As we prepare to intensify our struggle with a prospective threat, it is important to acknowledge the very present threat of drought and fire, flooding, and plague. There is, though, only so much time in any day.
So here is an extended excerpt from the President’s speech to the women and men at MacDill Air Force Base. (About noon on Wednesday.) Per our recent discussions — and today’s third post below — the President makes no reference to fighting evil in these remarks.
Because of you, this 9/11 Generation of heroes has done everything asked of you, and met every mission tasked to you. We are doing what we set out to do. Because of you, Osama bin Laden is no more. Because of you, the core al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been decimated. Because of you, Afghans are reclaiming their communities; Afghan forces have taken the lead for their country’s security. In three months, because of you, our combat mission will be over in Afghanistan, and our war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end. That’s because of you.
You and our counterterrorism professionals have prevented terrorist attacks. You’ve saved American lives. You’ve made our homeland more secure. But we’ve always known that the end of the war in Afghanistan didn’t mean the end of threats or challenges to America…
In a world where technology provides a small group of killers with the ability to do terrible harm, it is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists –- including the group in Syria and Iraq known as ISIL. Our intelligence community, as I said last week, has not yet detected specific plots from these terrorists against America. But its leaders have repeatedly threatened America and our allies. And right now, these terrorists pose a threat to the people of Iraq, the people of Syria, the broader Middle East — including our personnel, our embassies, our consulates, our facilities there. And if left unchecked, they could pose a growing threat to the United States.
So, last month, I gave the order for our military to begin taking targeted action against ISIL. And since then, our brave pilot and crews –- with your help -– have conducted more than 160 airstrikes against these terrorists. Because of your efforts, we’ve been able to protect our personnel and our facilities, and kill ISIL fighters, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. They’ve helped our partners on the ground break ISIL sieges, helped rescue civilians cornered on a mountain, helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children. That’s what you’ve done.
Now going forward, as I announced last week, we’re going to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy. And whether in Iraq or in Syria, these terrorists will learn the same thing that the leaders of al Qaeda already know: We mean what we say; our reach is long; if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. We will find you eventually.
But — and this is something I want to emphasize — this is not and will not be America’s fight alone. One of the things we’ve learned over this last decade is, America can make a decisive difference, but I want to be clear: The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission. They will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists.
As your Commander-in-Chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our Armed Forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq. After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures. And that’s the only solution that will succeed over the long term.
We’ll use our air power. We will train and equip our partners. We will advise them and we will assist them. We will lead a broad coalition of countries who have a stake in this fight. Because this is not simply America versus ISIL — this is the people of the region fighting against ISIL. It is the world rejecting the brutality of ISIL in favor of a better future for our children, and our children’s children — all of them.
But we’re not going to do this alone. And the one thing we have learned is, is that when we do things alone and the countries — the people of those countries aren’t doing it for themselves, as soon as we leave we start getting into the same problems.
So we’ve got to do things differently. This is why we’ve spent the past several weeks building a coalition to aid in these efforts. And because we’re leading in the right way, more nations are joining us. Overall, more than 40 countries so far have offered assistance to the broad campaign against ISIL. Some nations will assist from the air — and already France and the United Kingdom are flying with us over Iraq, with others committed to join this effort.
Some nations will help us support the forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. And already Saudi Arabia has agreed to host our efforts to train and equip Syrian opposition forces. Australia and Canada will send military advisors to Iraq. German paratroopers will offer training. Other nations have helped resupply arms and equipment to forces in Iraq, including the Kurdish Pershmerga.
Arab nations have agreed to strengthen their support for Iraq’s new government and to do their part in all the aspects of the fight against ISIL. And our partners will help to cut off ISIL funding, and gather intelligence, and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.
And meanwhile, nearly 30 nations have helped us with humanitarian relief to help innocent civilians who’ve been driven from their homes — whether they are Sunni, or Shia, or Christian, or Yazidi, or any other religious minority. MORE
Depending on how the issue is framed or the question is asked, the Administration is describing a range of possible contingencies. When I read the words above and very similar words going back to West Point in May or even the 2013 National Defense University speech, I hear a consistent strategy being described by the President. A shortened — politically stupid — version might be something like:
There are several small groups of very bad folks out and about. Because of modern mobility and technology these small groups can have outsized impact. They almost certainly do not represent an existential threat to the United States, but they are brutal killers. They are already doing horrific things where they currently operate. We need to disrupt and degrade — if we can, destroy — their violent potential before they have a substantial ability to target us. To do this with any long-term effectiveness we’ve got to mobilize the communities that are already suffering to defend themselves and go after these killers. We can help and others can help in a variety of ways. But whether we’re talking about Iraq or Syria or Yemen or Libya or Afghanistan or Somalia or Mali or plenty of other places, meaningful security for us and for them will only emerge when people in the immediate neighborhood are vigilant, courageous, consistently engaged and have realistic capabilities to advance their long-term self-interest. Our self-interest is advanced by advancing the self-interest of those already suffering at the hands of ISIL and other violent extremists.
This is framed as an international counterterrorism strategy. I perceive that essentially the same argument can be made for domestic counterterrorism and other aspects of homeland security. Key elements: Community-based, regionally engaged, collaborative, and whenever possible preventive or preemptive. We can debate whether or not this is wise strategy, but it strikes me as a prima-facie reasonable strategy that is worth a more serious listen than it seems to be receiving.
We have — perhaps, I have — become distracted by issues of labels and tone and style as opposed to examining the action being taken and proposed.