President Obama held a press briefing, updating the nation on the threat posed to us by the Islamic State. He said that first and foremost, our minds are with those who have suffered unbearable loss and grief in the wake of the Orlando attack on Sunday.
He reiterated that the victims are not alone. The American people, our allies, and friends all over the world stand with them. FBI Director James Comey updated the president on the terror investigation, saying that there is no credible evidence that a foreign terrorist organization ordered this attack, but repeated the point that the shooter was radicalized through the Internet.
He noted that ISIS has called for attacks against the United States and our allies. During the attack, the Orlando killer declared allegiance to ISIS. Obama said that his administration is doing everything it can to prevent future attacks against the homeland, but added that we’re sobered by the fact that despite the hard work of law enforcement—this could occur.
President Obama reaffirmed that our mission is to destroy ISIS. This is a difficult fight, but we’re making progress. He noted that we’ve deployed additional personnel, including Special Forces units in Syria. More advisers have been sent to Iraq to assist government forces in their fight to drive ISIS from the country. Also, more assets, like attack helicopters have been sent out into the field as well.
The president also said that B-52 bombers are hitting ISIS; targets are being identified (and being hit more quickly), and we’ve conducted over 13,000 airstrikes against ISIS forces.
He said this campaign is firing on all cylinders, with the Islamic State losing key leaders. This has added pressure on the terrorist organization, as they’ve lost 120 key military advisers and commanders.
Obama added that ISIS has continued to lose ground in Iraq, as government forces have liberated various cities in their push north along the Tigris River. As of now, they’ve lost half of the populated territory in Iraq—and ISIS’ Syrian footholds have been losing ground as well. Local forces are reportedly tightening the noose around the neck of ISIS’ capital, al-Raqqah.
He was adamant that ISIS was on the defensive, it’s been over a year since ISIS has been able to launch a successful offensive operation; they’ve been frozen from the international financial system thanks to Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew; and they’re losing millions of dollars of a month as their access to oil is cut off. ISIS cash reserves are down, they’re resorting more to extorting those who are still within their occupied territories, and some ISIS officials have been caught stealing gold and cash. Obama pointed out that it only further proves that they’re only a bunch of thugs and thieves.
ISIS’ ranks are shrinking, and their morale is low. Thanks to international efforts, the flow of foreign fighters has plummeted to its lowest levels in two-and-a-half years.
Obama added that we need to help stabilize local communities to prevent ISIS’ influence from returning. In Syria, a cessation of hostilities has commenced, which has allowed some lifesaving aid to be distributed to besieged civilians, though he added that the Assad regime is the main culprit in violating that agreement. He plans on maintaining the course of finding a political solution to the civil war. In Libya, forces of the Libyan Unity government are going after ISIS in the city of Sirte. The point on this part of the briefing was clear: if you target America, or our allies, you’ll never be safe—and ISIS is on the defensive
President Obama then went off the rails, where he used the briefing on ISIS and the Orlando attack to press Congress to confirm Adam J. Szubin – Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, Department of the Treasury, whose nomination has been held up for 420 days.
He also said that we should ban assault weapons if we really wanted to help law enforcement stop homegrown extremists from attacking. He said that we should ban people on the secretive and due process-lacking no-fly lists from buying firearms, stripping their Second Amendment rights based on mere suspicion.
Obama acknowledged that we cannot prevent every tragedy, but there are common sense steps we can take to to reduce gun violence and other terror-inspired attacks who use so-called “weapons of war.”
The president said it was time to quit the political talk relating to being tough on terrorism—be tough on terrorism. Oh, and reinstate the assault weapons ban, make it harder for these terrorist to get weapons that can kill us because if it’s harder they won’t attack us, or something.
Turning to Trump and the Republicans, Obama visibly angry, hit them for criticizing his administration (Obama included) for not uttering the phrase “radical Islam” when dealing with this threat. He asked what would change if he had said it? Is there a military strategy that’s served by this? The answer is nothing would’ve changed, and no—no strategy is served by using the phrase when discussing the threat of terrorism, according to the president.
He said calling a threat by a different name doesn’t make it go away—this is a political distraction. The president noted that not once did a military adviser say we need to call it radical Islam to execute this strategy successfully.
We know who the enemy is, declared the president, as do our intelligence community, law enforcement, and the military.
Obama stressed that there’s no magic to the phrase radical Islam, despite what politicians, who tweet and appear on cable news shows, may think.
The president also said that how he addresses this threat has nothing to do with political correctness. Up until this point, most of these labels were grounded in the typical game of political partisanship. Now, this type of talk could prevent us from doing our job of protecting the American people, with Obama adding that “yapping hasn’t prevented” terrorism.
He also said that we’re starting to see where this kind of rhetoric can lead us, citing the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from emigrating to the country.
Obama said that we hear language that singles out whole groups of people. When does this stop? He asked. This won’t make us more safe, but less. We don’t have religious tests here.
In a throwback to history, Obama said that we have acted out in fear, and we’ve come to regret it. If we allow Trumpism to win this November, and institute the policies he wants, we would betray the very things we strive to protect, the very things that make us exceptional.
Obama closed by vowing that he will not let that happen.