Before I even get to Obama’s speech, a word about nomenclature. Most Americans refer to an organization called “ISIS” (“Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”). Obama refers to an organization called “ISIL” (“Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”). The latter encompasses more territory, so Obama is actually being more accurate about the group’s geographic aspirations. I, however, will in future refer to the group as the “Islamic State” which, as Obama himself acknowledges, is the group’s own preferred label. To the extent Obama made a weak declaration of half-hearted war, it seems to me that it’s much easier to wage war against a self-declared state than against a disparate bunch individuals diffused throughout myriad civilian population.
And now to the speech, which I’ll simply annotate:
My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.
[As I said above, to the extent the Islamic State describes itself as a nation in control of defined territories, let's do the same. It makes for a better target.]
As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.
[I understand Obama's need to preface his speech with puffery and boasting. He's got to establish his bona fides. However, I don't see the American people finding any of this reassuring. They've never perceived either Somalia or Yemen as direct threats to America, and they understand that knocking out a person or two in those places over the course of a few years has been ineffective in stemming the continued growth of Islamic terrorism. After all, if Obama's pinprick tactics worked, Islamic radicalism wouldn't be resurgent all over the world. Indeed, one could say that, rather than wiping out Islamic radicalism, Obama's tactics merely maddened it, in much the same way that a picador's non-deadly spear-work serves to madden a bull for the fight.]
Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. And that’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the “Islamic State.”
[All true truisms.]
Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.
[Wow! Where in the Constitution did Obama get the power to define what does and does not constitute a religion, or to tell a faith's most fervent practitioners that they're doing it wrong? You all have commented here, as have others around the blogosphere, that these so-called "radicals" are actually practicing Islam as written, as Mohamed practiced it, and as self-identified Muslims practiced it for hundreds of years. The religion is all about "the killing of innocents":
The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called 'hypocrites' and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.
Unlike nearly all of the Old Testament verses of violence, the verses of violence in the Quran are mostly open-ended, meaning that they are not restrained by the historical context of the surrounding text. They are part of the eternal, unchanging word of Allah, and just as relevant or subjective as anything else in the Quran.
Go to this link to find all the instructions to violence against the innocent -- instructions that Imam Obama claims do not exist.
Muslims took a hiatus from practicing Islam as written only when they were finally stopped at the Gates of Vienna by a Europe grown increasingly wealthy, stable, and Enlightened. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as the West has destroyed its own wealth, damaged it's stability, traded gold for Arab oil, and retreated from a world-view that acknowledged both the exceptionalism of Judeo-Christian culture and the benefits of Americanism, that hiatus has ended.
What Obama should have done was to have simply identified the Islamic State as a self-declared enemy of America, of Christians, of Israel, and of peace and stability in the world -- all of which are true statements -- and gone on from there. He weakened everything else he said by trying to be President Imam offering an exposition about the nature of true Islam.]
In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. And in acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.
[Correct. I would have preferred, though, a little more outrage about the fact that two Americans were slaughtered in the most brutal way possible to send a message to our country. When Obama included Foley and Sotloff in his speech, he didn't make it sound like the culmination to a series of outrages. The way he slipped them in there, they sound like an "oh, and don't let me forget" afterthought.]
So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our Intelligence Community believes that thousands of foreigners -– including Europeans and some Americans –- have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.
[Correct and it needed to be said, so I'm glad Obama said it. Now let's see what Obama plans to do about it.]
I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then, we’ve conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have also helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
[Once again, Obama's not going to war. Once again, he's just a picador. So far, what he's done has been neat, clinical, and somewhat helpful, but it's long-term efficacy is dubious. Also, does the last sentence -- about lives saved -- remind you of anything? It reminds me of the administration's utterly unprovable claim that the stimulus "saved or created" thousands of jobs. In fact, we've lost jobs and lost workers on Obama's watch, the stimulus notwithstanding. More of this picador stuff, and those lives "saved" may be lost in the long-term regardless.]
But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. And that’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.
[Mr. President, are you listening to yourself? First you destabilize Iraq and then you insist on a stable Iraq before you'll extend any help to fight a enemy that (a) your administration says is like nothing we've seen before and (b) that poses an imminent threat to our own well-being thanks in significant part to your decision to destroy the American border. Yeah, that's going to go well.]
Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.
[Why did he have to say "degrade" first? Doesn't someone issuing a battle cry just say "destroy"? Why do I think this war will end with a few high profile bombings, an announcement that the degradation is complete, and yet another wave bye-bye to Iraq?]
First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
[I have a notoriously bad memory, but doesn't this sound precisely like "Shock and Awe"? That ended with the troops hanging a "Mission Accomplished" banner on a ship for George Bush's visit, creating an image that haunts him to this day. What ultimately subdued the enemy in Iraq was old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground fighting. It seems to me that we're just going down a path we know in advance will fail. (Which may explain why the military offered different advice which Obama, the politician, ignored.]
Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.
[See above comment, including the link to Obama ignoring the military's advice.]
Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.
[As others have commented, this is the same Syrian opposition that Obama's ignored for three years. Not to mention the fact that it's entirely possible that Obama was using Libya to arm the opposition to the opposition -- and the ones he may have armed went on to form the Islamic State. It's all very confusing, and I'm not sure Obama is the chess master he thinks he is, one who's capable of handling this game. Having said this, when it comes to Syria, I'm not sure there's much else Obama can do.]
Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.
[All good . . . except for that bit about the UN. If Obama thinks the UN will help, maybe there's still time for me to sell him a nice bridge too.]
Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.
[I like the sentiment, but I doubt Obama will have any success preserving these Christian and religious minority lives and homelands unless Obama has a nice big stick he's carrying to back up his promises. So far, I see him pursuing a strategy that failed once before, making demands upon a country he abandoned once before, insisting on aid from Muslim states that have concluded he's a weak horse, and looking to the weakest reed of all for help -- the UN.]
So this is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners. Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity. And in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria, to drive these terrorists from their lands. This is American leadership at its best: We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.
[Wouldn't you feel better if Obama could name a single partner in this broad coalition? Turkey's already said no, as has our once-upon-a-time partner, England. As for the Muslim states, they like strong horses and leaders they can trust. Obama fails on both counts. Why in the world should they help him, then, against a fellow Muslim force, no matter how malignant it might be? The above paragraph sounds like a wish-list, not a plan.]
My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL, but I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.
[He has bipartisan support? Really? Again, this is a wish-list, not plan. It's clear that Americans, including American politicians, are concerned about the Islamic State, but it's unclear to me that there's strong support for any single approach. Conservatives, having learned the Iraq lesson, know that pinpoint strikes won't work. Libertarians are divided between isolationism and Rand Paul's sudden hawkishness. Democrats have a peace party going on, as usual (I saw some of them already protesting at the old-age home in Mill Valley). The only thing that Congress seems to agree about is the fact that, if this is war, Congress should have a say in it, rather than Obama going it alone, again.]
Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved –- especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.
[See all my points above. This is Obama's delicate way of saying "shock and awe" combined with a little of this and a little of this . . . none of which will inspire any shock and awe in a crazed religio-military force that likes to drink its victims' blood for breakfast.]
My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks six years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks, through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back, America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.
Our technology companies and universities are unmatched. Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day –- and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.
[Blah, blah, blah.]
Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America –- our scientists, our doctors, our know-how –- that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future.
[The first sentence was true in January 2009. It is no longer true. No one trusts Obama. Everything else is blah, blah.]
America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia, from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East, we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding.
[Wow! That sounds like American exceptionalism talk. Except we know that Obama doesn't think America's any more exceptional than any other nation. Let's say I'm not buying this new, full-throated patriotism. Combined with his defense of Islam, his plan to repeat George Bush's mistake, and his failure/inability to name any coalition partners, let's say that I'm not convinced he's really feeling it.]
Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform –- pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and servicemembers who support our partners on the ground.
[Is it just me, or does he sound as awkward as a rapper trying to make a formal speech to the DAR? The rest is blah, blah.]
When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said: “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”
That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for –- timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.
May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.