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Obama’s Big ISIS Speech Was A Big Nothing

Obama Oval Office Podium

Last night, for only the third time since he took office, President Obama delivered a speech from the Oval Office largely prompted by both the terrorist attack and what is now seemingly confirmed to the have been an attack inspired by ISIS in San Bernardino, California that was, well, rather underwhelming given both the venue for the speech and the hype that had preceded it:

WASHINGTON — President Obama sought on Sunday to calm jittery Americans after the terrorist attack last week in California, delivering a prime-time address designed to underscore the government’s campaign against an evolving threat.

Speaking from a lectern in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama acknowledged the heightened fears that followed an attack by a married couple last week in San Bernardino, Calif., which he called an act of terrorism that appeared to be inspired, but not directed, by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“It is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik. “So this was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.”

Mr. Obama promised an intensification of airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and said that a growing coalition of nations and an increasingly sophisticated effort to capture and kill the group’s leaders would yield significant results.

But the president’s speech was not intended to announce a dramatic shift in strategy or new policies to combat the terrorist threat at home and overseas. Instead it was meant to inform Americans of the administration’s efforts against the Islamic State and to urge people not to give in to fear or language that casts suspicion on all Muslims and mosques.

“We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse.”

It was only the third speech Mr. Obama has delivered from the Oval Office, a setting meant to highlight the gravity of a subject.

Mr. Obama’s demeanor was serious but not grim or angry as he outlined a series of steps at home aimed at keeping the country safe.

He called for tougher screening of travelers who come to the United States without visas and asked Congress to ban gun sales to people on the government’s no-fly list, and for limits on assault weapons.

“I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures,” Mr. Obama said. “But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill.”

The rampage last week, which killed 14 people, was the first time that terrorists inspired by the Islamic State have successfully struck in the United States. It came shortly after the Paris attacks; assaults in Beirut, Lebanon; and the takedown of a Russian airliner over Egypt, all attributed to elements of the Islamic State.

“And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure,” Mr. Obama said

He added, “The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.”

(…)

“It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.”

Mr. Obama also repeated his insistence that he would not send large numbers of ground troops to the Middle East.

“We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s what groups like ISIL want.” He added: “But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.”

For what initially seemed like it was being billed as a major speech about American policy toward ISIS in general and the threat of terrorist attacks in the American homeland specifically, President Obama’s speech seems to me to have fallen completely flat. For one thing, the imagery was somewhat odd to say the least. Ordinarily, when one thinks of a speech from the Oval Office, one envisions the President sitting at the Resolute Desk, with the background of either the scenary outside the Oval Office or the manner in which that President has chosen to decorate the area behind his desk. In this, we get the President standing in front of a podium that was oddly placed in front of the Resolute Desk for some reason that I still don’t quite understand. There is an obvious power given to an address to the nation that is given from the Oval Office. Countless numbers of Presidents who have been in office during the television era including Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and all of those who have followed have used that venue well. For reasons that we may not learn until the biographies of those who worked for him have been written, Barack Obama has used the venue sparingly, and this time he used it in a very odd way for a speech that, well, didn’t say very much. And perhaps that explains everything.

Beyond the imagery,  there wasn’t much about the President’s speech that we haven’t heard before, nor was there any indication of  a change in policy regarding either the military action against ISIS or domestic anti-terror policy. We heard the same platitudes about how we are fighting ISIS on the battlefields in Syria and Iraq, the same arguments about the lack of evidence that there are active ISIS operations inside the United States, and the same reassurances that we’ve heard from the government before. Even assuming all of that is true, and I tend to believe that it is, in the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino It strikes me that President Obama’s attempts at reassurance are more likely to fall on deaf ears than they are to create confidence that the Federal Government is actively engaged in addressing threatening situations.

George Condon at National Journal is especially critical of the speech:

It was a speech that had to be giv­en and prob­ably should have been giv­en days earli­er, rather than let the fear and doubts grow. Most Amer­ic­ans—and the in­vest­ig­at­ors—had con­cluded by Fri­day that the San Bern­ardino blood­bath was an act of ter­ror done by two ter­ror­ists who plot­ted to strike in the middle of a hol­i­day party. But they needed to hear this from the com­mand­er in chief and they needed to hear how he was go­ing to give them a sense of se­cur­ity as they go about their hol­i­day fest­iv­it­ies and oth­er nor­mal daily routines.

A seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told re­port­ers Sunday that it was Fri­day when Obama de­cided he needed to speak. “We re­cog­nized that there are very real and le­git­im­ate fears in the United States and around the world about the nature of this ter­ror­ist threat,” said the of­fi­cial, adding, “Giv­en those fears and giv­en peoples’ con­cerns about this threat, and giv­en the San Bern­ardino at­tack, the pres­id­ent made a de­term­in­a­tion at the end of the work week on Fri­day that he would go out and ad­dress broadly the threat that we are fa­cing and provide the Amer­ic­an people with a clear sense of how we need to deal with this threat as a coun­try.”

(…)

Earli­er in the day, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton, the lead­ing Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial con­tender, told George Stephan­o­poulos on ABC’s This Week that she hoped the pres­id­ent would lay out “an in­tens­i­fic­a­tion of the ex­ist­ing strategy.” That turned out to be ac­cur­ate. Clin­ton also ad­ded pres­sure be­fore the speech, flatly de­clar­ing, “We’re not win­ning.”

It was Obama’s job to counter that, to de­clare that vic­tory will come someday. He ac­know­ledged that “many Amer­ic­ans are ask­ing wheth­er we are con­fron­ted by a can­cer that has no im­me­di­ate cure.” His re­sponse was one of the best mo­ments of the speech. In­stead of his usu­al rhet­or­ic about “de­grad­ing” the en­emy, the pres­id­ent stated firmly, “The threat from ter­ror­ism is real, but we will over­come it. We will des­troy ISIL and any oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tion that tries to harm us.”

His low point may have come when he in­sisted on veer­ing in­to gun con­trol. If the point of the speech was to unite the coun­try and bring an anxious na­tion to­geth­er, bring­ing up one of the most di­vis­ive do­mest­ic polit­ic­al is­sues is not a great way to do that—par­tic­u­larly when the ad­min­is­tra­tion has struggled to ex­plain how the usu­al items on their gun agenda such as gun-show re­stric­tions and bet­ter back­ground checks would have made any dif­fer­ence in San Bern­ardino.

Condon’s last point is, perhaps, the most perceptive, and the best indication of just how badly thought out and ill-timed the President’s speech was. Ordinarily, a prime time Presidential speech is an event where something important happens, whether it is the recognition of a national tragedy such as President Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster, or President Obama’s speech when he announced that Osama bin Laden was dead. Last night’s speech was, well, nothing really. It was quite obviously a White House effort to address the criticism that the Administration was being subjected to in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks. The fact that it was being delivered from the Oval Office suggested that we would be getting an annnoucement of national importance. Instead, we got a restatement of existing policy along with language that could have been delivered ina a speech from the Rose Garden on Monday morning, or the Press Room on Monday afternoon.

For anyone looking for substance when it comes to American policy toward ISIS, then, last night’s Oval Office address was, to borrow the words of a great writer, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    He should have taken a page from the Republican play book and just fear-mongered the fwck out of that speech. Scared everyone to death for no reason. Then talk about ripping apart the Constitution to inter Muslims, and track them all.
    Then perhaps your ODS would have been satisfied.
    Obama an idiot. Right.

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  2. Tony W says:

    last nght’s [sic] Oval Office address was, to borrow the words of a great writer, a tale told by an idiot

    Seriously? Normally you at least show respect for the office of the president.

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  3. C. Clavin says:

    This seems about right to me…smart…hardly the words of an idiot….

    It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values, plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.
    Muslim-Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes. And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.
    We were founded upon a belief in human dignity that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law. Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future presidents must take to keep our country safe.
    Let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear. That we have always met challenges, whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks, by coming together around our common ideals as one nation and one people.
    We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.

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  4. Mark Ivey says:

    “He should have taken a page from the Republican play book and just fear-mongered the fwck out of that speech.”

    AND IN CAPS!

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  5. Modulo Myself says:

    But they needed to hear this from the com­mand­er in chief and they needed to hear how he was go­ing to give them a sense of se­cur­ity as they go about their hol­i­day fest­iv­it­ies and oth­er nor­mal daily routines.

    Who actually needs to hear this? TV-stricken retirees, maybe, and the class of aging well-off Dads who have ‘ideas’ how to fix this problem. But nobody else.

    Praise Allah for Obama recognizing this, and recognizing as well the fact that we’re already fighting ‘terror’ plus ISIS/ISIL/DAESH so there’s no need for the spectacle to satisfy the rubes. In addition, regardless of the polling that shows the average Americans aren’t too comfortable with the Muslims in America, he’s siding with the people who are pretty eager to avoid making the choices average Americans tend to make.

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  6. Mikey says:

    I didn’t think it was a bad speech at all. Parts of it were excellent. But I have to agree bringing gun control into it wasn’t very good. As the guy at National Journal said, when trying to unite the nation you shouldn’t bring up what’s probably the single most divisive issue in modern American politics.

    On the other hand, it might not have made any difference, since the American right is so riddled with Obama Derangement Syndrome that he could have given a speech worthy of Abraham Lincoln and they’d still be calling him the “worst President in history.”

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  7. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Seriously, what did you expect?
    Were you expecting Obama to appoint Trump as “Secretary of Wars”?
    Were you expecting him to declare a holy war against Muslims ?
    Were you expecting him to announce to the world the details of his strategy?

    The RW keeps screaming that you should not tell the enemy your plans and then screams that the public needs to know your plans. Neat trick if you can do it.

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  8. An Interested Party says:

    I’m curious what Doug would like to have heard…indeed, what, if anything, could the President say that would placate Doug and people like him…

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  9. C. Clavin says:

    whether it is the recognition of a national tragedy such as President Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster, or President Obama’s speech when he announced that Osama bin Laden was dead.

    The killing of 14 people is indeed tragic. But these self-radicalized jihadist wannabes are not the Challenger or OBL. They are just a couple more religious nut jobs…like Robert Dear…they just managed to kill more people than he did.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    Doug is right. Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Mr. Obama would have done better not to give a speech at all, because that was just dispiriting.

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  11. Mike says:

    No Republican will be satisfied until we start yet another ground war in the Middle East since the last two went so well. And then they will criticize the present for spending too much money (Bush gets a free pass b/c he isn’t good with numbers I guess).

    Why are so many people so eager to have another ground war? Haven’t the last 13 years or so proven that they are not effective. Just think if the same amount of money that we spent on hiring contractors and running those occupations were spent on additional Border Patrol agents, additional DHS officials, port security, cyber defense, ICE officials – maybe even build a few schools and put money toward infrastructure. Instead today we are saddled with more debt and Iraq is worse than before and Afghanistan is going back to pre-2001 days where the Gov’t controls the cities and warlords and criminals run the rest.

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  12. C. Clavin says:

    They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield. ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq. But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.

    Again smart…and the opposite of what Republicans and Reynolds want.

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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Obama’s Big ISIS Speech Was A Big Nothing

    Good. One is 20 times more likely to be struck by lightning than die in a terrorist attack. This. obsession. with. terrorism. is. stupid. America, please grow up, or failing that, grow a pair.

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  14. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Among the 14 people killed as employees were enjoying a holiday party was Nicholas Thalasinos, a Jewish co-worker with whom Farook reportedly had a heated argument over religion two weeks before the shootings.

    Religion and guns….guns and religion.

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  15. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Or, actually, the exact policy I’ve been supporting since the start. Like,maybe, 50 times.

    But carry on.

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  16. Slugger says:

    I am not entirely clear on why the USA decided to help undertake regime change in Syria since regime change in the country next door has not been an unalloyed good deal, but we did enter this conflict on the side of the Sunni insurgency. When you are in a war, you can’t expect the enemy to land zero blows. We have had amazing success in preventing organized attacks from hitting us. In actual fact, Daesch has managed very little offense outside their territory. They blew up a Russian airplane, conducted a bombing attack in Beirut against Hezbollah, and managed the Paris attacks. The San Bernardino attacks were apparently not coordinated by any centralized enemy.
    All in all, it seems to me that containment of terrorism has been pretty darn successful. Certainly, every life lost is a tragedy, and governments should take steps to prevent crimes, destruction, and murder. However, none of us wants a surveillance/security state that it would take to actually increase interdiction of these crimes a significant degree. In fact, these terror attacks have no strategic value and pose no existential threat.
    It is not possible in our political climate for the President to say that these attacks are rare, no big deal, and not a significant threat, but that’s how it is.

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  17. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Yes, the speech was a yawner. He would have best said, “Stay the course” and turned in for the night. We don’t have an anti-terror policy and that obviously isn’t going to change.

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  18. Mike says:

    @Ben Wolf: We have one, it just isn’t what you want – another endless war. Terrorist acts are going to happen – we cannot prevent them all but we can try the best we can. What would you have the Pres do differently? Do you still cling to the idea that we can successfully occupy another country and install a government that will ally with the US?

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  19. Guarneri says:

    The banality of the speech was intentional; the man is playing chess again while others play checkers. You see, he let the person he hopes will succeed him get the glory for covering the cornerstone policy of every anti-terrorism effort: regulating Facebook and Instagram.

    Smart.

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  20. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, two words missing from the speech? “Syrian refugees.”

    Two references to tightening visas, none to the refugees. Gosh, it’s almost as if he’s decided that’s a political loser. You know, like I said it would be like 3 weeks ago.

    And Hillary’s response to the speech? She went quiet. An eloquent silence. Almost as if she’s recognized that Mr. Obama’s position is not helpful to her campaign. You know, like I said 3 weeks ago she’d end up doing.

    Oh, and this:

    France’s Socialist Party on Monday said its candidates would fall on their swords in three regions to try and prevent the far-Right Front National from clinching historic electoral victories next Sunday.

    The FN made sweeping gains across France in the first round of regional elections on Sunday, coming top in six out of 13 regions and taking 28 per cent of the national vote.

    By withdrawing from the second round in regions where they came third, the Socialists hope to fend off FN wins by turning the run-offs into a duel with Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative The Republicans party, formerly known as the UMP.

    That would be the far right in Europe gaining strength – a lot – like I said it would 3 weeks ago.

    Let’s see, what’s next? I’d guess polling showing that Democrats are losing ground on the terrorism issue.

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  21. Pch101 says:

    The fact that it was being delivered from the Oval Office suggested that we would be getting an annnoucement of national importance.

    It could be summed up as “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A certain other president framed an entire inaugural address around that premise.

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  22. Ben Wolf says:

    @Mike: No offense but you’re having a conversation with yourself if you think that’s “the one I want” so let me repeat myself: we do not have an anti-terror policy, as is implicit in your comment. George Bush did not have an anti-terror policy nor would Clinton. They each have utilized a collection of unrelated and unfocused tactics to try and keep the lid on.

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  23. Scott says:

    I can’t conceive of just one speech doing any kind of quelling of the hysteria that is passing for public discourse these days. Just today I read in the local newspaper a letter to the editor talking about how we are in WWIII. It is just ridiculous.

    People just got to keep hammering the fact that we are not in some existential or twilight struggle; that the risk from ISIS is quite small and the consequences even smaller. it won’t be one speech but a repeated campaign to squelch the gloomy doomsday rhetoric.

    However, I don’t have confidence in Obama or the democrats to do that. They are just not very good at this.

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  24. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    right…eradicate terror…got it.

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  25. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    By the way, two words missing from the speech? “Syrian refugees.”

    And he also didn’t mention Banking reform. Amazing!

    The speech was about the fight against terrorism and specifically Daesh. Syrian refugees really don’t fit into the equation despite your recent binge spending on Depends.

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  26. gVOR08 says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: Exactly. Does Obama need to have a plan? Yes. Does he? Yes. Does it change every day as a fluid situation changes? Yes.

    Is any purpose served by Doug Mataconis knowing the plan? No. If Doug Mataconis knows the plan, does Daesch know the plan? Yes. If Obama announces a plan, does that restrict his freedom of action? Yes.

    Except for putting boots on the ground in large numbers, is there anything major his Republican rivals, or Doug, have suggested that Obama’s not already doing? Not really.

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  27. An Interested Party says:

    However, I don’t have confidence in Obama or the democrats to do that. They are just not very good at this.

    Well then we are truly doomed, as all the GOP has to offer is the gloomy doomsday rhetoric…

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  28. Pch101 says:

    Except for putting boots on the ground in large numbers, is there anything major his Republican rivals, or Doug, have suggested that Obama’s not already doing? Not really.

    Well, Ted Cruz thinks that we should be “carpet bombing” ISIS. I can only presume that Cruz’s knowledge of war is limited to World War II movies and that he thinks that we’re going to send an armada of B-17s escorted by P-51s in order to do the job. Confidence inspiring, to say the least.

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  29. Ron Beasley says:

    Obama could not really tell the truth. We can’t really stop all of these “lone wolf” attacks. The emphases on Muslims is misplaced, most of the mass killing attacks have been carried out by non Muslims since 911. Some of them were just crazy, some were anti black bigots and we can’t forget the anti abortion zealots. Are we going to put all of them on some list as well. I am in favor of increased gun control but it won’t mitigate this problem -this country is so awash with guns that no anti gun legislation will have any impact on at this point.

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  30. Tyrell says:

    I did not expect or want a lot of details. We certainly do not want to tell the enemy what our battle plan and strategies will be. I would have liked it if the president had given them 24 hours to surrender completely.
    “You can go home pig or pork. Make your choice ! ” (Marshall Dillon, “Gunsmoke”)

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  31. Guarneri says:

    “Opponents of gun control are saying, as they do after every killing, that no law can unfailingly forestall a specific criminal. That is true. They are talking, many with sincerity, about the constitutional challenges to effective gun regulation. Those challenges exist. They point out that determined killers obtained weapons illegally in places like France, England and Norway that have strict gun laws. Yes, they did. But at least those countries are trying. The United States is not.”

    — Front page NYT pro-gun control editorial quietly admitting that gun control would be a futile gesture on the country’s part

    At least they are trying. Trying hard, no doubt. Perfect. In related news The Little Engine That Could has been assigned as the new anti-terrorism czar…..

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  32. Jack says:

    Obama’s Big ISIS Speech Was A Big Nothing

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  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Pch101: We can carpet bomb a lot better with B-52s and cluster bombs than we ever did in WWII. But we still can’t carpet bomb half the Middle East. Has Ted Cruz Cruz identified where we find large concentrations of Daesh not intermingled with many more civilians? Or does he just not care? Rhetorical question.

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  34. J-Dub says:

    But they needed to hear this from the com­mand­er in chief and they needed to hear how he was go­ing to give them a sense of se­cur­ity

    In other words, lie to the frightened masses. The same masses that cheer Cruz when he says he wants to carpet-bomb Syria. Now that is something to be fearful of.

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  35. Pch101 says:

    @gVOR08:

    Last i checked, about 2/3rd’s of bombing missions result in no bombs being dropped. That’s usually not due to pilots being lazy or stupid, but because no targets were acquired.

    Of course, that’s not a very exciting factoid to cite during an election season, particularly one in which panic is integral to one major political party’s platform. But I have no doubt that carpet bombing sounds like a great idea to the high-disinformation voters who support candidates such as Cruz, so I can’t fault him entirely for telling those people what they want to hear.

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  36. James Pearce says:

    Obama should have known that a week’s worth of “Obama isn’t doing enough” complaints weren’t going to be satisfied with a speech. If he ordered a full-scale invasion of the Middle East, these complaints wouldn’t be satisfied.

    These complaints can’t be satisfied. Because at heart they’re not about what Obama should or shouldn’t do. They’re about projecting emotion and pointing fingers.

    A speech isn’t going to act as a preventative on that stuff.

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  37. Ben Wolf says:

    @gVOR08: Obama has no more a strategy than Cruz.

    Obama: assassination, limited bombing, electronic surveillance, watch-lists.

    Cruz: More assassination, more bombing, more surveillance, more watch lists.

    The difference is of degree.

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  38. C. Clavin says:

    Deaths by gun per 100,000 persons
    France…3.01
    United Kingdom…0.26
    Norway…1.78
    These United States…10.5
    Once again Guarneri proves he is bad with numbers numerically illiterate.

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  39. Rafer Janders says:

    @gVOR08:

    We can carpet bomb a lot better with B-52s and cluster bombs than we ever did in WWII.

    In WWII, we could actually bomb enemy factories and airfields and naval bases and railroads and cities, etc. What does ISIS have that we can carpet-bomb? Empty desert?

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  40. Modulo Myself says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    The degree seems pretty substantial to me. It’s like the difference between targeted bombing in Raqqa and the Reynolds Plan of flattening it.

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  41. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: And then what happens when 24 hours passes and nothing happens?

    Are we then supposed to haul out the bombs and just start randomly hitting territory that Daesh controls?

    For gossakes, didn’t you ever play Risk in your teenage years?

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  42. Slugger says:

    Re the carpet bombing idea:
    I was changing clothes at the gym I attend when I glanced at the TV they have which is constantly on one of the news channels. They were showing an empty landscape of rocks and sand under a pale sky, and I thought that they were showing some report from one of our Mars rovers. Then they said that they were showing Daesch territory in Syria. Of course, there probably are some bombable targets; maybe Doctors without Borders could give us the coordinates of their facilities.

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  43. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    By the way, two words missing from the speech? “Syrian refugees.”

    Since the speech was about anti-terrorism, and since Syrian refugees are not terrorists, that seems about right.

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  44. stonetools says:

    Doug continues with his ongoing farcical criticism of Obama’s anti-terrorism policy, which amounts to “Everything Obama is doing is wrong… but I have no idea what right is!”. The big tell of Obama anti terrorism critics is that after they spend thousands of words criticizing Obama , their alternative is always… nothing.
    The epitome of the empty criticism was reached last night, when Ted Cruz tweeted what was maybe the Dumbest Tweet of All Time:

    If I am elected President, I will direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS: https://www.tedcruz.org/news/cruz-if-i-am-elected-president-i-will-direct-the-department-of-defense-to-destroy-isis/

    Gee, Ted. Why didn’t anyone think to do that before?

    Dumb as that is, Doug’s whole shtick is almost as dumb. Doug seems to want Obama to come up with some magic policy trick that would resolve the whole Syria/ISIS/counter terrorism situation quickly and neatly, with minimal American involvement. Does he have any idea how Obama could do that? Nope, and neither does anyone else.
    The only advice I can offer Doug and anyone else at this point is to grow up and understand that we don’t live in some fantasy land in which everything can be resolved by Christmas. Sometimes incremental progress and policy making by trial and error is the only way progress can be made and wars can be won.As Friedman would put it, suck on that, because that’s how the real world is.

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  45. Pch101 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    In WWII, we could actually bomb enemy factories and airfields and naval bases and railroads and cities, etc.

    Bombing was so woefully inaccurate during WWII that there wasn’t much choice but to send large flotillas of bombers. If they got lucky, they might actually hit their target, but a heavy bomber was lucky if it landed bombs within a few miles of the target, let alone a direct hit.

    In the modern era, there isn’t much excuse for carpet bombing. The deliberate targeting of civilians is unacceptable today — we refer to that sort of thing as, well, “terrorism”.

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  46. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pch101:

    Bombing was so woefully inaccurate during WWII that there wasn’t much choice but to send large flotillas of bombers. If they got lucky, they might actually hit their target, but a heavy bomber was lucky if it landed bombs within a few miles of the target, let alone a direct hit.

    Oh, I know. One of my parents grew up under that bombing.

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  47. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    like I said it would be like 3 weeks ago.

    I’m not sure why you’re so impressed with your prognostications, but I’m getting the sense that you would like us to be impressed too. It must be frustrating that we’re not.

    And Hillary’s response to the speech? She went quiet.

    And yet, yesterday she’s telling ABC:

    she won’t use the term “radical Islam” because it “sounds like we are declaring war against a religion.”

    Where have I heard that before? (Hint: Not from you.)

    Maybe you should accept that Hillary Clinton’s approach differs from Obama’s only on the margins and that the things Obama is saying now won’t be full of power and weight when they’re coming out of Hillary Clinton’s mouth.

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  48. stonetools says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Ben, now is the time for you to give us the better plan that Obama and his team of generals and national security experts haven’t been able to come up with.Here, reveal it to us, oh wise one.

    1.
    2.
    3.

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  49. Modulo Myself says:

    Josh Marshall has some reader complaining about Obama’s sound policy and its incredible problems with a skeptical public. The reader compares Obama’s response to Truman’s in the beginnings of the Cold War:

    Truman had to oversell the communist menace in order to head off truly reactionary responses. This led to all sort of pathologies in Cold War strategy. And yet, if you look at the strategic debates from the late 1940s and early 1950s, it is clear that our response could have been much more extreme and dangerous — preventive nuclear war wasn’t off the table until the mid-1950s, for instance. Now part of that was also to rouse the quasi-isolationists into action, but part of it was to vent at least some of the steam, lest the pressure built uncontrollably.

    This is remarkable, in that Communism by the late 1940s had taken over Russia, China, and Eastern Europe, and had made major inroads (in the USSR variant) in Italy, Greece and France, as well as having penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. Comparing Communism to ISIS, which is not a threat to any government or state in the West, and occupies a small section of two countries stuck in civil wars, is nuts and almost an act of self-indulgence and it shows how decrepit this entire debate really is. Obama doesn’t have a policy, but he’s not basing his strategy on crap analogies, and whatever one thinks of Truman’s strategy, he was clearly looking at Communism as a totalitarian state with a revolutionary ideology and not as a colonial empire involved in a 19th century great game.

    Right now, most of this country is stuck still in the 20th century.

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  50. Rafer Janders says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Right now, most of this country is stuck still in the 20th century.

    Say what you will about the architects and strategic planners of the Cold War, but they weren’t seeing every one of their decisions through the lens of the Spanish-American War. Unlike us, who it seems have never outgrown our childhood of WWII and Vietnam War movies and never will.

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  51. J-Dub says:

    What does ISIS have that we can carpet-bomb?

    The internet. I always hated Comcast anyway.

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  52. al-Ameda says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Obama could not really tell the truth.
    We can’t really stop all of these “lone wolf” attacks. The emphases on Muslims is misplaced, most of the mass killing attacks have been carried out by non Muslims since 911. Some of them were just crazy, some were anti black bigots and we can’t forget the anti abortion zealots. Are we going to put all of them on some list as well. I am in favor of increased gun control but it won’t mitigate this problem -this country is so awash with guns that no anti gun legislation will have any impact on at this point.

    Exactly, dead on right.
    You have a cacophony of mainstream conservative media and morons complaining that he doesn’t say “terrorist” enough. What kind of a speech could he have given that would satisfy the people that have hated him since Inauguration Day 2009?

    About the only words he could have said to appease these people are: “I have ordered the bombing of Mecca, Damascus, and Tehran.”

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  53. Stan says:

    I would like to see America’s Moslems inside the tent pissing out rather than outside pissing in, and for that reason I prefer Obama’s approach to the stuff I’m hearing from the Republicans and from some of the people posting in this thread. If we get to the point where cities like Dearborn and Hamtramck are thought of as banlieues by the people who live there, we’re in deep trouble. America needs the cooperation and good will of its Moslem population both for practical reasons and for our own sense of what we are.

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  54. J-Dub says:

    @al-Ameda:

    About the only words he could have said to appease these people are: “I have ordered the bombing of Mecca, Damascus, and Tehran.”

    You forgot “then I will kill myself”.

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  55. Pch101 says:

    @al-Ameda:

    About the only words he could have said to appease these people are: “I have ordered the bombing of Mecca, Damascus, and Tehran.”

    I doubt that would have been enough. As far as they are concerned, Obama is an uppity negro Kenyan Muslim atheist terrorist socialist communist who wants the country to be ruled by hippy pot smoking mud people. Even ordering the killing of Bin Laden, i.e. the job that Bush 43 couldn’t get done, wasn’t enough to shut them up.

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  56. Mike says:

    @stonetools: but Ben won’t do that bc he is only against policies. Apparently Clinton’s, Bush’s and Obama’s. His thoroughly researched policy based on his extensive training and experience developing national and strategic policy and combined with his knowledge of weapons systems and battlefield tactics is Drumroll : Something else

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  57. Sherparick says:

    Although Doug, along with many other informed people, are aware of the President’s air and special ops war against ISIS in Western Iraq and Syria, many people less involved in following the news, or restricted to right wing media for their news consumption may not be aware that the U.S. has dropped close to 20,000 bombs and Hellfire missiles on the zone of conflict. So I think the President quite properly gave a report on what is going on. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_12/president_obama_reminds_us_of058883.php

    Not that it would bring together country where 45% would disapprove if Obama declared “free beer day,” but he probably should have not brought up the gun issue and the “no fly list” which is just a Democratic talking point.

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  58. C. Clavin says:

    @Stan:
    THIS.
    Obama’s speech was about being level-headed and it was about unity. Both of these things are anathema to Republicans and other scared-y-cats.

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  59. Ben Wolf says:

    @Modulo Myself: It’s illogical to argue a set of tactics constitutes a coherent policy until they are utilized more intensively by Ted Cruz. To the contrary, a person thinking the current mix of tactics is an optimal response would be logically consistent in demanding intensification when those tactics fail. They might even change the tactical mix with mass torture and prison camps but the basic lack of a policy, a strategy, remains and is easily confirmed by asking the following questions:

    What is the administration’s strategy for bringing a now fourteen-year conflict to an acceptable conclusion? What are its guideposts to determine whether its tactical responses and initiatives result in progress toward that goal? Who is to be fought and how? What are the political objectives? How do we determine when we have “won” whether victory means a definitive end or reducing violence to an acceptable level over many years? Do growing numbers of terror attacks and enemies mean the strategy is failing? What changes if the answer is yes?

    Obama and his people can’t provide a coherent answer to this any more than the Bush Boys after Iraq exploded in 2005-2006.

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  60. cian says:

    People here and elsewhere have been saying it for years- God help America when the next terrorist attack occurs. The country will lose its collective shit and start an all-out war with itself. Who knew it wouldn’t even take that. All it took was an attack on Paris and the leading Republican candidate for president of the United States was calling for Muslims to be tortured, and not for info, but as punishment; for Muslim families to be targeted and taken out; for century old American values to be ditched, not because it makes any kind of strategic sense, but because it feels good.

    The right’s reaction to Syrian refugees is an example of this. Its knee jerk and dumb and only plays into the hands of ISIS who need the west to badly over react in order to survive. They are failing in the ME, suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of Shia militias and Kurdish troops. Muslim civilians trapped in territory occupied by ISIS are fleeing in their thousands and not only because of the atrocities being committed, but also because these bozo’s can’t run a state. But unless the west are prepared to put boots on the ground, this won’t be ended easily or quick, and no amount of useless scapegoating will change this fact. So, absent boots, what’s the plan on the right, other than sound and fury and a whole lot of nothing.

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  61. C. Clavin says:

    Obama said that Muslims are, among other things, our sports heroes.
    Trump jumped on that and said;

    “What sport is he talking about, and who?”

    Thankfully the inter-tubes responded. There are pictures of Trump standing next to Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Mike Tyson, and Shaquille O’Neal posted all over this morning.
    What a clue-less clown. Are we really going to elect this idiot? And trust him with nukes? Please say no.

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  62. Pch101 says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    What is the administration’s strategy for bringing a now fourteen-year conflict to an acceptable conclusion?

    The hope is to have an Iraqi military force that can defend Iraq, and a government in Baghdad that doesn’t contribute any more to sectarian tensions than it already has, while limiting US casualties and keeping the Kurds from becoming independent so that the country implodes or partitions.

    What are its guideposts to determine whether its tactical responses and initiatives result in progress toward that goal?

    When Iraqi ground forces can win battles and take back territory, and the Baghdad government can get the Sunni minority on board.

    Who is to be fought and how?

    Those forces that threaten the government in Baghdad, including ISIS. For how, see above.

    What are the political objectives?

    See above.

    How do we determine when we have “won” whether victory means a definitive end or reducing violence to an acceptable level over many years?

    See above.

    Do growing numbers of terror attacks and enemies mean the strategy is failing?

    No. If terrorism in the west was truly problematic, then we’d have a whole lot more of it and it would be better funded and organized.

    The policy isn’t a secret. Unfortunately, it isn’t emotionally satisfying, so spelling it won’t help the administration. Americans like to think of themselves as the innocent sleeping giant that fights evil, not as practitioners of realpolitik that happily irritates the developing world by acting as a dishonest broker.

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  63. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda:

    About the only words he could have said to appease these people are: “I have ordered the bombing of Mecca, Damascus, and Tehran.”

    But to get to the root of Sunni extremism he’d have to bomb Riyadh. @Sherparick:

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  64. C. Clavin says:

    This lady is going to solve the problem for us.
    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/michele-fiore-syrian-refugees-shoot-em

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  65. Mike says:

    @Ben Wolf: enlighten us with what you think the policy should be or stop ranting that the past 3 presidents didn’t/don’t have one. Clearly only you know of a winning policy.

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  66. Grewgills says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Obama and his people can’t provide a coherent answer to this any more than the Bush Boys after Iraq exploded in 2005-2006.

    Can you?
    Can anyone?
    Is some grand unified plan even possible? or do we have to cobble together strategies as best we can changing them as a changing situation merits?

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  67. C. Clavin says:

    @Grewgills:
    And don’t do stupid shit…like the Republicans and Reynolds want.

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  68. Bill Lefrak says:

    Thank goodness I missed that retarded speech. First I was taking a leak and then I had to pick up some grub in advance of the Steelers game.

    I did however peruse what was said to be a transcript and I honestly can say that, son, you never go full retard.

    But frankly that’s to be expected. Obama’s audience wasn’t really the country at large. It was the Soros, Geffen and Wall St. hedge fund demographics, who contribute huge dollars to Democrats and related PACs and causes. The speech was a dog whistle of sorts. An implied promise that Obama will continue to push full bore for “gun control,” which is a catnip issue for the wealthy lunatic left, especially Soros, Geffen and their ilk, second perhaps only to legalizing drugs and gaydom issues. The rest of the speech was dopey gruel for a dumbed down group of baristas, barkeeps and waiters.

    We’ve been at war against terrorism since 9.11.01? Really? Chief, you’re off by a few decades. Look up the U.S.S. Cole, Khobar, WTC ’93, Pan Am 103, Achille Lauro, Beirut.

    You don’t want no-fly list people getting assault weapons? Um, earth to Obama, an actual sleeper cell terrorist on a no-fly list ain’t gonna’ be walking into a gun shop and legally purchasing any firearms. They’re going to purchase their weapons illegally, like the drug dealers in Chicago.

    You want Congress to approve your AUMF, rather than to extend prior ones? Seriously? Yours would mean less military action against ISIS in Syria.

    The list goes on and on. But again, it wasn’t actually a speech about the global war against Islamic terrorism. That’s waaaaay over Obama’s head. It was a de facto fundraising mechanism.

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  69. Rafer Janders says:

    @Bill Lefrak:

    Um, earth to Obama, an actual sleeper cell terrorist on a no-fly list ain’t gonna’ be walking into a gun shop and legally purchasing any firearms. They’re going to purchase their weapons illegally, like the drug dealers in Chicago.

    Why would they bother buying them illegally when they can walk into any gun shop and walk out with a fully legal arsenal? You don’t see a lot of people still buying bathtub gin from bootleggers, do you?

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  70. Tyrell says:

    @James Pearce: At least he didn’t blame it on the weather.

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  71. Pch101 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Some folks have a tough time figuring out that most of these guns that are used illegally began life as legal guns.

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  72. the Q says:

    In Nov. 2004, bin laden issued a polemic answering his critics and taking on the bush Iraq folly…

    “Before I begin, I say to you that security is an indispensable pillar of human life and that free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom.

    If so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike for example – Sweden?”

    Obama should be praised for his speech and his restraint….they aren’t bombing Sweden are they?

    Sweden didn’t occupy their lands and butcher their people. Wake the fuch up.

    By invading other lands, we invite other lands to invade us. Or is there some law that only the US can decapitate and destroy via drone since thats “civilized” and we apologize for any civilian casualties, but don’t dare strike us back since thats “terror” and not “war”

    Its called blowback and in 2002 when this should have been debated before Iraq we were cowed by fear and oppressed by public opinion and the folly was on its way.

    And now look at this country….same clowns hopping up and down and this time they got Mr. Reynolds to go all in with the hysteria.

    “PSSST, Mr. Hindenberg, you are falling behind in the polls to this fellow named Adolph Shickelgruber…..we need to go harder on the Jews as he is gaining traction with this “they backstabbed us at Versaille” meme, and the people are buying it. We don’t need to put them into camps, but lets agree they should be singled out with a yellow star. No need to go to extremes yet. If we don’t say something about their wickedness, we may well lose the election”

    The problem is we never had an honest discussion about Iraq, did not jail or punish any of the architects of this folly and now we are paying the price as we ramp up to another insane policy of saber rattling and invasion.

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  73. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Bill Lefrak:

    pick up some grub in advance of the Steelers game.

    I’m ashamed that were shared the same game together.

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  74. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: “inter” muslims?! how about just not allowing them free passage into a country they already hate so they can hate more?! why are you so fond of muslims anyways, they do’t do much for us to begin with and we have more than enough.
    and remember, the constitution has a 2nd amendment……..jus’ sayin’- i think obama is spreading fear about inanimate objects that are covered by that!

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  75. Ben Wolf says:

    @Grewgills: There is no such thing as a “grand unifying plan”. That so many see the only options as status quo or genocide is a testament to lack of imagination.

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  76. Ben Wolf says:

    @Grewgills:

    or do we have to cobble together strategies as best we can changing them as a changing situation merits?

    Have you read nothing? You cannot have a strategy without answering those questions first. Cobbling together tactics with no notion of where you wish them to take you is groping in the dark and ultimately self-defeating.

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  77. Ben Wolf says:

    @Mike:

    Clearly only you know of a winning policy.

    That’s either a nonsensical or delusional statement. Of which should be judged I leave to each man and woman.

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  78. An Interested Party says:

    how about just not allowing them free passage into a country they already hate so they can hate more?!

    Oh look, a Donald Trump supporter…

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  79. Tyrell says:

    @Pch101: Actually, I favor the B-52.

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  80. Grewgills says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    So, you’re saying that you have nothing.
    The answers to most of your list of questions has been answered to varying degree by the administration. A little googling can find it for you. If you want something easier, then Pch101 laid out some of it for you above.
    Do you have any grand strategy that will address all of it? Do you have specific things in mind that we should be doing differently? or do you just think they’re doing it wrong without any idea of how to do it better?

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  81. George Vreeland Hill says:

    Mr. Obama …
    Stop blaming America for your failures.
    YOU are the failure.
    Your speech was a joke.
    ISIS must be laughing their terrorist you-know-whats off.
    You said nothing about how to stop ISIS or any other terrorist group.
    Just the same old boring nonsense.
    By the way, ISIS is not contained.
    Paris is proof of that.
    Really, so is San Bernardino.
    Please check your facts and stop lying to the world.
    We have had enough of your BS.
    You have made a mess out of everything you put your hands on since taking office.
    I can’t wait until January 20, 2017.
    On that day, we will have a real leader for a change.

    George Vreeland Hill

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  82. An Interested Party says:

    I can’t wait until January 20, 2017.
    On that day, we will have a real leader for a change.

    Oh, so you’re looking forward to a Hillary Clinton presidency…

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  83. WR says:

    @bill: ““inter” muslims?! how about just not allowing them free passage into a country they already hate so they can hate more?! why are you so fond of muslims anyways, they do’t do much for us to begin with and we have more than enough.
    and remember, the constitution has a 2nd amendment……..”

    Why, yes, we do have a second amendment. Which pretty much suggests that before it comes a first amendment. Perhaps you should try reading it.

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