President Obama Once Again Ratchets Up the Rhetoric Against Islamic State

<> on November 24, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty

In a joint press conference held Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande, President Obama adopted the kind of bellicose language he mocked just a week before. It was the latest shift in a long series of reappraisals by the President which began nearly two years ago when he referred to ISIS as the “JV team.”

Speaking Tuesday at the White House, President Obama said, “This barbaric terrorist group–ISIS or Daesh–and its murderous ideology pose a serious threat to all of us. It cannot be tolerated. It must be destroyed.”

That’s the kind of bellicose language the President seemed to be ridiculing last week during a curiously cool press conference in Antalya, Turkey.  Asked to respond to Republican critics who suggested he was not taking the fight to ISIS, Obama snapped, “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.”

The President’s statement Tuesday is a clear ratcheting up of his rhetoric, something the President has already done several times over the past two years.  In early 2014, President Obama referred to ISIS as the “JV team” during an interview with The New Yorker. Those comments were untenable at the time and looked even more so a few months later. In August of last year, a White House spokesman tried to walk them back, claiming the remarks were not specifically about ISIS. However, fact-checkers, led by the Washington Post, said that claim was clearly false.

The remarks Tuesday are also a step up from the way the President described ISIS in a major address last September. At the time, the President announced his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. While the President made clear he no longer saw ISIS as the JV team, he also suggested it was not an imminent threat beyond the Middle East. “So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities,” the President said, adding, “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.”

The President’s efforts to combat ISIS have met with mixed success. A program to train and equip soldiers to fight ISIS was widely judged a failure earlier this year. In congressional testimony, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East admitted the mission intended to train more than 5,000 new anti-ISIS fighters had only about four or five fighters to show for the effort.

The current bombing campaign, which also began last year, has been judged insufficient by numerous military experts, including several of whom are friendly to the Obama White House. Just last week, former CIA Director Mike Morell told Politico, “This strategy, this policy, is not achieving its aims.”


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