Questions Remain as Inconsistencies Surface in President’s December 6th Oval Office Address.

I, like millions of other Americans, watched the president’s address to the nation concerning the fear that has been mounting, due to the continued threat of active terror in the United States.

Others will discuss at length many of the correct or comforting points the president made. I agree with him that all Americans are brought together in mourning for the tragedy of more than a dozen of our own. I also agree that the attacks in San Bernardino do not represent a conflict between the United States and Islam, but to use his words, “that the two of them [Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook] had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.” He also followed this by pointing to the difficult work of our military, police and law enforcement, as well as the heroic efforts of our intelligence services to stop countless numbers of these attacks from being made, both domestically and abroad. Among these efforts, he listed the killing of Osama bin Laden, the disruption of terrorist safe havens, and the decimation of al Qaeda’s leadership network. For that recognition, I heartily agree.

I also agree with him where he states that, in spite of the efforts of millions of men and women over the last fourteen years, the War on Terror still continues, and the terrorist group known as ISIL and has survived to reach a second phase. Now, instead of the highly organized attacks that initiated the war, many more attacks of a lesser nature are happening, such that we have seen in Europe and now in the United States. I will also agree with his words that as the Commander in Chief, he has no greater responsibility than to the security to the American people.

There is much, however, that was said beyond this, that I find I disagree with. Following his points that the road to victory against terror won’t depend on tough talks, abandoning our values, and giving into fear, he began to paint a picture that was intended to educate Americans of what the ground situation in Syria actually looks like. He mentioned that we will “destroy ISIL, and any other organization that threatens to harm us”. In this picture, he stated that the US military will continue to hunt down terrorists by being strong and smart, and relentless, and by drawing on every aspect of American power. He continued that in Iraq and Syria, US bombers are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy assets, and infrastructure, and that since the attacks in Paris, we have been joined by our allies in Europe to do the same. He also mentions that we are providing equipment and training to forces on the tens of thousands of local fighters in Iraq and Syria who are combatting ISIL on the ground, to take away the safe havens of the terrorist organization. Next, he mentioned that efforts have been underway to dismantle ISIL’s operations, their finances, and their recruiting efforts abroad. Along with this, he mentions how the United States is working with Muslim majority countries to solve this problem and combat the vicious spread of the perversion of Islam he referenced earlier. Finally, there is mention of a ceasefire, led by American intervention and a possible end to the Syrian war.

If this picture were all that was going on in Syria, we would be in a very good situation. One is almost forced to ask, if this is case, why has ISIL not yet been defeated?

To answer that question, we have to look at the rest of what was not said.

  • We will “destroy ISIL, and any other organization that threatens to harm us.”

 

This is reassuring. It is a statement of force that says that the United States and her allies will not stand against the threat that these attacks have imposed. The problem with this, is that it differs in almost no way from similar speeches made over a year ago where the President promised to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”  Since that point, the Islamic State has suffered little loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, and has since spilled over into Libya, has claimed direct responsibility for numerous terror attacks in Europe, and have reached at least as far as Bangladesh, where Muslim bloggers speaking out against the Islamic State are being murdered for delivering the voice of Muslim activists the world so desperately wants to hear. Only weeks ago, the President referred to the Islamic State as “contained” within Iraq and Syria, a comment whose timing was tragic, appearing only days before the Paris attacks of late November, and which completely ignored the presence of ISIL troops ravaging Libya, all those acting abroad, and recruiters working throughout Europe. It, however, made apparent how very disconnected to the crisis the President’s foreign policy concerning ISIL is to the truth on the ground, or that what he is communicating is a far more optimistic interpretation of events than followers of the crisis have come to know.

In a post by Carter Moore, numerous polls are showing that more and more Americans aren’t being swayed by what an increasing number of us are viewing as a half-hearted policy towards ISIL’s elimination, and an overall lack of belief that the President’s plans for the region are grounded in either a realistic understanding of the situation, or that his plan can succeed in the future. Along with this, Americans have embraced the unfortunate reality that terror would likely grace our shores, reality that terror would likely grace our shores, “soon”, as indicated by polls done by CBS and Quinnipac University. Along with further polls done by ABC, the overriding theme of the American people is an overall lack of belief in the President’s continuing promises to “destroy ISIL, and any other organization that threatens to harm us.”

  • The US military will continue to hunt down by being strong and smart, and relentless, and by drawing on every aspect of American power.

Every aspect of American power does not correlate to the offensive that is currently taking place. To begin, the United States does not have the forces it had available when we left Iraq prematurely in 2011, and we lack the ability to regain the initiative in this fight. The forces available in the Middle East have been reduced to the point that it’s first option of regular troops for when something in the region goes South isn’t even a combat team.

The US Marine Corps is preparing to deploy about 2,100 grunts to be based out of Kuwait in a new unit configuration designed to respond to crises in the region, according to Corps officials.

Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) Central Command will be equipped to perform noncombat evacuation, humanitarian assistance, infrastructure support, tactical aircraft recovery, fixed-site security and theater sustainment missions, said Brig. Gen. John Love, assistant deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

This sort of force would have been useful during events such as Benghazi amid the Libyan turmoil several years ago, but utterly lacks the strength necessary to secure and occupy a region the size of Texas.

Yes, we still maintain powerful air and naval assets in the region, such as the 6th Fleet in Bahrain. From here, you will see many of the air strikes originating. But the problem we are seeing, is that there simply isn’t enough power being delivered by the air strikes to have a meaningful effect. While we might be able to “hunt down” forces in dramatic bombing missions, it is obvious to most that this effort isn’t winning any territory on the ground front.

Instead, what we are seeing from our allies on the ground, is that the attacks against ISIL are having only marginal gains. The overriding US strategy is to bomb jihadist forces using fighter, bomber, and UAV, and weaken them, paving the way for allies to overrun them on the ground. Where this strategy fails is that the US airstrikes in Syria have been shown to be based on startlingly little intelligence. Often, the strikes do little more than send the fighters cowering during the bombardment, only to return once it is over. Secondly, the largest single flaw in the plan is a lack of supporting fighters on the ground who are able to take the regions. Examples include Kurdish forces who, while excellent fighters when fighting for their own lands, have no vested interest in conquering lands that are not home to Kurdish people, and therefore, not worth the risk of Kurdish soldiers. In Southern Syria, it is worse as the rebels we are supporting number only a few tens of thousands, at the most. They are, however, fighting against not only the Islamic State, but also the sitting dictator of Syria, and now also being bombed by Russia. The Iraqi army, for that matter, has show virtually no initiative in even attempting to retake the lands lost to ISIL for purely ethnic reasons, which explains why the Iraqi military is unable to handle fighting ISIS without US intervention. For that reason, the statement during the president’s speech that “…we will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground, so that we take away their safe havens,” is based either on optimistic deception, or denial based myth.

Furthermore, the bombings themselves aren’t even providing much gain in the actual killing of insurgent forces.

“The air attacks to date have been what can only be called anemic,” says David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general.

Deptula, who directed the air campaigns in the first Gulf War and the invasion of Afghanistan, says it is not possible to defeat the Islamic State by flying what’s been an average of little more than a dozen airstrikes a day.

“The administration’s incomplete strategy places U.S. commanders in an untenable situation,” he says. “It’s not unlike the failed strategy that was employed in Vietnam.”

For a point of reference, the Iraq War 2003-2011 averaged closer to thirty strikes a day and the Gulf War more than a thousand over its short duration.

The current air campaign drew fire as well at a hearing last month on Capitol Hill.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, the Arizona Republican who himself flew combat missions in Vietnam. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you’re not winning in war, you are losing.”

What many believe, instead of attempting to destroy ISIL, the administration is instead attempting to use it as a weapon. The strikes by American forces have been primarily centered on some of the insurgent assets, but mostly in areas where ISIL is in direct conflict with Syrian rebels we are allied with. There, they are attempting to funnel ISIL away from the rebels, but leave them to fight Bashar al-Assad‘s government. In this way, they do not achieve the strategic victory of defeating either, but are having the effect of hardening ISIL against our tactics and strategies, while they continue to grow. The biggest problem with this strategy, however, isn’t that ISIL is learning to defend themselves from the bombings, but that Russia (a close ally of Assad, along with Iranian supporters) is currently engaged in campaigns to destroy both ISIL and the rebels we have been arming and training. Worse than this, the Russians are working a lot harder at this than we are.
This outlines why many analysts agree that bombing alone cannot defeat ISIL on the ground, in spite of the enormous and never-ending steady stream of smart bombs against a hardening target. To better understand that cost I would suggest learning how much one airstrike can cost.
Add to this the impact of sequestration on federal agencies. For the military overall, the funding available to maintain the forces has been reduced by over one hundred billion dollars. This has manifested itself in the form of over seventy-thousand troops leaving or being forced out of the service.  It takes the form of hiring freezes and promotion ceilings for American servicemen, forcing many of our best and most experienced warfighters out of the service in search for a productive and meaningful career. In total the sequestration has left us more than 70,000 less troops than in 2011 before the start of the President’s second term. The cutbacks against the United States military have been called for repeatedly, to the point of ad absurdum, to where now we have the United States army is at its smallest since 1940, and the Navy since 1915. U.S. Military Personnel 1954-2014: The Numbers

In the meantime, our allies are facing greater and greater pressure militarily from overseas from sources like the Islamic jihadists, Russia in Eastern Europe, and China in the South China Sea. Several member nations of the Arab League have even allied together to form Joint Military Force to provide for their own independent interests, further exacerbating the conflicts in the Middle East. The net effect of the United States’ regression toward isolationism, is that the world has become a much more hostile place, where our enemies can no longer rely on us for aid, and are looking elsewhere for support. This has not only left us less secure, but decreased the security of billions of people.

Having said all of this, it brings about the question of a land invasion into the country, which many Americans don’t even realize, isn’t even possible. We’ve reached the point where we shouldn’t be asking if we should deploy boots on the ground, but rather, “is the deployment of ground forces even possible?” To do so would require months of logistical support and maneuvering of forces to the region to reach invasion strength, more than enough time for the Islamic State forces to become aware of what is happening, hide among the civilian population or even return to their respective homelands, continuing the global jihad elsewhere. Perhaps this helps explain why has ISIl still has not been defeated even after a year. Ultimately, the question of “removing the Islamic State” has been lost from us entirely in anywhere close to the near term. Perhaps this, more so than any sort of ideological reason or because of fear of “another long and drawn out war” is why the President so strongly advocated against the option to send in American ground forces. My greatest concern is that that simply isn’t an option anymore.

  • Third, we’re working with friends and allies to stop ISIL’s operations — to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters.
There is a great deal wrong with the third points. To begin with, it mentions working with allies on goals of cutting off ISIL’s financing, but in July, it was shown that Turkey and ISIS are now ‘undeniable’ linked through ISIL’s discounted oil sales. I’ll continue that we are failing the intelligence war when it was only discovered through a raid last year how the organization was set up in the first place. More than that, evidence collected by Kyle Murao in Where is ISIL getting their ammunition? has shown that there is little stopping the Islamic State from utilizing black market resources and its vast wealth of independently earned (looted/ransomed/taxed) wealth to procure from virtually any source on the planet. The table below demonstrates forensic evidence of brass casings found on an Islamic State battlefield and where the casings originated. The findings are unsettling.

Along with this, the President mentions that recruitment efforts are being weakened, which, according to all current evidence, is also failing. In Europe there is already a large movement in place where recruiters for the Islamic state are being made to attempt to convert Europeans to Islam, and to convert the local Islamic population to the Wahhabi doctrine, which is the branch of Islam most responsible for the current era of terror we are now experiencing. There, established Islamic “preachers” and recruiters already in Europe, such as Pierre Vogel AKA Abu Hamza, are transitioning young and easily influenced Muslims into fanatical jihadists.

Abu Hamza, born a German named Pierre Vogel in 1978, is a very popular Islamist preacher in Germany. The former professional boxer became Muslim in 2001 and is now among the most influential German representatives of Saudi-originated Wahhabi fundamentalism, which masquerades as “Salafism.”

In Europe, ministries such as Vogel’s are considered “cool” by the native born Muslim youth, which sees thousands flocking to his influence and to that of his Lieutenants. From there, many face the sorts of extremist conversions that taken place disturbing fast, outlined more in detail here. Under leadership and direction, such as that offered by Muslim preachers like Vogel, these fanaticized young Muslims find their to the Middle East, where they are radicalized in militants. From there, they fight for the Islamic State and with no ties to the local “kuffar,” or “unbelievers” have been found guilty of many of the most egregious acts of criminal barbarism. There, they either die in service to the Islamic State or return home to conduct acts of terror in the name of the state. This can be seen in the famed former German rapper Dennis Cuspert, who operated under the pseudonym Abu Talha al-Almani. Cuspert converted to Islam in prison and went on to command a German speaking infantry unit in Aleppo after serving as a recruiter for the Islamic State in Germany. He was killed in an American airstrike, but had he lived, he may have found his way back to Germany, not unlike those who planned and executed the Charlie Hebdo massacre early in 2015.
What is most disappointing, is that even though this is well known, there is no good work being done other than an internet information campaign to stem the Islamic fanatization in Europe and the tide of foreign fighters into the Middle East.

Having exhausted all points on the image of Syria that the president is trying to communicate, I’ll move on to a few other items that need to be addressed.

  • “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a suspected terrorist to buy a gun?

Among the proposed solutions that the president offered was yet another implication that stricter gun regulations would have, in any way, affected the outcome of this event. One phrase he used repeatedly was the term “Common Sense” legislation. I dislike phrases such as “common sense” initiatives, as well as other like, “the right side of history” or, “it’s what the terrorists want”. They imply a certain unquestionable infallibility, without providing either context or evidence to support the claim. With the example of common sense initiatives in gun-control, the language communicates that the policies are logical to the point that anyone who would disagree is not just of a differing opinion, one with rational speculation and concerns, but are in fact, irrational and lacking in some necessary degree of basic human intellect. It is a dehumanizing and divisive phrase, designed to belittle opponents without giving credit or concern for their individual value or point of view, something the President of the United States should never do, and particularly when his nation is suffering a time of crisis.On the points in particular on gun-control, as I have elluded to, it is not a lack of common sense which has brought opposition to the current policies in debate, but rational concerns behind key failures in their policies. Narrowing the focus, the policy of not allowing gun purchasing by people on the “No Fly List” sounds like a reasonable, common sense proposal. The President even went so far as to ask “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a suspected terrorist to buy a gun?” I’m not sure I have ever met or heard of anyone who wants to allow terrorists to buy gun, so it seems like an odd to frame the argument like that… since literally no one has advocated it. In fact, the majority of those standing in the way of the “No Fly Rule” are the same who have been the most supportive of more thorough investigations for the individuals whom the president called “suspected terrorists.” They, for example, would be the first to ask why anyone considered a suspected terrorist is allowed to walk free and unadulterated by law enforcement, in the first place.

The failure here doesn’t lie in the intent, but in it’s execution. There are numerous problems inherent to the “No Fly” list that have been well documented. Among these is the drastic increase in the number of people added onto the list over the last seven years, far exceeding the last presidency.  According to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, in October 2008 the No Fly list contained only 2,500 names, with an additional 16,000 “selectees” who “represent a less specific security threat and receive extra scrutiny, but are allowed to fly.” Since then, that number has grown to over 47,000 people by 2013 with another 468,749 watch-list nominations. Some have called into the question how easy it is for an innocent person to be placed on the list and how arduous it can be to rectify yourself in getting your name off the “No Fly” terrorist watch list. Along with this, several people have been detained for “false positives”, including a United States Marine returning from Iraq, an ACLU lawyer (big mistake), a one year old girl, and a guy whose only crime was having the same name as a terrorist who went to Guantanamo Bay. Scores of other false positives exist. Together with all the other problems associated with the No Fly list, it was obvious to some that it was too broken of a system to merit being tied to something as foundational to the American identity as the 2nd Amendment. Second, this methodology, had it been in place, would not even have caught most of the mass shooters responsible for terrorist events already, such as the Boston Bombers. It isn’t that anyone wants to put guns in the hands of terrorists, but this is a broken system that won’t be fixed by adding more broken elements to it.

A second proposal made by the president was to make it harder to access the types of high power weapons these two terrorists used. While I will agree that if these weapons did not exist, no one would be shot by them, simply banning them nationally or even their sale is not a rational approach to solving the issue of mass shootings. For instance, it is widely known that California has some of the tightest restrictions on guns. Social media is has made arguments based on the numerous statistics statics supporting a push for more gun regulation, theoretically as a solution to this sort of crime. These statistics, however, don’t change the truth that California has already adopted President Obama’s gun control wish list, which includes the common sense initiatives such as “universal” background checks, registration, waiting periods, gun bans, magazine bans and an expansion of prohibited gun categories, I can’t really fathom. No combination of these laws, however, prevented this act of domestic terror from taking place. Furthermore, evidence has shown that further expansion of gun regulation, such as that which the President has recently proposed, would not have even had an effect on preventing this case.

Requiring background checks for all weapons sales might not have had any effect on Wednesday’s shootings in San Bernardino in which at least 14 people were killed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has determined that Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two shooters, legally purchased two of the weapons at a gun shop in Corona. Two others were legally purchased and given to him by a friend, federal officials said Thursday.”

Yet even more, the vast majority of the guns used in the most recent shooting sprees were made through legal weapons purchases including background checks. This serves to support many gun owner rights advocates who have stated that outlawing the weapons will not affect the actions of the criminals who take note of the laws only so far as to subvert them, but will inhibit only those actions of law abiding citizens.
To answer the main question of “what are some of the major takeaways of President Obama’s Oval Office Address on meeting the threat posed by terrorism” there are a few.
  • The publically communicated policy for Syria hasn’t changed, in that it still relies on US bombing campaigns that have proven not to work.
  • Key allies in the region form a major leg of the operation, but have thus far failed to make significant gains on Iraqi and Syrian soil, in spite of coalition support.
  • There is still no plan (nor capability) to launch ground forces.
  • While there has been a significant number of major terror plots prevented, there is very little that can be done to prevent the “self-radicalized” native born extremist.
  • The only viable plan for this includes placing many people suspected of being somewhat involved in terrorism on a list which forbids them from purchasing weapons.
  • The only other viable plan involves creating gun control regulations, which would have had no impact on cases like this, but that hypothetically would prevent a portion of them in the future.
  • There was also a note on stronger screenings for those entering the United States without a visa. For the life of me, that sounds like an illegal immigrant, something the president has ardently fought up to this point, but at this point, now seems to be a “common sense” initiative.
In closing, however, I would like to make note one thing I am thankful for that the president did. I would like to reiterate that I am thankful that the president spoke when he did. People were scared. They don’t know how to rationalize their fear with a realistic knowledge of the risk they are under. When terrorism strikes in the United States, they don’t have that understanding of how very safe and secure the vast majority of them are. During the day, I am a teacher, and today I taught a class of seventh graders. They know that I am a Marine who served in Iraq when they were little, and that I write in the evenings and am very knowledgeable about these sorts of events. They had many questions, and were scared. For that, I was angry, but also very glad that I could help ease their fears with an understanding of the dangers they actually face and the safeguards which will ensure their security. So, too, did the president. He did that for everyone who doesn’t know enough about the events. He helped a scared nation get moving again, and for that at least, I am thankful.

Thanks for reading!

This is a post presented for the Quora blog The Defense Quorum and Jon’s Deep Thoughts. If you enjoyed this post and would like to support me in writing more like it, please visit: Support Jon Davis.

What are some of the major takeaways of President Obama’s Oval Office Address on meeting the threat posed by terrorism (December 2015)?

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2 thoughts on “Questions Remain as Inconsistencies Surface in President’s December 6th Oval Office Address.

  1. Great, smart, well-written and thought-through post as always.

    Unfortunately the title doesn’t do it justice. If you’ll allow a metaphor: The post is BBC, but the headline is Fox.

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