Our airwaves have been filled lately with calls for war crimes from the likes of Donald Trump and hate-filed screeds against Muslims as Republican candidates for president try to one-up each other on how tough they can sound about dealing with terrorists. Following the shootings in San Bernardino, that has only escalated.
Meanwhile, the American public hasn’t been privy to much of a reasoned discussion of what we can (and can’t) do about ISIL and the threat of terrorism. That is why President Obama chose to give a speech on the topic last night. It was a reminder that yes, we are fighting ISIL by:
1. Launching airstrikes against ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure.
2. Training and providing equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground.
3. Gathering and sharing intelligence to stop ISIL operations.
4. Pursuing a political resolution to the Syrian civil war.
But perhaps even more importantly, President Obama articulated what we shouldn’t do when it comes to dealing with terrorism. First of all, “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.” Not only that, it wouldn’t work – as we saw in Iraq.
But secondly, he took on the fear-mongering against Muslims directly.
We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want…
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…
Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges – whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks – by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people. So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.
For those who were willing to listen, President Obama was basically cutting through all the noise to remind the American people of our better selves. In this season of campaign promises where candidates are expected to outline how THEY can do better, he might be the one person who is best positioned to do that.