National Security & Defense

Obama Insists ISIS Is Contained

President Obama speaks to reporters at the G20 summit in Turkey, November 16, 2015. (

President Obama is standing by his Friday morning statement that “we have contained” ISIS in the wake of the group’s deadly attacks in Paris.

“Part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that [ISIS] developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits,” Obama told reporters at the G20 summit in Turkey on Monday. “So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria — in fact, they control less territory than they did last year.”

The president couldn’t shake a series of questions about whether he has underestimated ISIS, as was bound to happen given the confidence he projected just hours before the Paris attack. But he insisted on the wisdom of his strategy, while conceding the difficulty of thwarting particular attacks.

Obama argued that preventing territorial gains would eventually diminish the number of terrorist threats. “The more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations,” he said. “That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then over time will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris.”

Such a long game has come under fire from almost all quarters, though. French president Francois Hollande, speaking at the same time as Obama, reportedly told a joint session of the French Parliament that “we need to destroy ISIS, not just contain it.” Former CIA director Michael Morell was more direct in criticizing Obama’s strategy. “I think it’s now crystal clear to us that our strategy, our policy vis-à-vis ISIS is not working and it’s time to look at something else,” Morell told CBS on Sunday.

#share#CIA director John Brennan also warned of future attacks. “I do hope that this is going to be a wake-up call,” he told reporters Monday morning. “This is not the only operation that [ISIS] has in the pipeline.”

Obama noted that the United States enjoys geographical advantages and has more counter-terrorism experience than France in recent years, but allowed that Brennan may be right. “If you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people,” he said.

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.


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