U.S. President Barack Obama had everyone’s attention with the major world leaders and international journalists attending the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey on Monday, Nov. 16.
In the wake of Friday’s Paris massacres carried out by ISIS and its supporters which led to hundreds dead and wounded civilians, it is not an exaggeration to say that people were anticipating a statement of strength and resolve from a man in the position which has long been considered the leader of the free world.
That is not the message they heard from Obama.
Instead, Obama appeared to be digging in his heels, refusing to consider that he may have misjudged ISIS and may have pursued the wrong strategy thus far with the growing barbaric and now global threat to civilization, ISIS.
Obama bridled at the reporters who asked variations of the same questions: did you underestimate ISIS? are you going to change your strategy, given ISIS has grown in size and capability in the year since he committed to fighting them? do you now agree that ISIS is not ‘contained?’
“That’s the same question I’ve already answered three times,” Obama said. He insisted that the strategy the U.S. is pursuing is “the right one,” and that he would not just announce a new strategy that makes for a good headline. He referred to the Paris massacre as a “setback.”
Obama responded to the query whether he knew that ISIS had the capability to carry out an attack like the one in Paris: “We have been fully aware of their potential to carry out a full military attack,” he said, but he continued to dig in, not only insisting his strategy is the right one, but also continuing to downplay the enormity of the threat.
The U.S. Commander in Chief described ISIS as “a handful of people” with “not wildly sophisticated weapons,” ones “who don’t care if they die.” That, he claimed, is what makes it very difficult to defeat them.
One reporter dared to ask the President whether the president thought he “understand[s] this enemy well enough to defeat them?”
The U.S. President was terse, he was indignant and he was dismissive of the journalists for not being satisfied with his answers. What people did not see or hear was an anger directed at the global enemy. When Obama said the nations are united to “defeat this enemy, ISIL,” his tone sounded more like he was reading a shopping list or a weather report than a conviction to overcome the barbarians.
The President finally did find his footing when he launched into his familiar trope of Muslims being the largest number of victims. “The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim.”
Obama made the point, once again, that it is “wrong to equate ISIL with Islam,” it is “wrong to consider ISIL a Muslim problem instead of a terrorist problem.”
He admitted that “the most vicious terrorist groups at the moment claim to be speaking for true Muslims,” but countered that by pointing to leaders of the Muslim majority countries like Erdogan in Turkey, and the leadership of Malaysia and Indonesia, who are “tolerant and work to be inclusive of all their people.” Really? Ask the non-Muslim majorities in those countries how well they are treated.
But this time Obama was willing to concede that it is important for “Muslims around the world to ask very serious questions about how these ideologies have taken root and built up over time” just as it is important for non-Muslims not to stereotype Muslims.” He claimed that “there have been times when there has not been enough pushback against extremist thoughts or rationales for why Muslims feel marginalized.”
Lori Lowenthal Marcus