Transcript Of Obama's Oval Office Address Following San Bernardino Shootings Show The President's Commitment To Combating Terrorism
Earlier this week, at least two suspects entered San Bernardino, California's Inland Regional Center, shooting and killing 14 people in an act of terrorism. And, four days later, President Barack Obama delivered a rare address from his office about the current terror threat to the U.S., particularly in the wake of of the Paris terror attack on Nov. 13 that killed 130 individuals. And, based on the transcript of Obama's Oval Office speech about terrorism, it's clear that the government is taking that very threat very seriously.
Not that those watching the news prior to the address Sunday would have been surprised, even if the speech itself is a bit surprising. (Sunday marked only the third Oval Office speech since the president began his first term — the last time he spoke from the office, he announced the U.S. was withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2010.) After all, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch told NBC's Meet The Press that the speech was intended to touch on "what government is doing to ensure all of our highest priority — the protection of the American people." And based on how insecure many feel following the attack on Wednesday in San Bernardino, Obama's words were more than necessary.
Below, the full transcript of Obama's Oval Office speech (which will be updated live as the president delivers it):
Good evening. On Wednesday, 14 Americans were killed as they were brought together to celebrate the holidays. They were taken from families and friends who loved them deeply. They were white and black, Latino and Asian, immigrants and American-born, moms and dads, daughters and sons. Each of them served their fellow citizens, and all of them were part of our American family.
Tonight I want to talk with you about this tragedy, the broader threat of terrorism, and how we can keep our country safe. The FBI is still gathering the facts about what happened in San Bernardino, but here's hwat we know. The victims were brutally murdered and injured by one of their co-workers and his wife. So far we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas, or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home. But it is clear that the two of them have gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West. They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs.
So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people. Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11. In the process, we've hardened our defenses, from airports, to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe. Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas, disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden and decimating al-Qaeda's leadership.
Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase. As we've become better at preventing complex multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turn to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack we saw in Fort Hood in 2009, in Chattanooga earlier this year, and now in San Bernardino. And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.
For seven years, I have confronted this evolving threat each and every morning in my intelligence briefing. And since the day I took this office, I have authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad because I know how real the danger is. As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people. As a father to two young daughters who are the most precious part of my life, I know that we see ourselves with friends and co-workers at the holiday party like the one in San Bernardino. I know we see our kids in the faces in the young people killed in Paris. And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.
Well, here's what I want you to know. The threat from terrorism is real. But we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won't depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That's what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.
Here's how. First, our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary. In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure. And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign, which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.
Second, 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. In both countries, we're deploying special operations forces who can accelerate that offensive. We've stepped up this effort since the attacks in Paris, and will continue to invest more in approaches that are working on the ground.
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. Since the attacks in Paris, we've surged intelligent sharing with our European allies. We're working with Turkey to seal its boarder with Syria. And we're cooperating with Muslim majority countries and with our Muslim communities here at home to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online.
Fourth, with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process and timeline to pursue cease-fires and a political resolution to the Syrian war. Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country — including our allies but also countries like Russia — to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL, a group that threatens us all.
This is our strategy to destroy ISIL. It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counter-terrorism experts together with 65 countries who have joined an American-led coalition. And we constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done. That's why I've ordered the departments of state and homeland security to review the visa waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country. And that's why I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.
Now, here at home, we have to work together to address the challenge. There are several steps that Congress should take right away. To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to get a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security. We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence or law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology.
What we can do, and must do, is make it harder for them to kill. Next, we should put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so we can take a hard look at whether they've traveled to war zones. And we're working with both parties of Congress to do exactly that.
Finally, if Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists. For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it's time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united and committed to this fight.
My fellow Americans, these are the steps that we can take together to defeat the terrorist threat. Let me now say a word about what we should not do. We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq and Syria. That's what groups like ISIL want. They know they can't defeat us on the battlefield. ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq. But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops and draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits. The strategy we are using now — airstrikes, special forces, and working with local forces who are working to regain control of their own country — that is how we will achieve a more sustainable victory. And it won't require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.
Here's what else we cannot do. We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That too is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death. And they account for a tiny fraction of a more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we are to succeed in defeating terrorism, we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies rather than push them away through suspicion and hate. That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. It is a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda promote. To speak out against not just acts of violence but those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.
But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans of every faith to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It is our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values, plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and neighbors, our coworkers, our sports heroes, and yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.
My fellow Americans, I am confident that we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity, that no matter who you are, or where you come from or what you look like or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God, and equal in the eyes of the laws. Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future presidents must take to keep our country safe, let's make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let's never forget that freedom is more powerful than fear. And we have always met challenges, whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks, by coming together around our common ideas as one nation and one people. So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt that America will prevail.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Image: Mark Wilson, Sean M. Haffey, AFP, Joel Saget, David McNew, Pool/Getty