Obama Confirms That the Fight Against ISIS Will Go On for a While

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Obama after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon Thursday.Photo: Mark Wilson

President Obama celebrated his 55th birthday by getting together with the National Security Council to discuss the fight against the Islamic State.

The meeting was followed by a press conference at the Pentagon, where he recounted the United States–led military campaign’s recent progress in recapturing territory from ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He also noted that the militants have “not had a major successful offensive operation” in either of those countries in a year. “Even ISIL’s leaders know that they’re going to keep losing, and their message to followers that they’re increasingly acknowledging is that they may lose Mosul and Raqqa. And ISIL is right, they will lose them,” Obama said. “And we’ll keep hitting them and pushing them back and driving them out until they do. In other words, ISIL turns out not to be invincible, they are, in fact, inevitably going to be defeated.”

Sounds good! Except, as Obama pointed out, defeating ISIS on the ground won’t eliminate the danger it poses to the rest of the world: “So long as their twisted ideology persists and drives people to violence … the international community will continue to be at risk in getting sucked into a global whack-a-mole where we’re always reacting to the latest threat or the lone actor.”

“What ISIL has figured out is if they can convince a handful of people or even one person to carry out an attack on a subway, or a parade, or some other public venue, and kill scores of people, instead of thousands of people, it still creates the kind of fear and concern that elevates their profile,” he said. He went on to warn against portraying the fight against ISIS as “a clash of civilizations between the West and Islamic world,” which would will only assist terrorists in their efforts to encourage people to carry out attacks on their behalf.

Obama also managed to get in some digs at Donald Trump’s fitness for handling similarly complicated matters, should he become president. Of Trump’s (apparently false) claim to have seen a “top secret” video as part of the classified security briefings he’s now eligible to receive, Obama said that if presidential nominees “want to be president, they have got to start acting like a president and that means being able to receive these briefings and not spread them around.” Asked whether he felt that Trump was capable of handling the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal, Obama replied, “I would ask all of you to make your own judgment.”