U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande held a joint press conference at the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 24, to reinforce their dedication to eradicating ISIS while maintaining the common values America and France share, values of freedom for all, including religious freedom and equality.
Obama spoke first. He pushed the theme of the Nov. 13 Paris terrorists targeting not military or political leaders, but ordinary people who had gathered to sing, to eat, to compete. The terrorists, Obama said, “focused on the very spirit of France, and by extension, all liberal democracies. It was an attack against the world itself.”
While most of the talk was about true love and loyalty between the two nations and increased and enhanced intelligence sharing and continued commitment to destroying ISIS, a few newsworthy nuggets were uttered.
The very first question asked by a reporter was about the overnight shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by the Turks, and the impact that will have on the coalition fighting ISIS.
Both presidents said they were still in the fact collection stage and both emphasized the necessity that the incident not be permitted to escalate.
However, President Obama in particular took this opportunity, and several others, to softly chastise Russia. He said, “this reflects the ongoing problem with the Russian operations” in Syria. Instead of targeting ISIS with their airstrikes, the Russians have been concentrating on hitting the “moderate opposition.”
“Russia is welcome to be a part of this coalition,” Obama said, but it must make the “strategic shift,” which Obama said he’s been stressing to Putin for five years already, “from propping up the Assad regime” to helping to take out ISIS.
Hollande repeatedly referred to Friday’s United Nations Security Resolution 2249, pointing out that there is a unified position, which is that “strikes must be against Daesh (ISIS), against terrorism,” that all the nations must coordinate and cooperate against ISIS. That resolution calls ISIS an “unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and calls on all member states to take all necessary measures to help defeat it.
Some of the reporters took the heads of states to task, asking why, given the leaders’ statements for more than a year that “Assad must go,” they’ve welcomed Russia into the coalition, which seems inconsistent with that goal.
French President Francois Hollande at the White House, Nov. 24, 2015.
Hollande refused to give a specific expiration date for Assad’s leadership, saying only that it “must be as soon as possible.”
Hollande claimed that “there is a new mindset now.” He said it was because not only has the crisis continued for four years and left more than 300,000 people dead, but it is no longer contained within the region, and has begun spilling over into Europe and the rest of the world.
So what will France and the U.S. and the coalition partners do that is different, now?
They will not be sending in ground troops, Hollande said, but instead will be “intensifying strikes, with more specific targets.” They will “focus on cutting off Daesh resources, taking out their command and training centers, reducing the flow of foreign fighters, targeting the hearts of the cities where Daesh is,” and helping to ensure the local forces on the ground are able to complete the tasks of destroying ISIS.
Hollande again invoked Friday’s Security Council resolution, which he said was “evidence that the entire world is committed to fighting against Daesh, that is the one single goal, to fight against terrorism and to defeat Daesh.”
“Assad cannot be the future of Syria, there must be a transition from Assad” Hollande said, “he’s the problem, he cannot be the solution.”
U.S. President Barack Obama. Nov. 24, 2015.
Obama also looked to the future, beyond the elimination of ISIS, and talked about what would be needed to put Syria back together. “It will be a long process to put it back together, create stability, rebuild lives,” Obama said, “but it’s possible.”
Circling back to Russia, Obama pointed out that the coalition fighting ISIS is made up of 65 countries, whereas “Russian and Iran are in a coalition of two.” Right now, Obama said, “Russia is the outlier” in supporting Assad.
But with all the discussion of eradicating ISIS and ensuring that the flow of terrorist fighters be cut off, both leaders re-committed themselves to inviting in refugees from the Middle East, and not betraying our central values.
Obama said that “America is strengthened by people of every faith and background.” He said “we must not succumb to fear or allow it to divide us,” while repeating the claim that “nobody goes through more intense checks than refugees,” as if that is a reassuringly high standard.
Finally, Obama will be going to Paris on Monday, along with 150 other heads of state, for the Climate Change Conference. Hollande said “Paris has never before hosted so many leaders.” He sees this meeting as a symbol to the terrorists that they will not disrupt the plans and lives of civilized people. He also said it shows that the strength of the shared value of “life.”
Hollande said the world leaders would be gathering in Paris to take a symbolic stand against radical terrorism and also to show they are working to prepare for the future.
In the more than one hour press conference devoted to a global response to the barbarous terrorist global-caliphate-seeking ISIS, the words Islam and Muslim were not uttered.
“Viva la France and God bless America,” were Obama’s final words.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus