July 17, 2024
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In Rare Oval Office Address, Obama Warns of Terrorism Succeeding

“We cannot turn against each other by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” Obama said.

Washington—Terrorism has evolved since the events on September 11 into a less complex form of killing innocents, US President Barack Obama said on Sunday night in an address to the American people, warning that successful lone-wolf attacks could tear at the country’s historic commitment to tolerance and equality.

The speech, short on new policy proposals, did include a call on Congress to pass legislation that would prevent those on the country’s no-fly list from buying guns. He also asked for a new assault weapons ban, noting that a new brand of terrorism relies on inspiring homegrown recruits who can easily acquire military arms.

“What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?” Obama said. “This is a matter of national security.”

“We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino,” he continued. “I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies – no matter how effective they are – cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do – and must do – is make it harder for them to kill.”

Republicans have condemned the president for linking national security with the issue of gun control, and argue that the White House seeks to take advantage of crisis and fear to push unrelated legislation. But the president says that this new kind of extremism, stoked on social media, forces the country to restrict access to the deadly weapons.

Half of the president’s remarks were devoted to his fear that successful attacks could erode the character of the nation, as Republican presidential candidates debate whether to single out the Muslim American community for surveillance and ban all refugees from Muslim nations.

“We cannot turn against each other by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” the president said.

Standing at a lectern set up in the Oval Office – a first for a primetime address to the nation, only his third speech from the room and his first since the end of US combat operations in Iraq in 2010 – Obama began his speech updating the country on an attack in San Bernardino, California, that took the lives of 14 people at a disability clinic. The perpetrators of the attack pledged support for the terror group Islamic State on social media.

They walked down “the dark path of radicalization,” Obama said. But he noted there is no evidence the attack was orchestrated overseas.

Nevertheless, “they had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition and pipe bombs,” he added.

A White House official said the president was backing up his speech with action. The president seeks to deny Islamic State any safe havens, Obama said in the speech, noting the increased tempo of US-led coalition airstrikes against targets in Syria and Iraq.

“As we intensify our counter-ISIL [Islamic State] military efforts, we are also pressing forward on a reinvigorated political track in Syria,” the official noted. “On November 14, participants in the International Support Group on Syria, including Russia and Iran, announced a path towards a Syrian-led political transition process.”

While the president rarely uses the term “war on terror” – a phrase coined by former President George W. Bush after the attacks in 2011 – Obama said on Sunday night that the US has been “at war with terrorists since Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11.”

“I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history,” the president said. “We were founded upon a belief in human dignity – that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.”

“Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional,” he continued. “Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges – whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks – by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people. So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.”

Obama has also asked Homeland Security and the State Department to review how the visa program for fiances of US citizens is operated, according to a White House official.

Tashfeen Malik, one of the perpetrators of last week’s attack, was born in Pakistan and lived in Saudi Arabia. She moved to the US having met her husband and terror partner-to-be, Chicago-born Syed Rizwan Farook, on a dating site.

By Michael Wilner/Jerusalem Post

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