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Obama’s Oval Office Address

What I liked about President Obama’s remarks: He put the San Bernardino killings in the context of the terrorists’ ongoing war against us. He even mentioned the Ft. Hood massacre as part of that war. He correctly noted that the war does not pit us against Islam or most Muslims but that it does put us at odds with a radical strain within the Muslim world. And the argument about guns was kept brief. The speech could have been much worse in many of these respects.

What I disliked: While I agreed that we should avoid anti-Muslim bigotry, he dwelt on that theme to the point of exaggerating how much of it Americans have shown. He was demagogic on what he called, misleadingly, the “no fly list,” suggesting that there is no argument for letting suspected terrorists buy guns. In truth, the terrorist-watch list that congressional Democrats want to use to restrict gun rights is much broader than the no-fly list; there is no due process for the people on it; and the people on it are in no serious sense “suspected terrorists,” and the administration has no plans to treat them as such for purposes beyond restricting gun rights. Finally, allegedly being “on the right side of history” is not a good argument, or any argument at all, for a particular anti-terrorist strategy.

And one very minor (and nonpartisan) point: It may be a bit peevish of me, but when the president said that we would prevail by being “strong and smart, resilient and relentless,” I thought, “We’re going to beat them with alliteration?”

Update: Here’s the fourth and last component of the strategy Obama outlined:

Fourth, with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process and timeline to pursue cease-fires and a political resolution to the Syrian war.

Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country, including our allies, but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL, a group that threatens us all.

This is our strategy to destroy ISIL. . . .

The point of this speech was to reassure Americans that we know what we’re doing when it comes to fighting the Islamic State and terrorism. I do not think I am caricaturing the above remarks as attempting to inspire confidence in his strategy because 1) we now have a “process and timeline” 2) to reach a “political resolution to the Syrian war” which will 3) then bring the world together against the Islamic State. I am not saying that there is an obvious path forward for us in Syria, but I don’t see why anyone would gain confidence from hearing this. History may be on our side without being on the side of this strategy. 

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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