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During a rare talk from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama on Sunday discussed the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., the broader threat of terrorism, and how his administration is keeping the nation safe.
It was the president’s toughest talk yet about the threat of terrorism in America. And came after concerns that the husband and wife shooters in San Bernardino were directed by a terrorist organization overseas to slaughter Americans last week at a holiday party.
The president said there was no evidence that the couple was part of a broader conspiracy in the U.S., or part of a terror cell.
“But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West,” he said. “They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs. So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people.”
Here are six takeaways from the president’s talk:
The U.S. has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11: We’ve hardened our defenses, from airports to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe. Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas — disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership.
The terrorist threat has evolved: As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino. And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.
The U.S. military can destroy ISIL without a ground war: Our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary. In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, and infrastructure. And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign, which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.
We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield. ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq. But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.
ISIS does not speak for Islam: That is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world — including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.
ISIS cannot be ignored by the U.S. or Muslims: This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.
Discrimination is not the answer: Just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.
In closing, the president noted that freedom is more powerful than fear, saying the nation has always met challenges, whether “war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks.”
“I have no doubt America will prevail,” he said.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty