&rsquos brazen attack. To date, we and our Arab partners have conducted over 500 airstrikes in Syria, targeting areas where Daesh had concentrated its fighters, targeting on command and control nodes, finance centers, training camps, and oil refineries. Our objective is to further degrade Daesh&rsquos capabilities and to deny it the freedom of movement and resupply that it has previously enjoyed.
At the same time, we will continue to build up the capabilities of the moderate opposition. And here I want to thank the members of this committee and many others in Congress who have supported these efforts and supported them very strongly. Our goal is to help the moderate forces stabilize areas under their control, defend civilians, empower them to go on the offensive against Daesh, and promote the conditions for a negotiated political transition, recognizing, as I think almost every person has said, there is no military solution.
Now, Mr. Chairman, we all know that Daesh is a threat to America&rsquos security and interests. It poses an unacceptable danger to our personnel and facilities in Iraq and elsewhere. It seeks to destroy both the short and long-term stability of the broader Middle East. And it is exacerbating a refugee crisis that has placed extraordinary economic and political burden on our friends and allies in the region.
One thing is certain: Daesh will continue to spread until or unless it is stopped. So there should be no question that we, with our partners, have a moral duty and a profound international security interest and national security interest in stopping them.
That is where the fight against Daesh now stands. A coalition that two and a half months ago did not even exist is now taking the fight to the enemy. It was cobbled together by strong American leadership and by steady, intensive diplomacy with countries that disagree on many things but all share an aversion to extremism. Now I think all of you would agree we need to summon that same determination to find the common ground here in Washington.
That is why in the hours, days, and weeks to come, we&rsquore determined to work with you, first and foremost to develop an approach that can generate broad bipartisan support, while ensuring that the President has the flexibility to successfully prosecute this effort. That&rsquos the balance.
What do we envision, specifically regarding an AUMF? Importantly &ndash and I think I will lay out today a very clear set of principles that I hope will be instructive &ndash we do not think an AUMF should include a geographic limitation. We don&rsquot anticipate conducting operations in countries other than Iraq or Syria but to the extent that ISIL poses a threat to American interests and personnel in other countries, we would not want an AUMF to constrain our ability to use appropriate force against ISIL in those locations if necessary. In our view, it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside of Iraq or Syria.
On the issue of combat operations, I know this is hotly debated, as it ought to be and as it is, with passionate and persuasive arguments on both sides. The President has been crystal-clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL and that will be the responsibility of local forces, because that is what our local partners and allies want, that is what we learned works best in the context of our Iraq experience, that is what is best for preserving our coalition, and most importantly, it is in the best interest of the United States.
However, while we certainly believe that this is the soundest possible policy, and while the President has been clear he is open to clarifications on the use of U.S. combat troops to be outlined in an AUMF, it doesn&rsquot mean we should preemptively bind the hands of the Commander-in-Chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.
And finally, with respect to duration, we can be sure that this confrontation is not going to be over quickly, as the President and I have said many times. We understand, however, the desire of many to avoid a completely open-ended authorization. And I note that Chairman Menendez has suggested that a three-year limitation should be put into an AUMF. We support that proposal, but we support it subject to a provision that we should work through together that provides for extension in the event that circumstances require it. And we think it ought to be advertised as such upfront.
To sum up, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I ask for your help in, above all, approving on a bipartisan basis &ndash with the strongest vote possible, because everybody will read messages into that vote &ndash an Authorization for Use of Military Force in connection with our campaign and that of our many partners in order to defeat a terrible, vicious, different kind of enemy.
Almost a quarter-century ago, when I here, then a 47-year-old senator with certainly a darker head of hair, President George H.W. Bush sent his Secretary of State James Baker to ask this committee for the authority to respond militarily to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The country was divided. Congress was divided. But this committee drafted an authorization and it passed the Congress with a majority that the New York Times described as &ldquodecisive and bipartisan.&rdquo And armed with that mandate, Secretary Baker built the coalition that won the First Gulf War.
Now, that was a different time and it was a different conflict and it called for a different response. But it was also this body &ndash this committee and then the Senate &ndash at its bipartisan best. And what we need from you today to strengthen and unify our own coalition is exactly that kind of cooperative effort. The world will be watching what we together are willing and able to do. And this is obviously not a partisan issue it&rsquos a leadership issue. It&rsquos a test of our government&rsquos ability and our nation&rsquos ability to stand together. It&rsquos a test of our generation&rsquos resolve to build a safer and more secure world. And I know every single one of you wants to defeat ISIL. A bold, bipartisan mandate would strengthen our hand, and I hope that today you can move closer to that goal.
Wars of Ideas: From the Taliban to the Islamic State
With the re-taking of Ramadi, a difficult year in the history of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seems to have ended on a high note with a tentative victory. Perhaps now President Obama’s hope that the American public recognize his national security team’s efforts as forceful, appropriate, and effective can be realized.
At the end of last month, Obama bemoaned the fact that people’s judgments about progress in the war on ISIL were being formed without full awareness or understanding of progress on the ground. To address this information gap, the last few weeks of 2015 saw a flurry of administration activity to get out the word about Obama’s strategy to counter the Islamic State.
Not unexpectedly, these public affairs efforts are bringing attacks from prominent critics of the administration, most volubly from Republican candidates for the presidency. They assert that the problem is not about public relations, and insist that a more muscular strategy and the capabilities to match are needed.
However, the candidate who is (perhaps inadvertently) highlighting the most significant omission in the president’s strategy to fight ISIL is not a Republican.
Hillary Clinton, in one of her earliest explications of a “360-degree strategy” to defeat the Islamic State, outlines three lines of effort: a robust campaign in Syria and Iraq, attacks on the supporting infrastructure that have allowed ISIL to sustain its activities in the region and beyond, and a hardening of our defenses at home.
Her remarks are notable for the balance that she strikes between steps that must be taken to address the immediate threat in Syria and Iraq (not dissimilar in tone and substance from those proposed by administration officials and critics alike) and measures to bring about an enduring and global victory against the Islamic State (lost in the more frantic comments of those who are offering ideas on quick, forceful solutions). Clinton’s belief in the importance of the long game is summed up neatly in her observation that “we are in a contest of ideas against an ideology of hate, and we have to win.”
Is the importance of a war of ideas fought against extremist ideologies getting short shrift in the discussion about a strategy to defeat the Islamic State? There are certainly distinguished analysts and experienced practitioners who are calling for us to pay more attention to what ultimately may prove to be the most critical part of such a strategy.
In a comprehensive article on countering ISIL, noted military theorist Huba Wass de Czege highlights the importance of waging a war of ideas. He notes that a critical determinant of victory in ISIL-held territories will be success in a struggle for “legitimacy to govern, make laws, and enforce them” that must take place between ISIL and “the alternative that will follow.” He then argues that, by extension, a meaningful global victory over extremism will also depend on the outcome of the contest of legitimacy between
the forces of modernity and the remaining wide spread remnants, offspring, and cousins of this movement [ISIL]. Winning these future struggles will also require framing them as the fanatical against the reasonable, the civilized against the barbarian, the lawful against the lawless, and the modern against the medieval.
For those who prefer a warfighter’s views on the critical role that the war of ideas can play in the fight against the Islamic State, Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently offered his tips for fighting terrorists: the importance of creating “a network to fight a [terrorist] network” the need to go beyond decapitation strategies and the critical role that facilitators, financiers, logisticians, and other enablers play in terrorist groups and the importance of defeating them. Saving the best for last, McChrystal stressed that to be successful against the Islamic State it is critical “to go after the idea that makes people want to be part of it.”
But is it really possible to fight against an idea? If so, how? How do we tell if we are winning a war of ideas?
Perhaps a look at where we have tried this before, what went right and what did not, and lessons that can be applied to the current fight against ISIL might be instructive.
In late 2003, the headquarters of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) prepared the division for its first deployment since the Vietnam War. Lt. Gen. David Barno, at that time the commander of the Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan (and now one of the authors of the Strategic Outpost series at War on the Rocks), visited the Tropic Lightning division leadership. His purpose was to explain the strategy that he had recently developed for fighting the Taliban. His explanation was elegant in its simplicity, drawn for us on one sheet of butcher paper. He started with two semicircular arrows, running in opposite directions, tip to tail. The top arrow was labeled “Security” the one underneath “Reconstruction.”
Because we were about to become Gen. Barno’s operational headquarters in Afghanistan, the discussion of the relationship between security and reconstruction was familiar. Establishing security in that nation would enable the effort to rebuild vital infrastructure, support the growth of an economy that had been devastated by years of war, and give the Afghans a chance to strengthen the institutions of governance. In turn, a successful reconstruction effort would help set the conditions for more effective security operations, establishing what could be conceptualized as a “virtuous cycle.”
All of this was consistent with what we had been reading and studying about emerging counterinsurgency doctrine. But the next (and last) addition to his model was something we had not thought much about. Straight between the “security” and “reconstruction” arcs, Gen. Barno drew a third arrow in bold — meant to signify the fundamental importance of the final component of the strategy — and labeled it “Extend the reach of the central government.”
His amplifying comments made it clear how we were to leverage this effort to wage a war against the Taliban’s “big idea” that was aimed directly at the fledgling Afghan central government. In their narrative, the government’s halting steps to hit its stride were signs of hopeless incompetence, willful neglect, and rapacious corruption. The international coalition was essentially a foreign mercenary force invited into the country to ensure that those in power would stay there. The Taliban had been effective in preaching this story to the Afghan people, the net effect being that the government in Kabul was viewed by many in the population as being just as foreign — and threatening — as the occupying armies that were supporting it.
Fighting this idea would involve three major mutually reinforcing efforts: building the capacity of Afghan government institutions to provide for their people, supporting projects to improve the quality of life of the Afghan population, and ultimately convincing the majority of Afghans that their government and national institutions offered a preferable alternative vision of the future.
At the outset, it was clear to us that this approach to winning the war of ideas would involve a prolonged undertaking requiring the active participation of a wide array of U.S., coalition, and Afghan organizations. However, we had not yet predicted or confronted either the resistance to reform in key portions of the Afghan government or the challenges posed by the diversion of U.S. attention and resources to Iraq, which was just becoming a major issue for us at that point in 2004. As a result, we cannot claim to have set the course for winning the war of ideas in Afghanistan as we had intended. But there are significant takeaways from our experience at that time in the history of the Afghan war (2004–5) that can inform our current plan to fight ISIL if we are to make a war of ideas part of our strategy.
Simplicity is a Lie
It is important to identify the big ideas that are fundamental to the existence of an extremist movement or organization like the Taliban or Islamic State, but it is dangerous to oversimplify. Throughout the war in Afghanistan, we have regularly made the mistake of assuming that armed resistance has been the result of some coherent, uniform set of precepts that can be defined as “Taliban ideology,” which is often conflated with Sharia or Islamic fundamentalism. But the causes of that insurgency are far more complex. It is far more accurate to describe what drives the Taliban insurgency in terms of what they are against (in their view, a corrupt, overreaching, foreign governing authority in areas that have been traditionally ruled by local authorities) than what they are actually for. Similarly, it is a mistake to believe we have done all of the thinking that needs to be done about the Islamic State’s “idea” and conclude that it can be summed up as some notion of a “caliphate.” Calling to mind the advice of Gen. McChrystal, we would do well to understand what is drawing fighters to ISIL (or why they are sticking with it) and develop our understanding of its ideas based on that. To that point, there was a recent poll done on a small group of current and former ISIL fighters to determine why they had joined the group. About half of the responses collected could be tied to the idea of a caliphate (e.g., “jihad” or “Muslim belonging”). But the other half reported unrelated reasons (e.g., money, desire to protect Sunnis who are being attacked in Syria and Iraq).
The Human Terrain is Decisive
In the classic conception of war, battles are often fought over terrain that will lend advantage to one side over its enemy. In the war of ideas, the perception of populations is the critical terrain. In Afghanistan our war of ideas hinged on understanding the “human terrain.” Some of our most successful kinetic operations in Afghanistan were based on gains that came because of the support of the local, non-combatant population (e.g., intelligence acquired, material or fighting support lent, other cooperation secured).
Analyzing the terrain of perception to support a successful fight against ISIL’s idea is probably a more complex proposition. But it must start with a clear understanding of target populations and how their perceptions are being formed. Currently, ISIL appears to be shaping its messages to focus on the perceptions of three major groups — to encourage potential recruits and add to the stream of incoming foreign fighters to inspire hardcore jihadis to either continue the fight in Syria and Iraq or to take action abroad and to appeal to “fence-sitters” in ISIL-occupied territories whose cooperation (or at least tolerance) is required for the group to maintain control in occupied areas. A successful war of ideas waged against ISIL will most likely mean accepting battle in all three of these “areas of operation” and developing tailored countervailing messages for each that are backed up by convincing actions.
Bind Moral and Geographical Factors Together
In warfare it is important to understand the relationship between what might be described in Clausewitzian terms as “moral” versus “geographical” factors. Winning the war of ideas is inextricably tied to establishing the superiority of “the spirit and other moral qualities of an army” over those of the enemy. There is certainly a connection between seizing and holding physical terrain (“commanding positions, mountains, rivers, woods and roads” to which Clausewitz might now add “cities”) and prevailing in the moral domain.
Recently, there has been much discussion about the best way to attack the Islamic State as a physical entity, on the theory that “rolling them back” on the ground may take the luster from their ideas. And it is probably true that the fervor of some of the Islamic State’s adherents will cool if the group continues to lose battles. But it is a mistake to assume that the destruction of ISIL’s idea will inevitably follow as its currently occupied territories are taken back. A counter-ISIL strategy that is based on the assumption that a lasting victory can be won by recapturing cities that they currently hold ignores the broad appeal of the idea of ISIL to a wide array of fighters: those die-hard jihadis who are actually seeking an apocalyptic last battle the citizens of a city like Mosul who are loyal to the Islamic State’s forces who are there because they prefer ISIL rule to the alternative that they believe the Iraqi central government offers Sunnis who have joined the group exactly because they see such attacks on ISIL and its territories as part of a larger campaign against their particular way of practicing Islam. The central idea of the Taliban held strong appeal to many Afghans who had grown weary of the malfeasance, fecklessness, and occasional brutality of the government in Kabul despite the fact that for many years the Taliban failed to exercise physical control over any major city or district in that country. Gen. McChrystal’s message about the relationship between offering alternatives that have appeal and ultimate success in a war of ideas was at least in part shaped by his experience in Afghanistan.
Fighting the War of Ideas in 2016
In the coming year, it is very likely that there will be more good news coming out of Iraq and Syria about victories on the ground against the Islamic State. After all, they are not a particularly effective fighting force, and with the coalition lined up against them growing in strength, numbers, and (at least for now) determination, there could very well be more good news than bad this year about territory retaken, leaders eliminated, numbers of fighters killed, and so on.
But it is also more likely than not that if these gains are achieved without due regard to how to fight the idea of the Islamic State, they will be far more hard-won, more time-consuming, and costlier than they need to be. And it is virtually certain that until the idea of the Islamic State is defeated, the group’s hold in the region and globally is unlikely to be loosened in any meaningful or lasting way.
A President in Denial
A fter the June 12 th massacre in Orlando, the deadliest act of terrorism in the United States since 9/11, many Americans hoped that President Obama would say something healing and unifying to the nation. Given how polarized our nation has become, this would naturally prove challenging. But surely the President should at least try.
And in his first remarks following the massacre, he did try—asking for prayers for the victims and their families, conveying “the condolences of the entire American people” to the city’s mayor, and affirming, “We will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”
His subsequent remarks on Tuesday were far more jarring. Facing criticism for not acknowledging the reality of “radical Islam”—something that even Hillary Clinton has now done—the President launched into a tirade against his critics, laying bare his partisan inability to rise to the occasion. Angry, bitter, self-serving, Obama succeeded in doing something many thought him incapable of: acting like Donald Trump.
He began on a generous note, expressing support for the victims and their families. From there his speech went downhill.
Obama was at pains to stress how committed his administration is to fighting terrorism: “We are doing everything in our power to stop these kind of attacks.” But if that is true, how is it possible that the FBI had monitored the Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, for years, only to abandon its surveillance of him, clearing the way for his attack? And why, in a country and under an administration that sanctions the slogan, “If you see something, say something,” were the warnings of a co-worker about Mateen’s fanatical views ignored?
Obama continued: “Our mission is to destroy ISIL. . . . We are making significant progress. . . . ISIL is under more pressure than ever before. ISIL continues to lose key leaders. . . . ISIL’s ranks are shrinking. . . . Their morale is sinking.” But just two days after the President made these remarks, his own head of the CIA, John Brennan, testifying before Congress, provided a far grimmer assessment: “[O]ur efforts have not reduced [ISIL]’s terrorism capability and global reach. . . .We judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda.” Not only that, said Brennan, but ISIL has a “large cadre of Western fighters” ready to launch new attacks like the one in Orlando, and continues to attract new and enthusiastic recruits.
Obama continued: “For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase ‘radical Islam.’” But many of the President’s most trenchant critics are veterans and military men, who’ve risked their lives for this country. James Jay Carafano, who spent twenty-five years in the army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and is now a recognized expert on national security, had a response to the President’s lecture:
That much was clear in the rest of Obama’s speech, which assailed his opponents for not enacting more gun control (even as liberal sources admit that such legislation could hardly prevent more domestic terrorism).
But what is most disappointing about President Obama’s attitude toward radical Islamic terrorism, and his critics, is his consistent refusal to admit his mistakes and accept responsibility for his administration’s actions. As the historian Niall Ferguson recently commented, a much-discussed profile of Obama in the Atlantic “reveals a President in denial about the consequences of his own sins of omission and commission. Everyone is to blame—everyone but him.”
For a President who once referred to the Islamic state as “the JV team,” and whose policies toward Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and Russia have been severely criticized by a broad spectrum of Americans and allies abroad, Obama is not in a strong position to be lecturing the country. Nor should he—or any American leader—be exploiting the massacre in Orlando for political purposes.
William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine, among many other publications, and writes often about religion, history and politics. He contributed an extensive bibliography of works on Pius XII to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII. His previous articles can be found here.
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