On Tuesday afternoon President Obama briefed the nation about the battle with ISIS after having met with his National Security Council. At the tail end of his talk he brought up four major issues perplexing Americans today and offered his strong views on all four issues. The President’s messages focused on the values of the United States. He touched upon (1) the need to reinstate the assault weapons ban (2) The reason he won’t call ISIS “radical Islamists,” (3) Calling ISIS “radical Islamists” defeats extremism, and (4) the need to stop singling out immigrants and Muslims.
I believe the President’s values are what America is all about but that his approach is wrong on all four accounts, let me explain why.
In his first point the President spoke about the need to reinstate the assault weapons ban, “We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents. There are common-sense steps that could reduce gun violence. Reinstate the assault weapons ban. Make it harder for terrorists to use these weapons to kill us.”
The President’s logic was spelled out in a joint statement by Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, “While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.” While the ban would limit the number of accessible weapons available to would be terrorists, it is important to note that in banning them we are limiting the freedom of Americans to arm themselves, something the President emphasized his objection to later in his remarks, and that terrorists are very good at improvising. Here in Israel, a country with strict gun laws, terrorists have used makeshift explosives, stabbed victims and in a shooting last week in Tel Aviv, used handmade guns. Banning assault weapons might limit the available means to a terrorist, but it will not stop a committed person from carrying out an attack.
In his second point the President explained why he won’t use the term, “radical Islamists.” President Obama said, “They tell us — we can’t beat ISIL unless we call them ‘radical Islamists.’ What exactly would using this label accomplish? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. If someone seriously thinks that we don’t know who we’re fighting, if there’s anyone out there who thinks we’re confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we’ve taken off the battlefield.”
In this statement the President demonstrates a fundamental error in his approach to fighting radical Muslims. The President confuses the ISIS terrorist on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria with the American homegrown ISIS terrorist attacking the United States. I agree with the President that there is no military strategy served by terms used.
ISIS is adept at more than battlefield fighting; they have become experts at radicalizing Muslims throughout the world through the internet. Internet recruiting is a battle of values, between radical Islamic love of death and destruction and the Western value of life and liberty. To attract people to Western values and not lose them to radical Islamic love of death, we need to create a culture that denigrates radical Islam, and promotes Western liberty. The first step to succeed is to demonize radical Islam, and that’s why it is important to use the term. Only by calling radical Islam the evil that it is will susceptible moderate Muslims be discouraged from radicalizing messages.
The President’s third point was defeating extremism requires omitting the phrase radical Islam. “The reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness,” the President explained, “and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion — then we’re doing the terrorists’ work for them.”
Calling terrorists radical Muslims doesn’t give the terrorists a win or imply that we’re at war with an entire religion. The job of a President is to communicate our values and the position of a country. The President has a strong communication team and the resources to counter any message terrorists might use to distort our values. Our values don’t contradict moderate Islam’s, and therefore calling out radical Islam for what it is will only advance America’s safety and security.
The President’s last message addressed Donald Trump’s ideas on immigration and safety, “We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests that entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop? Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith?”
The President brings up legitimate concerns about how far we want to limit our freedoms in favor of safety? America’s value of freedom is a paramount and it seems counter-intuitive to think that we’d be the same America if we gave up our freedoms. There is an obvious middle ground between President Obama and Mr. Trump’s ideas. It is an efficient secure system that ensures that radical Islamists don’t enter our country. America is creative enough to figure out how to create that system; we merely need to challenge ourselves to figure it out.
America is great because of its values. It is the President’s responsibility to both keep Americans safe and uphold its values. I think the President’s approach doesn’t fulfill his responsibilities and I hope he’ll reconsider his positions.