President Barack Obama, in a speech striking for both its message and tone, told the UN General Assembly that the Islamic State terror group understands only “the language of force” and that it’s time to admit that Muslim sectarian conflict is “the source of so much human misery” in the world today.
The rhetorical shift from earlier Obama addresses was hard to miss. Talk of multilateralism and unclenched fists was replaced with more blunt, aggressive and judgmental words. He struck chords reminiscent of predecessor President George W. Bush, whose Mideast war legacy Obama ran against six years ago,
“No God condones this terror; no grievance justifies these actions,” Obama said of the rape, killing and beheading of innocents.
“There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.” That certainty echoed Bush’s 2003 address announcing the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein: ``I can assure you this will not be a campaign of half measures and we will accept no outcome but victory.’’
Despite the sharpened message, Obama’s goals were more pragmatic and aimed at protecting Americans rather than Bush’s mission to change the ruling class in Iraq.
“It's not ‘W.’ language – well, it may be -- but it's not rooted in bravado,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Mideast peace negotiator at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “It's rooted in what he hopes to be the strategy that doesn't become so open- ended that he falls prey to the problems of his predecessor.”
“He's not trying to fix the Middle East, he's trying to protect America and American allies,” said Miller, author of “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.” “That tough moralistic black-and-white language is a function of the threat he now perceives. And let's be clear: It could destroy his presidency.”
In calling out Muslim infighting, Obama sought to put the observation in context while putting the onus on the Arab world to help eradicate ISIS.
“There is nothing new about wars within religions,” he said. “Christianity endured centuries of vicious sectarian conflict. Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery. It is time to acknowledge the destruction wrought by proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East.”
To be sure, some of his points were quintessential Obama.
“No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds,” he said. Rejecting sectarian extremism is “a task for the people of the Middle East themselves.”
“We reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations,” Obama said. “America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism.”
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