Calling ISIS and those it inspires “a cult of death” engaged in a “perverted interpretation of Islam,” President Barack Obama detailed his efforts Sunday night to destroy the terrorist organization and tighten gun control in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings that claimed 14 lives last week. Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office, in the first prime-time speech he’s given there since 2010.
“We will destroy ISIL,” the president promised, using another acronym for ISIS, by ramping up intelligence sharing among allies, continuing the bombing campaign against ISIS, and working international diplomatic levers to hammer out a ceasefire agreement in Syria to bring the civil war to an end. Choking off financing to disrupt ISIS activities, he said, was also key to preventing further terror attacks.
The high-profile address comes amid recent polling that has highlighted a growing anxiety over the administration’s ability to fight ISIS. But the speech appeared designed not to announce new policies to fight ISIS—Obama unveiled no major changes in strategy—but to assure the American public that his administration has made the struggle against the militant group in Syria and Iraq a top priority. “The terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase,” he said. “I know how real the danger is.”
The president did make clear one important line he and his administration would not cross in the fight against ISIS. “We should not be drawn once again into a long and costly ground war,” he said. At the same time, Obama challenged Congress to be a partner in the fight by voting to authorize force in the ongoing conflict.
Obama also turned the conversation back to gun control in the aftermath of the San Bernardino killings. He called on Congress to cut off access to guns for people on the “no fly” list, which limits travel for those security officials suspected of terror activities.
But perhaps the most passionate part of the live address came when the president defended Muslims as a vital part of American life. While explaining that “an extremist ideology has spread inside some Muslim communities,” he indirectly rebuked Republican candidates for president who have ramped up anti-Muslim rhetoric since the California attack and even advocated tracking of Muslim Americans.
“When we travel down that road, we lose,” he said. “Freedom is more powerful than fear.”