After weeks of media criticism, the president reached the right note during his Tuesday press conference with FranceaEUR( tm) s Hollande.
President Obama has detected his voice on the Paris attacks, indicating the strength of resolve that the American people longed to hear from him in the escalating combat against the terrorist group known variously as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh.
It took a week of being battered in the media for Obama to overcome his resistance to overstate the murderer power. But on Tuesday he ultimately declared with a measure of emotion that the terrorists are a scourge that threatens all of us, that it wasnt only an attack on one of the great cities but an attack on the world, and to vow, Make no mistake, we will win and groups like ISIL will lose.
Obama may have regained his rhetorical footing on the Paris attacks, making up some ground lost over the past week in terms of his leadership here at home .
Obama was standing with visiting French President Franois Hollande in a show of solidarity at the White House when he told those terms. Hollande had come to Washington with a wish list of ways the two friends could ramp up the fight against ISIL. Judging from their comments, and their hugs, they were in agreement both on what could be donemore airstrikes, more intelligence sharing, including airline passenger listsand what they would not do, which is put ground troops into the conflict in Syria.
No boots on the ground has long been Obamas position, and Hollande told when asked immediately by a French reporter, France will not intervene militarily on the ground. It is for the local forces-out to do so.
In words of what diplomats call deliverables, the two presidents didnt appear to settle anything that couldnt have been done at the staff level. But the optics said it all. Hollande was shuttling between countries to generate support and forge a new coalition with Russia to combat ISIS. He fulfils with President Putin in Moscow on Thursday, a session induced most urgent by the news early Tuesday that Turkish jets had shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.
Obama said his top priority is to keep the incident from escalating, and that he would be talking to Turkish President Erdogan. He didnt say he would be calling Putin, a noticeable omission especially given the increased military role that Russia is playing in Syria, and Russias importance in any diplomatic settlement. Obama may have regained his rhetorical footing on the Paris attacks, making up some ground lost over the past week in terms of his leadership here at home. But his approach to Russia is a work in progress, or Hollande wouldnt be running interference.
Obama compared the coalition of 65 countries pushing back against ISIL for more than a year and led by the United States to what Putin has assembled. Russia right now is a coalition of two, Iran and Russia, supporting[ Syrian dictator Bashar al-] Assad, Obama told. He then named the diverse countries aligned with the United States, which include France and the NATO friends, some Arab countries, Australia and countries in Southeast Asia.
Russias the outlier, he told. While that is true numerically, unless and until Russia shifts away from backing Assad, and focuses on ISIL, the stalemate in Syria will continue. Asked if there was a date by when Assad must leave, both presidents demurred.
Russias support for Assad has long been the sticking point in reaching a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war. Obamas approach has been mainly to isolate Putin when appealing to his desire to restore Russian splendour might yield better outcomes. Obama presented no give on Assad, and neither did Hollande. Theyre gambling that their unified front combined with recent events could get Putin to switch course.
There is a potential convergence of interests between the parties, Obama told , noting that Russia has had several hundred of their own people killed by ISIL, and the flow of foreign fighters from Russia and its former republics into Syria pose a significant terrorist menace to the Russian homeland.
If the downing of the civilian Russian jet by a bomb planted by ISIL wasnt enough to get Putin to focus on ISIL, perhaps the brush with Turkeys fighter jets will persuade him. The fact that the Russian warplane was in disputed airspace is an example of what Obama called the problems of having the Russian military targeting opposition forces-out supported by the United States instead of ISIL.
Obama used the platform of seeming with Americas oldest ally to speak directly to the American people, and to assure them that the governments anti-terrorism apparatus is running full tilt around the clock, and that refugees who enter the country are heavily scrutinized. Nobody who sets foot in America goes through more security than refugees, he told. He commended Hollande for welcoming to France an additional 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.
Obama changed his tone markedly on security threats ISIS poses to the world, but he is making no changes in his strategy. He travels next week to Paris for a global climate conference with the heads of state from virtually 200 countries. What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children, he said.
Obama vigorously defended his strategy to combat ISIL, said he had ordered their own nationals security review before the Paris attacks, and that what is working in Syria and Iraq will be scaled up.
He recognise the fears of the American people about admitting refugees, but told, We cannot and we will not succumb to fear. Nor can we allow fear to divide usfor thats how terrorists win. Were vigilant. We take precautions, but we go about our business. Its a hard line, and one running contrary to public opinion on the matter. And right now, thats all to Obamas credit.
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