A month after announcing that the United States would conduct air strikes against ISIS in Iraq (and two weeks after he famously declared, “We don’t have a strategy yet”), President Obama made a televised speech on Wednesday night in which he laid out a four-point plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terrorist group. It involves air strikes in Syria and sending an additional 475 U.S. troops to Iraq, but the president stressed, “These American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”
Obama started the speech by quickly reintroducing ISIS (he uses the name ISIL, and criticized their preferred name, “Islamic State”):
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 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.
The president added that they’re “unique in their brutality,” having raped, enslaved, and slaughtered many people in Iraq and Syria, as well as beheading American journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff. He acknowledged that they are currently only terrorizing the Middle East, but said the threat could expand to the United States if left unchecked. “While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies,” he said.
The United States has conducted 150 successful air strikes against ISIS, and now that there is a new Iraqi government in place, Obama said America is ready to “lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.” First, air strikes may be expanded into Syria, and there will be greater coordination with the Iraqi government, “so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.”
The second tactic involves sending more American service members to the region, but only to “support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence, and equipment.” The president also asked Congress to authorize additional support for the Syrian opposition.
Third, the U.S. will use its “substantial counterterrorism capabilities” to cut off funding for ISIS and prevent more foreigners from joining the group. Obama will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to rally the international community. Finally, the U.S. will continue providing humanitarian assistance to civilians displaced by ISIS.
The rest of the speech veered from the topic of ISIS, discussing how the U.S. has bounced back from the attack on September 11 and the 2008 financial crisis. However, as he did in his previous speech on ISIS, Obama concluded with a dramatic quote from one of the Yazidi people who were trapped on Mount Sinjar: “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,” the president said. “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.”