In a televised speech from the Oval Office, President Obama tried to reassure Americans that he was properly handling terrorism and national security in the wake of the attacks in Paris and California.
This is the third televised major Oval Office speech delivered by the president, as he has struggled in recent weeks to respond appropriately to the attacks in Paris after being distracted with several days of overseas travel to promote his Trans-Pacific Trade Deal and what he described as an historic climate change summit in Paris.
Obama’s speech, however, did not include any new steps to defeat radical Islamic extremism, but focused on what Americans should not do in response to the unavoidable resurgent fear of terrorism under his leadership.
“We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria,” he said, arguing that it would fulfill the wishes of terrorists overseas.
“We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” he said. “That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.”
He insisted that the Islamic State “does not speak for Islam” and were a “cult of Death” who were only a “tiny fraction” of Muslims around the world.
He also hinted that his Republican critics were being counterproductive in his struggle, arguing for a “smart” reaction instead of “tough talk.”
“Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for,” he said. “Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”
The president tried to reset his response to the attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 Americans, admitting that it was an act of terrorism by radicalized Muslims.
“This was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people,” he admitted. He included the Fort Hood shooting and the attacks on a military recruiting center in Chattanooga as part of the new wave of terrorist acts, after spending many years resisting that label.
He also demanded more gun control in the wake of the attack in California, inexplicably arguing that since law enforcement officials could never stop every threat, it was more important to have more gun control on powerful weapons.
“We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons, like the ones that were used in San Bernardino,” he said. “What we can do, and must do, is make it harder for them to kill.”
He described the Islamic State terrorists as “thugs and killers” but admitted that they had become “a threat to us all” and that he would continue to work to destroy their presence in the region.
After the speech, Obama traveled to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for a gala honoring celebrities—reversing his decision to cancel his appearance there.