In a rare address from his Oval office, President Barack Obama pledged to overcome the threat of terrorism by destroying ISIS with a relentless, strong and smart campaign that is consistent with American values.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” Obama said Sunday night in a prime-time address four days after a Pakistani origin couple shot dead 14 people and wounded 21 others in San Bernardino, California to leave Americans unnerved.
“We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as he urged Congress to take action on several fronts.
At the same time, he asked Americans not to turn against Muslim friends and neighbours and turn the conflict with ISIS into a war against Islam.
It was only the third time that Obama was addressing the nation from his office in the White House to reflecting the gravity of the situation.
He last spoke from the Oval office in August 2010 to discuss the end of US combat operations in Iraq and a few months earlier on June 15 to talk about the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The San Bernardino attacks were perpetrated by Syed Farook, 28, who was born in Chicago to Pakistani parents and raised in Southern California and Tashfeen Malik, his Pakistani wife who had pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIS online.
Taking note of the fact that Malik had came to the US in 2014 on a fiancee visa, Obama said he had “ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa programme under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country.”
Urging “high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice,” he said: “We constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done.”
He said that so far, there was no indication that the attack was directed by a terrorist organization overseas or that they were part of a larger conspiracy at home.
“But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalisation, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West,” he said. “This was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.”
Obama said the terror threat has evolved since the days of the 9/11 attacks, but did not announce major changes to his plans to fight ISIS.
He outlined a four-pronged strategy: hunt down terrorist leaders in every country where they are; provide training and equipment to Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIS on the ground; stop ISIS operations, financing and recruiting; and establish a ceasefire and political resolution to the Syrian civil war.
“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. Instead we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing on every aspect of American power,” he said.
Finally, focusing on what the country would not do, Obama reiterated a pledge to avoid a “long and costly ground war” in Iraq or Syria and implored Americans not to turn on all Muslims.
He called it the “responsibility of all Americans of every faith to reject discrimination,” religious tests for entrance to the country or proposals to treat Muslim Americans differently.