Just weeks after the shooting in San Bernardino, President Obama is seeking to downplay the reach and impact of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), saying America’s strength is “not threatened” by the extremist group.
“This is not an organization that can destroy the United States,” Mr. Obama told NPR in an interview released Monday. “This is not a huge industrial power that can pose great risks to us institutionally or in a systematic way.”
The president was quick to add: “They can hurt us, and they can hurt our people and our families. And so I understand why people are worried.”
“They’ve shown in Paris what they can do in an organized fashion, and in San Bernardino what we’ve seen is their ability to proselytize for their perverted brand of Islam and spur small-scale terrorist attacks,” Mr. Obama said. “And those are very difficult to detect, so it is going to be important for us to be vigilant.”
But the president remains “confident” that the U.S. will prevail over the terror group at home and abroad: “We are pounding ISIL’s core structure in Syria and Iraq. We have put together a coalition that is increasingly effective. We have seen ISIL lose about 40 percent of its populated territory in the region.”
“The most damage they can do, though, is if they start changing how we live and what our values are,” he continued. If Americans “remember who we are and make sure that our resilience, our values, and our unity are maintained,” the president pledged that “ISIL will be defeated.”
Mr. Obama also sought to reassure Americans by comparing the United States’ ability to combat ISIS to the action taken against al-Qaeda after the September 11 attacks.
“In the same way that al-Qaeda was able to carry out one spectacular attack, we ended up making some significant changes to harden homeland defenses,” Mr. Obama said. “It then took a while for us to ultimately snuff out core al-Qaeda in the FATA [Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas]. And there are still lingering remnants, but at no point was there ever a sense that in fact it could do catastrophic damage to us.”