President Obama might have been slow to come up with a strategy for defeating ISIS but he seems to have been much more resolute in his choice of metaphor for describing the enemy.
After James Foley was murdered, Obama said, “there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread.” A few days later he said: “Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.” Again, last night he said: “it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.”
I can see several reasons why Obama finds this cancer metaphor appealing.
Firstly, it avoids the language of George Bush fighting a war of good against evil — a war whose only acceptable conclusion is victory.
Secondly, it implies that there is likely to only be qualified success since cancer has a tendency to reappear.
Thirdly, it implies that “treatment” is likely to be prolonged or perhaps continue indefinitely, just as there is no certain cure for cancer.
Obama’s political goal appears to be to secure support for an open-ended relatively low-key military operation that will be of such little concern to most Americans that it can continue for years without any real accountability.
Even though Obama insists that ISIS must be destroyed, nearly everything he has said indicates his goal is containment.
Here’s most of his speech with a few observations of my own thrown in:
My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.
[Ultimately = long after Obama’s have left office]
As commander in chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al-Qaida’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.
[You can’t really defeat terrorism but you can collect trophies.]
Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. And that’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the Islamic State.
Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.
[Actually, as everyone already knows at this point, ISIS does have a vision: establishing a caliphate. It slaughters those who stand in the way of its vision.]
In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. And in acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.
[Acts of barbarism? ISIS only became barbaric when it started killing white people?]
So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria and the broader Middle East, including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners, including Europeans and some Americans, have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.
[They could return home, but they’re more likely to get killed in Iraq or Syria. Commentators like retired Marine four-star Gen. John Allen who said, “World War III is at hand,” need to calm down.]
I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. Last month I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then we’ve conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have also helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. That’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days.
So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.
[To all those who criticized Obama for lacking a strategy, he’s proud to say he now has one: it is a comprehensive and sustained strategy. It will need to be sustained because there is no end in sight.]
First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
[The option of conducting airstrikes in Syria is on the table, but it sounds like ISIS will have to cross a red line before that happens. It sounds like the U.S. will first have to determine that ISIS poses an imminent threat and not just a potential threat to the United States.]
Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work and Iraq has formed a government, we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission. We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up national guard units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.
[National guard units — that means Sons of Iraq (Abnāʼ al-ʻIrāq) 2.0 — but the new “inclusive” government will have to do a lot to boost its credibility before that happens.]
Across the border in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress, again, to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.
[We will support the Syrian opposition in their fight against ISIS, but as for supporting them in their fight against Assad, not so much. We can arm the opposition to fight ISIS because ISIS doesn’t have an air force, but for the opposition to fight Assad, they need antiaircraft missiles and America’s loyalty to Israel means we can’t give them these arms. As Obama implied, this is a war with no end in sight.]
Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding, improve our intelligence, strengthen our defenses, counter its warped ideology, and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.
Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who’ve been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.
So this is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners. Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq, sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition, sharing intelligence and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity, and in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria to drive these terrorists from their lands. This is American leadership at its best: We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.
[“We stand with people who fight for their own freedom,” or to be more precise, we stand around watching people fight for their own freedom without getting too involved — just ask the Syrians, Palestinians, Bahrainis, and Egyptians.]
My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.
Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved, especially to the servicemen and -women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partners’ forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years, and it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.
[Remember, ISIS is like cancer — we expect to fight it for decades without finding a cure.]
The rest of the speech is just filler, celebrating America’s divine origins and destiny.