What Obama Should Tell America (But Likely Won’t)

My fellow Americans:

I want to speak with you tonight about an issue of vital national security, and that’s the challenge presented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – the radical terrorist organization that has seized a vast amount of territory in those countries, and that has threatened to attack the United States.

I will speak in a moment about the strong steps we will take to defeat this new enemy, but I first want to explain what’s at stake for both America and for freedom-loving people all over the world.

My fellow Americans, the Islamic State is a more dangerous enemy than even al-Qaida before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It is well-armed, well-trained and well-funded. It kidnaps men and boys, enslaves women and girls, blows up buildings and homes, targets religious and ethnic minorities and has slaughtered thousands of innocent people in the most horrific fashion. It brags about its murders by posting videos and promoting them on Twitter.

Its barbaric nature was brought home to all of us recently when it beheaded two of our fellow Americans.

The Islamic State is determined to spread its murderous ideology far beyond its borders, and it hates everything that America holds dear – freedom and democracy, tolerance and pluralism, and equality and opportunity. We cannot allow this murderous group to plant itself firmly in the heart of the Middle East, where it not only can expand its influence across the region but where it can plan terrorist attacks in the United States. It will require the best of our efforts to confront this challenge and destroy this group.

As I speak to you tonight, I fully recognize that we have been at war now for well over a decade. We came together as a nation when we responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by confronting al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and we have remained on the attack ever since. We have targeted its leadership and kept its fighters on the run.

We were less unified as we launched a more controversial war in Iraq a few years later. I made no secret of my own opposition to that war because I thought that it diverted us from the job in Afghanistan.

But, my fellow Americans, as we prepare for our response to the Islamic State, which will last at least for months and probably for years, we must put aside the debates of yesterday and come together for the challenges of today.

I also fully recognize that America should not address this challenge alone. The Islamic State has threatened our European allies directly, and any nation that does not share its ideology is vulnerable to its murderous ways. I plan to work closely with our allies to marshal the full force of our collective efforts.

But, my fellow Americans, let us be clear:

At times like this, the civilized world looks to America. When freedom is under attack, it is for us to lead the charge in its defense. We have played this role proudly for generations, and we must do so again. We led the Allies to victory in World War II over the dark forces of totalitarianism and aggression. We led the free world for half a century during the Cold War, which ended with our victory over Soviet communism. We ended genocide in the Balkans in the 1990s, and, more recently, we worked with our European allies to topple a dictator in Libya before he could slaughter his people.

We are neither a perfect people nor a perfect nation. But through the years, we have been the greatest force for good – for freedom and democracy, for peace and prosperity – that the world has ever known. Through the years, new challenges to freedom have arisen from ruthless adversaries who are driven by radical ideologies. In the face of such challenges, we remain what we have been for so long: the “indispensable nation.”

With America once again threatened by attack, and the values we cherish under siege, we must come together, as we did after Sept. 11, 2001, and as we have always shown the capacity to do when required. At times like these, we are neither Republican nor Democratic. We hail from neither red states nor blue states. We are Americans.

And as your president, I approach the challenge with a great love for our nation and a firm resolve to do whatever I must to protect it.

Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.


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