For only third time during his two terms in office, President Obama delivered a live televised address from the Oval Office on Sunday night devoted to what is often called "national security" following announcements from U.S. law enforcement they are treating a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California last week as a possible example of "international terrorism."
"The Obama administration’s credibility gap won’t be closed. Indeed, it will widen into a chasm, with Official Washington sitting on one side and the vast majority of humanity on the other."
The White House speech was carried live on national television at 8:00 PM ET and also streamed online.
In his remarks, Obama explained how he intends to defeat the self-described "Islamic State" (ISIS or ISIL) by expanding overseas military operations in both Iraq and Syria, but also don't Americans they should not succumb to the politics of fear that has become the mainstay of the nation's politcial right and the Republican Party.
"I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure," Obama said. "Well, here’s what I want you to know: The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it."
Watch the speech:
In a White House briefing, what the U.S.-led effort to "counter" ISIL "looks like" was articulated with the following points:
- Since November 17, Coalition airstrikes destroyed 283 ISIL oil tanker trucks, 120 ISIL oil storage tanks, and a significant amount of oil field infrastructure in eastern Syria.
- On November 17, Canada announced it would increase its trainers in northern Iraq.
- On December 2, the United States announced that, in full coordination and consultation with the Government of Iraq, it plans to deploy an Expeditionary Targeting Force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish partners, including by launching raids against ISIL targets, gathering intelligence, and capturing ISIL leadership.
- On December 3, the United Kingdom began striking ISIL targets in Syria.
- On December 4, the German Parliament approved plans to commit up to 1,200 troops to the counter ISIL fight, including potentially deploying surveillance and tanker aircraft.
- Italy announced plans to increase its presence in Iraq to 750 trainers.
- France deployed aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the eastern Mediterranean to intensify strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria, particularly around al-Raqqah.
Earlier, in an interview with Meet The Press on Sunday morning, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that even though the investigation has yet to turn up any hard proof that either Tafsheen Malik or Syed Rizwan Farook, the husband and wife couple who killed fourteen people in California, had any connection to the so-called "Islamic State" or that they were "part of a larger group, or a cell, or were planning anything else," the president still wanted to speak to the nation in the wake of the massacre.
"I would caution people not try and define either of these two individuals right now," Lynch said. "This investigation, if it hasn't already been stated, is a marathon, not a sprint."
Much of the reporting ahead of Obama's speech focused on how the president would likely urge Americans to "not give in to fear," which is how Lynch characterized what she knew about his intentions.
Offering perspective ahead of the speech in an article posted earlier on Sunday, veteran journalist Robert Parry explored whether or not, given the vast incoherence of the president's narrative on a variety of issues, whether or not Obama—and the national security establishment writ large—retains any credibility when it comes to consoling the American people, not to mention the world, on foreign policy, the Middle East, or the increasingly flimsy phrase "international terrorism."
Though he will more than likely be disappointed, Parry said he has long wished that President Obama would use a televised address such as tonight's to "simply level with the American people" about the numerous and real policy failures the U.S. government has continued to pursue over the last fifteen years or more. In part, Parry wrote:
To the degree that the U.S. government had misled the American people, the President could fess up. He could explain how he and other government officials were seduced by the siren song of the propagandists who promised to line up public opinion behind a policy with no muss or fuss. He could admit that such manipulation of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government is simply wrong.
Obama could explain that he now realizes that elitism in the pursuit of the people’s subservience is incompatible with the principles of a Republic in which the citizens are the sovereigns of the nation. He could ask our forgiveness and recommit himself to the government transparency that he promised during the 2008 election. (While at it, he could pardon and apologize to the whistleblowers whom he has prosecuted and imprisoned.)
Having reestablished a foundation of trust – and repudiating the past decades of deception – he could explain what has to be done in Syria. Most significantly he could demand that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries helping ISIS and Al Qaeda shut down that assistance immediately or face severe financial and other consequences, “allies” or not.
Then, he could promise that – after reasonable stability is restored to Syria – the people of Syria would be allowed to decide who they want as their leaders. Right now, the key obstacle to a new power-sharing government in Syria is the West’s insistence that Assad can’t compete in future democratic elections. Yet, if President Obama is so sure that most Syrians hate Assad, nothing could demonstrate that better than Assad’s resounding defeat at the polls. Why avoid that?
But it’s become painfully obvious that Obama does not have it in him to give that speech or take such actions. It would require defying Official Washington’s neocon-dominated insider community and “allies,” such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. To appease those forces, he will continue to play word games and to spin propaganda narratives. He is too much of an elitist to inform and empower the American people.
Thus, the Obama administration’s credibility gap won’t be closed. Indeed, it will widen into a chasm, with Official Washington sitting on one side and the vast majority of humanity on the other. The undeserving winners will include the terrorists of ISIS and Al Qaeda. There will be many losers who deserve better.