The catastrophe in Syria is often leveled at President Obama as a horrible scar on his legacy. But what is ignored is the context, and also how Libya, which was an important achievement, was used as a weapon to attack Obama as well as Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
So it is rather remarkable that none of the news outlets are reporting a significant victory in Libya, routing out the last ISIS stronghold, in Sirte.
But to begin:
What is happening in Syria today is where Libya would have easily been, the scale of carnage that Syria turned into, if Obama had not intervened with a coalition of countries including Arab States. At the time, Republicans including Donald Trump, cheered. During the election, the action was demonized, and used in the incessant conspiracy harangue about Benghazi.
So it is really hypocritical that Obama is criticized for not intervening more strenuously in Syria, when in fact, he did all that he could do given the convoluted circumstances and inconvenient alliances and oppositions. Take Turkey, for instance, which opposed the Kurds and worked against the US support of Kurds against ISIS, but US needed access to Turkey’s bases from which to strike at ISIS and needed Turkey’s support of Syrian refugees. (These nuances go beyond Donald Trump’s comprehension.)
The red line that was crossed when Assad used chemical weapons? Recall that Obama was poised to strike, the military was on alert, but the cowardly Congress refused to give its Authorization of Military Force (progressives are still upset that Obama uses the Bush-era 9/11 authorization to go after ISIS). But still, Obama was able to get Assad to give up chemical weapons without the US firing a shot or a single troop sacrificed. How? Putin.
But what could not be anticipated was Russia assisting Assad in the massacre of the Syrian people. Putin, after all, claimed to be joining the coalition against ISIS. Instead, it was a rout of the moderate rebels fighting Assad. Would Americans have endorsed a war with Russia? Would Americans have supported sending 180,000 ground troops into Syria?
As for not providing enough aid to moderate rebels? There weren’t very many to be found – millions of dollars of supplies and only 50 “moderate rebels” identified. What would have happened if it was discovered the US thought it was supplying “moderate” rebels but actually the armaments went to ISIS fighters? Can you imagine?
“For years, we’ve worked to stop the civil war in Syria and alleviate human suffering,” President Obama said in his final press conference of 2017. “It has been one of the hardest issues that I’ve faced as president. The world as we speak is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russia and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo. We have seen a deliberate strategy of surrounding and the seigeing and starving innocent civilians. We’ve seen relentless targeting of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and dust…
“We all know what needs to happen. There needs to be an impartial international observer force in Aleppo that can help coordinate an orderly evacuation through safe corridors. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid, even as the United States continues to be the world’s largest donor of humanitarian to the Syrian people and beyond that, there needs to be a broader ceasefire that can serve as the basis for a political, rather than a military solution. That’s what the United States is going to continue to push for, both with our partners and through multilateral institutions like the UN.
“Regretfully but unsurprisingly, Russia has repeatedly blocked the security council from taking action on these issues so we’re going to keep pressing the security council to help improve the delivery of humanitarian to those who are in such desperate need and to ensure accountability, including continuing to monitor any potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. And we’re going work in the U.N. General assembly as well, both on accountability and to advance a political settlement because it should be clear that although you may achieve tactical victories over the long term, the Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy. That’s why we’ll continue to press for a transition to a more representative government. And that’s why the world must not avert our eyes to the terrible events that are unfolding.
“The Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are trying to confiscate the truth. The world should not be fooled and the world will not forget.”
Meanwhile, the US was not exactly not doing anything in Syria. The US operated tens of thousands of air strikes against ISIS, and has been the largest donor of aid to Syrian refugees.
And the US has not stood idly by in Libya, either, but assisted in the liberation of Sirte from ISIL. The Administration issued this statement:
Statement by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa O. Monaco on the Successful Operation to Liberate Sirte from ISIL
The United States congratulates the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan people on their successful operation to liberate Sirte from ISIL. The United States is proud to have supported the advance of the GNA-aligned forces into Sirte with precision airstrikes to eject ISIL from the only city that it controlled outside of Iraq and Syria.
We applaud the courage of the Libyan people, including the residents of Sirte, al-Bunyan al-Marsous forces, and others, who carried out this operation. We commend Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj for his leadership and dedication to the Libyan people. We also extend our sincerest and heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives fighting for this important cause.
The U.S. military conducted a carefully tailored counterterrorism operation, at the request of the GNA, to target ISIL while taking great care to minimize harm to civilians. This partnered operation has substantially reduced ISIL’s manpower in Libya, ended its brutal reign over Sirte’s population, and removed its primary base in Libya, dealing a blow to its ability to plot attacks in Libya and abroad. This progress comes as Libyans mark one year since the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement.
We know that ISIL will continue its attempts to terrorize the Libyan people and sow instability in North Africa, and that Libyan efforts against terrorism continue in other parts of Libya. We stand ready to help the GNA as it secures and rebuilds Sirte. The United States also remains committed to working with the GNA, Libyans throughout the country, and regional partners to counter ISIL and other violent extremist organizations.
Clearly, the Republican candidates for President are using their own ignorance and the ignorance of most Americans concerning what the US is doing to combat ISIL and terrorism in order to sow fear that they are betting will profit them in gaining votes.
Most significantly is the truth behind President Obama’s statement from the 2015 State of the Union and this year’s State of the Union, that the US-led coalition has stopped ISIL’s expansion and in fact, has regained 40 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria. And you have to wonder what the Republican candidates would do differently. Even their own words, though filled with bravado and threats, do not really suggest doing anything more than the US is already doing: building a coalition, training and supplying fighters, striking targets including oil facilities and training camps. And the US would be more successful in cutting off their funding sources if the Republicans in Congress would confirm Obama’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department’s efforts to cut off the funding that ISIS and other terrorist organizations need to carry out attacks (Adam Szubin was nominated more than 230 days ago, see more).
The United States has also been the leader toward a diplomatic effort to accomplish the essential political transition in Syria, and also the leading donor of humanitarian aid to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
Here is a Fact Sheet from the White House that describes what the US is doing (highlights added):
FACT SHEET: MAINTAINING MOMENTUM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ISIL
Over the last year, the 65-member Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, led by the United States, has intensified the fight to liberate ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria and has made significant progress in its campaign to degrade and destroy this abhorrent terrorist group.
As we move into 2016, President Obama and the broader Administration remain fully committed to eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and will continue to pursue a strategy that strikes ISIL at its core, degrades its networks, and constrains its prospects for expansion. We must be patient and flexible in our efforts; this is a multi-year fight and there will be challenges along the way. But we are united with our Coalition partners and are making progress together to degrade and destroy ISIL.
In the summer of 2014 ISIL had surged into Iraq, directly threatening Baghdad and Erbil, including locations where U.S. personnel were located, and calling for the systematic destruction of the Yezidi people. We witnessed atrocities, beheadings, crucifixions, and immolations. ISIL is like no terrorist threat we have confronted before.
ISIL has not had any major strategic victories in Iraq or Syria since May 2015. In fact, with the Coalition supporting local partners on the ground, ISIL has lost approximately 40 percent of populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria.
ISIL is being defeated by brave local forces in Iraq and Syria who are reclaiming and defending their villages, cities, and ultimately, their countries, with the support of the United States and our Coalition partners. ISIL’s freedom of movement across borders has been significantly reduced and we are making progress in cutting supply lines between ISIL strongholds in ar-Raqqah and Mosul.
U.S. and Coalition military efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL have ramped up significantly throughout 2015.
o Seventeen Coalition members have joined the United States in deploying military personnel to assist the Iraqi government in building partner capacity and train, advise, and assist missions. To date Coalition partners have trained nearly 17,000 Iraqi security forces.
o Twelve Coalition members have conducted over 9,500 air strikes in Iraq and Syria, including over 630 in support of the liberation of Ramadi by Iraqi Security Forces. These airstrikes have taken out over 3,450 ISIL vehicles and tanks, over 1,120 artillery and mortar positions, 1,170 oil infrastructure components to include tanker trucks, oil storage tanks, collection points, and well heads, and more than 13,500 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, bunkers, staging areas and barracks, including 39 training camps, in Iraq and Syria.
o In December 2015 alone, Coalition airstrikes killed dozens of senior ISIL leaders, including external operations planners, explosives facilitators, financial emirs, and other key positions.
o Most recently, the ongoing progress in Ramadi illustrates an empowered Iraqi military working side-by-side with local Sunnis to retake their city. While there is still a great deal of work to be done to secure and hold Ramadi, the Iraqi Security Force have dealt a blow to ISIL.
o In Syria, Kurdish and Arab groups aligned against ISIL seized Kobane, Tal Abyad, al-Hawl, and the Tishreen Dam, cutting ISIL’s access to all but 98 kilometers of the Turkish border and helping to isolate ar-Raqqah.
o Nineteen Coalition nations have provided supporting aircraft, including transport, surveillance, and aerial re-fueling capabilities.
o We have made significant progress in degrading ISIL’s ability to benefit from energy resources. The Coalition has conducted 68 airstrikes in Operation Tidal Wave II in Syria, targeting oil infrastructure, supply lines, and hundreds of tanker trucks that transit oil directly from ISIL. These strikes have taken out key fields in Deir-ez-Zour that once accounted for more than half of ISIL’s monthly oil revenue. Coalition strikes have reduced ISIL oil revenues by about 30 percent since November 2015.
Political, Stabilization and Humanitarian Efforts
The United States continues to support the Iraqi government’s progress toward effective and inclusive governance, stabilization efforts, and reconciliation.
o Over a dozen Coalition partners have collectively contributed over $50 million to the Funding Facility for Iraq Stabilization.
o The retaking of Tikrit in April 2015 and the successful return of 90 percent of its residents to date provided valuable lessons that will guide stabilization efforts in newly liberated areas.
o The U.S. and our Coalition partners, working with the Iraqi government, have now retrained more than a thousand Iraqi police officers to provide security in liberated areas.
The United States also continues to be the largest single-country donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, providing more than $5.1 billion to date.
o In Syria, the U.S. Government has provided more than $4.5 billion to date and USAID is providing emergency assistance to 5 million Syrians every month, including 4 million people inside Syria. USAID is also providing food assistance to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
o In Iraq, the U.S. Government has provided more than $603 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people including critically needed relief items, food, shelter, clean water, and medical services.
The United States continues to lead the international diplomatic effort to reach a negotiated political transition that removes Bashar al-Asad from power and ultimately leads to an inclusive government that is responsive to the needs of all Syrians. The Asad regime’s continued brutality against the Syrian people drives the influx of foreign fighters who join extremists’ ranks, including ISIL. Also, the Asad regime’s purchase of oil from ISIL and its unwillingness to target extremists have helped ISIL and other terrorist groups to flourish.
o So long as Asad remains, foreign fighters will continue to flow into Syria. This is why we have brought together partners in the region, Europe, Russia, and Iran to work towards a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria.
o Members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) have agreed to a notional timeline for a political transition, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in December 2015.
Civilian Efforts to Counter ISIL
The United States and our Coalition partners have made progress stemming the flow of foreign fighters, and disrupting ISIL’s propaganda machine and its financial networks.
o The Counter ISIL Coalition Working Group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters (WGFTF), co-led by the Netherlands and Turkey, is working with member countries to implement the obligations and recommendations set forth in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178. Today approximately 45 countries have enacted laws or amendments to create greater obstacles for traveling into Iraq and Syria, at least 35 countries have arrested foreign terrorist fighters or aspirants, and 12 countries have successfully prosecuted foreign terrorist fighters.
o At least 50 countries plus the United Nations now contribute foreign terrorist fighter profiles to INTERPOL, a 400 percent increase over a two-year period. Fifty-two countries are sharing foreign fighter profiles through INTERPOL’s Counterterrorism Fusion Center, and the United States has bilateral arrangements with 40 international partners for sharing terrorist travel information.
o To counter ISIL’s online propaganda and recruitment network, the State Department has launched a Global Engagement Center to integrate and synchronize our communications against violent extremist groups, including ISIL and al-Qa’ida. This new center will shift focus on countering violent extremist messaging away from direct messaging and toward a growing emphasis on empowering and enabling partners, both government and non-government, across the globe.
o The Counter ISIL Finance Group (CIFG), which the U.S. co-leads with Italy and Saudi Arabia, is an integrated part of the broader Coalition and made up of 30 members worldwide focused on disrupting ISIL financing. As part of its ongoing work, the CIFG is specifically focusing on information exchange, targeting ISIL’s oil revenues, combatting the financing of ISIL affiliates, and addressing ISIL sales of antiquities, among other topics.
o The United States chaired a special meeting of the UN Security Council with finance ministers in New York on combating ISIL finance and all forms of terrorist financing. At this meeting, Security Council finance ministers unanimously adopted a Security Council resolution that improves the international community’s ability to disrupt ISIL financing and to counter the financing of terrorism more broadly.
Since 2014, the Department of Justice and the FBI have arrested approximately 65 individuals in ISIL-related matters.
Domestically, since the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) last February, the United States has strengthened our efforts to prevent extremists from radicalizing and mobilizing recruits.
o The CVE Task Force announced in January 2016 will be a permanent interagency task force hosted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with overall leadership provided by DHS and the Department of Justice, with additional staffing provided by representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, and other supporting departments and agencies. The CVE Task Force will (1) integrate whole-of-government CVE programs and activities; (2) leverage new CVE efforts (3) conduct ongoing strategic planning; and (4) assess and evaluate CVE programs and activities.
o The DHS Office for Community Partnerships continues to find innovative ways to support communities that seek to discourage violent extremism and undercut terrorist narratives.
In 2015 alone, theTreasury and State Departments sanctioned more than 30 ISIL-linked senior leaders, financiers, foreign terrorist facilitators, and organizations, helping isolate ISIL from the international financial system.
The U.S. government worked closely with Iraqi authorities to ensure that approximately 90 bank branches within ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq are completely cut off from the Iraqi and international financial systems.
Working with the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Iraq, we have put in place information exchanges and safeguards to deny ISIL access to U.S. banknotes. This led to the isolation of key exchange houses within Iraq that previously had access to several million dollars. As part of this effort, the Government of Iraq has prohibited over 100 exchange houses located in ISIL-controlled territory or associated with ISIL from accessing the currency auctions, disrupting one of ISIL’s primary means of accessing and moving its funds.
“Over the next six months we will continue to accelerate our counter-ISIL strategy across all of our lines of effort. We will work with Coalition partners to drive out ISIL from the remaining stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border it has seized; clear and stabilize the Euphrates River Valley; cut off the remaining connections between ar-Raqqah and Mosul; increase the number of Iraqi Sunnis in the fight against ISIL by integrating them into the army, local police, and tribal mobilization structures; as well as advance the stabilization of newly liberated areas, facilitating the safe, voluntary return of thousands of internally displaced persons and restoring local communities. ”
“For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology,” President Obama said during the State of the Union,. “With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons. We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.”
But he added, “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote. Take a vote.
“But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell. When you come after Americans, we go after you. And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.”
In remarks following his meeting with the National Security Council at the Pentagon, President Obama gave more specifics about the fight against the Islamic State, including killing numerous ISIS leaders and taking back 40% of the territory the terror organization had held in Iraq.
Today, the United States and our Armed Forces continue to lead the global coalition in our mission to destroy the terrorist group ISIL. As I outlined in my speech to the nation last weekend, our strategy is moving forward with a great sense of urgency on four fronts — hunting down and taking out these terrorists; training and equipping Iraqi and Syrian forces to fight ISIL on the ground; stopping ISIL’s operations by disrupting their recruiting, financing and propaganda; and, finally, persistent diplomacy to end the Syrian civil war so that everyone can focus on destroying ISIL….
I want to provide all of you a brief update on our progress against the ISIL core in Syria and Iraq, because as we squeeze its heart, we’ll make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror and propaganda to the rest of the world.
This fall, even before the revolting attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, I ordered new actions to intensify our war against ISIL. These actions, including more firepower and Special Operations forces, are well underway. This continues to be a difficult fight. As I said before, ISIL is dug in, including in urban areas, and they hide behind civilians, using defenseless men, women and children as human shields.
So even as we’re relentless, we have to be smart, targeting ISIL surgically, with precision. At the same time, our partners on the ground are rooting ISIL out, town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block. That is what this campaign is doing.
We are hitting ISIL harder than ever. Coalition aircraft — our fighters, bombers and drones — have been increasing the pace of airstrikes — nearly 9,000 as of today. Last month, in November, we dropped more bombs on ISIL targets than any other month since this campaign started.
We’re also taking out ISIL leaders, commanders and killers, one by one. Since this spring, we’ve removed Abu Sayyaf, one of their top leaders; Haji Mutazz, ISIL’s second-in command; Junaid Hussain, a top online recruiter; Mohamed Emwazi, who brutally murdered Americans and others; and in recent weeks, finance chief Abu Saleh; senior extortionist Abu Maryam; and weapons trafficker Abu Rahman al-Tunisi. The list goes on.
We’re going after ISIL from their stronghold right down — right in downtown Raqqa, to Libya, where we took out Abu Nabil, the ISIL leader there. The point is, ISIL leaders cannot hide. And our next message to them is simple: You are next.
Every day, we destroy as well more of ISIL’s forces — their fighting positions, bunkers and staging areas; their heavy weapons, bomb-making factories, compounds and training camps. In many places, ISIL has lost its freedom of maneuver, because they know if they mass their forces, we will wipe them out. In fact, since the summer, ISIL has not had a single successful major offensive operation on the ground in either Syria or Iraq. In recent weeks, we’ve unleashed a new wave of strikes on their lifeline, their oil infrastructure, destroying hundreds of their tanker trucks, wells and refineries. And we’re going to keep on hammering those.
ISIL also continues to lose territory in Iraq. ISIL had already lost across Kirkuk province and at Tikrit. More recently, ISIL lost at Sinjar, losing a strategic highway. ISIL lost at Baiji, with its oil refinery. We saw the daring raid supported by our Special Forces, which rescued dozens of prisoners from ISIL, and in which Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler made the ultimate sacrifice.
So far, ISIL has lost about 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq. And it will lose more. Iraqi forces are now fighting their way deeper into Ramadi. They’re working to encircle Fallujah and cut off ISIL supply routes into Mosul. Again, these are urban areas where ISIL is entrenched. Our partners on the ground face a very tough fight ahead, and we’re going to continue to back them up with the support that they need to ultimately clear ISIL from Iraq.
ISIL also continues to lose territory in Syria. We continue to step up our air support and supplies to local forces — Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen — and they’re having success. After routing ISIL at Kobani and Tal Abyad, they’ve pushed ISIL back from almost across the entire border region with Turkey, and we’re working with Turkey to seal the rest. ISIL has lost thousands of square miles of territory it once controlled in Syria — and it will lose more. The Special Forces that I ordered to Syria have begun supporting local forces as they push south, cut off supply lines and tighten the squeeze on Raqqa.
Meanwhile, more people are seeing ISIL for the thugs and the thieves and the killers that they are. We’ve seen instances of ISIL fighters defecting. Others who’ve tried to escape have been executed. And ISIL’s reign of brutality and extortion continues to repel local populations and help fuel the refugee crisis. “So many people are migrating,” said one Syrian refugee. ISIL, she said, will “end up all alone.”
All this said, we recognize that progress needs to keep coming faster. No one knows that more than the countless Syrians and Iraqis living every day under ISIL’s terror, as well as the families in San Bernardino and Paris and elsewhere who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Just as the United States is doing more in this fight — just as our allies France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Australia and Italy are doing more — so must others.
And that’s why I’ve asked Secretary Carter to go to the Middle East — he’ll depart right after this press briefing — to work with our coalition partners on securing more military contributions to this fight.On the diplomatic front, Secretary Kerry will be in Russia tomorrow as we continue to work, as part of the Vienna process, to end the Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, here at home, the Department of Homeland Security is updating its alert system to help the American people stay vigilant and safe.
And as always, our extraordinary men and women in uniform continue to put their lives on the line — in this campaign and around the world — to keep the rest of us safe. This holiday season, many of our troops are once again far from their families. And as your Commander-in-Chief, on behalf of the American people, we want to say thank you. We are grateful, and we are proud for everything that you do. Because of you, the America that we know and love and cherish is leading the world in this fight. Because of you, I am confident that we are going to prevail.
It would be a travesty if the Republicans cash in the fear they are sowing over the Paris terror attack for a ticket to the white House, in the way the Bush/Cheney Administration milked Americans’ fear after 9/11, a terror attack that incompetence made so much worse. And yet, despite their incompetence, they rode to reelection in 2004.
Brian Lehrer on NPR remarked that Jeb Bush seems to be using the Paris attacks “to claw his way back into relevance.”
On the Monday after the terror attack, AOL broadcast the headline that 72% of Americans are fearful. Well what would you expect with nonstop reports about terrorism? It’s exactly what ISIL wanted – just as Osama bin Lad3n was thrilled beyond imagination at the reaction after 9/11. In essence, thanks to Bush/Cheney reaction, 19 terrorists brought down a nation, because they let it happen.
Already, several Republican candidates have basically called for closing borders – Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say they would only admit Christians – effectively putting a religious test in violation of the Constitution. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Congress would withhold any funding to relocate Syrian refugees. And 27 (all but one) Republican Governors are refusing to allow any resettlement in their states, again, against the Constitution – basically a redux of what they said about the children fleeing Central American violence. It is absurd to hear the Alabama Governor justifying this stance by saying that his first priority is to keep his citizens safe, when Alabama promotes wanton gun violence, a state which ranks 4th in the nation for the highest number of incidents of and where one Alabaman is killed every 11 hours.
A doctor in a hospital in Paris talked about receiving 27 of the gunshot victims that night when the ER normally gets one. One a day? he was asked. “No, one a year. We’re not like America.”
Republicans are seizing on the fact that a passport attributed to a Syrian who came through Greece with the tens of thousands of refugees in October was left at one of the terror sites. But isn’t it interesting that this is the only terrorist found with an ID? How much logic does it take to realize that it likely was purposefully left – and very probably not the passport of the attacker at all – but was left because ISIL wants Europe and the US to cut off any safe haven for the millions that are fleeing their own terror. They want a population to terrorize. They want Muslims to be marginalized in their communities, to be able to tap the disaffected to their “cause.”
Donald Trump says he would shut down mosques. And, oh yes, points out that France has some of the strongest gun control laws. You might wonder if a President Trump, faced with terror attacks in Paris, would launch attacks against Muslims here. As for the “tough guy” pose as being all it takes to stop all the bad things in the world, Putin certainly strikes the strongman pose, and yet ISIS took down a Russian airliner. His solution? Bomb them to oblivion.
Obama answered “the broader issue of my critics… when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.
“But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”
Does anyone else see the tragic irony that the terrorism is against tolerance, the terrorists can’t stand a society that is open, diverse in ethnicity, religion and thought, but Republicans want to dispatch intolerance with intolerance?
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” President Obama said at a press conference after the G20 in Turkey. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both….
“When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion…
“And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.”
Every society is vulnerable to a terrorist determined to kill himself – but societal institutions should not be.
On the other hand, there is nothing stopping homegrown terrorism, and not just the jihadi kind. White racists have been responsible for more acts of terror here in the homeland than self-proclaimed jihadis. Look at the attacks on Planned Parenthood centers and black churches just in the last few months.
While the Republicans don’t actually offer any constructive proposals, they are really, really obsessively upset over semantics that President Obama does not brand the entirety of Muslims as terrorists- that’s about 1 billion people around the world, including whole nations that we need as our allies in defeating ISIL such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon. Obama, instead, uses terms like “violent extremists” as the enemy.
But these violent extremists no more embody Islam than Nazis embodied Christianity. These are sociopathic thugs – gangsters – who use terror and violence in order to secure power and control. It is a 21st century Facsist regime more similar to 20th century Nazi Germany. The new recruits might be swayed by propagandist ideology and even the idealism in toppling Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad – but they are being used and when some who came to fight for what they thought was a just cause want to leave, they are summarily killed.
Hindsight is 20/20. It’s so easy to say Obama should have been more aggressive in Syria early on (give weapons to so-called moderates who turned out to be ISIL?) but at that point, the opposition was saying Assad was only weeks away from being deposed. Then, when Assad crossed the “red line” using chemical weapons against his own people, Congress failed to give Obama authorization for military strikes inside Syria (Russia stepped up and got Assad to agree to get rid of chemical weapons, without Obama needing to fire a shot). Even now, Republicans are great at hurling accusations of ‘fecklessness” and “weakness” but the real coward is a Congress that refuses to debate a new Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) agreement. And I’m sure even the Bush/Cheney neocons never imagined that after almost a decade and billions of dollars and 4000 American lives, that the Iraqi soldiers would not just cut and run, but would hand over their weapons and territory to ISIL.
For his part, Obama faced a choice – without a crystal ball, he sided with the less deadly option. ISIL changed, and even now has changed its strategy from just torturing and tormenting and terrorizing people within the Middle East, to exporting terrorism internationally – downing the Russian airliner at Sharm el Sheik, the bombings in Izmir, in Beirut and now Paris, all in short order – and Obama is adapting to the changes – essentially intensifying all the levers that can be brought to bear, including bombing, strengthening border controls, sharing more intelligence, and stepping up efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. “And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology,” Obama said.
Obama, in a press conference in Turkey after the G20 summit, sounded just the right tone, and also took on the critics who charge that his “strategy” lacked focus, that he underestimated the Islamic State.
“The strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.
“And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those….
“This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.
“And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”
In fact, the single-minded focus on the Paris attacks (while ignoring other terror attacks that took place in Beirut, Izmir, Kenya), seemed to swallow up the news of an attack that killed the Jihadi John, who executed James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as France’s attacks on ISIL oil distribution. Meanwhile, even France’s stepped up bombing of ISIL as retribution for the Paris attacks does not equal the 8000 bombing attacks by US planes.
But Obama added that no matter to what extent ISIL is destroyed, that there are still going to be the risks of individuals flowing into civil societies exacting mayhem on soft targets.
“There has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.
“But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.
“Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris…
“We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.
“These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.
“Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.”
But the defeat of ISIS cannot be accomplished by the US alone and as Secretary of State John Kerry noted, a coalition did not even exist a year ago, a political partnership (involving Russia and Iran) did not even exist a month ago, and now Kerry is pointing to the possibility of a cease-fire in Syria in a matter of months, and there seems to be growing acceptance of the reality that Assad has to go, and there has to be a political transition. Solving the Assad problem would rob ISIS of a key motivator to its recruitment.
“The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding,” President Obama said. “With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward – negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.”
Ever the realist, Obama added, “These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.
“What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition [Obama has mobilized 65 nations], is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.”