December 6, 2015 (Washington D.C.)--In a speech today at the Oval Office, President Barack Obama denounced the San Bernardino massacre that killed 14 people and wounded 21 more as an "act of terrorism." He denounced the “dark path of radicalization” that the husband and wife shooters to embrace a “perverted” form of Islam that calls for war on America and the west.”
The President pledged to “destroy ISIL” and protect the homeland. He also called on Congress to take several actions.
"If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists," Obama said. "I think it's time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united and committed to this fight.”
Last week, President Obama announced plans to send up to 200 special forces to Syria to address the growing terrorism threat posed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. But Obama made clear today that he continues to oppose “a long and costly ground war” in Syria.
Declaring “We are at war,” on December 1st, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter indicated the goal is for special forces to "conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.”
Mark Arabo, President of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, called the increase in special forces “a welcome move by the Obama Administration as it seeks to stabilize the region through an increase in special operations in Iraq and Syria. But it has come at a time too late, as thousands of refugee families have fled their homes due to the ISIS expansion.”
Arabo criticized the nation’s “indecisiveness in the region” that he blames for causing “countless deaths of many religious minorities. But while he said he supports greater military action, he agreed with the president’s assessment that ” a full scale boots on the ground approach does not seem viable. Our first and top priority should be providing protection and processing for those that need it most - religious minorities.”
In his White House address today, President Obama also urged Congress to pass legislation banning suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from buying guns (action that Republicans blocked one day after the San Bernardino massacre) and reduce accessibility of assault weapons
In addition, Obama called for enhanced screenings for visa waiver entrants, such as a provision that allowed Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani woman, to enter the U.S. and marry Syed Farook, a Chicago-born Muslim. Malik pledged allegiance to ISIL on Facebook the day that she and her husband committed the San Bernadino killings and may have radicalized Farook.
The White House has taken some steps to strengthen security of the visa waiver program, which allows people from 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without first obtaining a visa. The administration announced last week that it will evaluate whether potential travelers in the program have traveled to countries deemed terrorist safe havens.
The President said his terror strategy includes hunting down terrorists overseas, training and providing equipment to Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIS on the ground, halting ISIS financing, operations and recruitment, and establishing a ceasefire and political solution to the Syrian civil war that has left the country fragmented and dangerous.
He emphasized that success will depend not on “tough talk or abandoning our values or giving into fear,” adding that’s what ISIL hopes to see happen. "Instead we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing on every aspect of American power," he said.
He urged Americans of every faith to reject discrimination and to enlist Muslim communities as allies in the fight against ISIL, which he called a “culture of death.”
Recognizing that an “extremist ideology ahs spread within some Muslim communities,” the President added, “That is a real problem that some Muslims must confront without excuse.”
But he noted that the majority of ISIL victims around the world are Muslim, and that our armed forces include Muslim “men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.”