U.S. at War With ISIL, Not Islam, Obama Says

U.S. at War With ISIL, Not Islam, Obama Says
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Defeating the Islamic State will require the United States and global partners to use death as both a weapon and a warning, President Obama said during speeches this week.

“We are not at war with Islam,” Obama said. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

During a second speech on the subject in two days, the president on Thursday denounced ISIL fighters as terrorists, not as militantly devout interpreters of a religion practiced by 23 percent of the world’s population.

At a White House summit focused on U.S. and international “best practices” to thwart violent extremism of all kinds, Obama said the United States and its partners would continue to kill ISIL fighters, even as he argued that Islamic State leaders who are “desperate for legitimacy” recruit thousands of new followers by pointing to what they call America’s “war” against their faith.

The aerial bombardment since the summer to hobble ISIL in Iraq and Syria is being evaluated inside the Pentagon and debated by Congress as matters of presidential authorization, as well as strategy.

The administration disclosed Thursday that U.S. forces are expected to help train up to 25,000 Iraqi Army troops to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul in operations planned in April or May.

Islamic State recruits from dozens of countries, including the United States, have responded to ISIL entreaties to follow the prophecy of Mohammed to purify “apostates” with death. Believers, many of them young and educated, have flocked to ISIL’s battlefields, and others, radicalized in the West, have murdered civilians in Denmark, Belgium and France. 

Obama, reluctant to blame what he dubbed a “crisis” on Islamic jihadists, denounced the “savagery” and “twisted ideologies” of terror groups that incite followers to violence against Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and fellow Muslims, all in the name of “the religious legitimacy they seek.”

He said former extremists who repudiated their deadly experiences with terror groups can be “powerful messengers,” if their stories are told more widely.

But the president -- whose father was Muslim and who, as a boy, lived among Indonesians of that faith -- did not use his speeches to explain in detail to Americans or global audiences exactly what prize Islamic State fighters are seeking, and why.

Some experts and scholars have described Obama’s rhetorical balance beam -- encouraging religious tolerance while also condemning the Islamic State as a perversion of a peaceful religion -- as potentially “counterproductive” because Islamic teachings resurrected by ISIL with modern-day zeal are in the Koran.

The terrorists rely on “lies,” “warped ideologies” and “savage cruelties,” Obama said, as their justifications for seizures of territory and goods by force, and the slaughter of thousands of people with medieval efficiency, including beheadings and immolations of captives dressed in orange-saffron clothing associated by some Muslims with “disbelievers.”

The administration this week sought to work with more than 60 governments represented at the summit -- countries that will review their strides against violent extremists during September’s U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

At the conclusion of the summit the administration released a list of follow-up projects aimed at working with communities and across governments.

For example, the administration will host future roundtable discussions with leaders of the U.S. entertainment and technology industries to tackle ways to help “develop and distribute counter-narrative content, including short form videos”; and “treat violent extremist content with the same zero-tolerance approach as bullying,” the State Department said.

The president enumerated as “antidotes to violent extremism” military destruction of ISIL, followed by efforts to choke off the group’s funding and movements across borders; more nation-to-nation intelligence sharing; and smarter communications efforts to counter ISIL’s grisly, and slickly produced videos and social media propaganda outreach.

“Let’s share the truth of our faiths with each other,” Obama said.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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