One day before the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, President Barack Obama plans to address the nation on the threat posed by ISIS extremists -- telling NBC News the U.S. will “hunt down" the terrorists "wherever they are.”
The president revealed his plans for the upcoming address during a wide-ranging, exclusive interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“What I'm going to be asking the American people to understand is, number one, this is a serious threat,” Obama said about the speech, which is not expected to be a prime time address. “Number two, we have the capacity to deal with it.”
Obama emphasized he will not advocate for the deployment of U.S. ground troops in the region, saying it would be “a profound mistake” to put American boots on the ground in Syria as some critics have suggested.
“This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war,” he said, stressing that the United States will work with “regional partners” like Iraqi and Kurdish forces and Syrian rebel troops to degrade the terror group’s capacities.
“Over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of (ISIS),” he said. “We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And that's how we're going to defeat them.”
He added: "The strategy both for Iraq and for Syria is that we will hunt down [ISIS] members and assets wherever they are. I will reserve the right to always protect the American people and go after folks who are trying to hurt us wherever they are."
Despite the timing of the Wednesday speech, Obama said there is no “immediate intelligence” that indicates a threat to the United States by ISIS.
He warned, however, that if allowed to grow and recruit more foreign fighters, the group could attempt strikes on U.S. soil.
The president’s description of ISIS was in stark contrast to his initial take on these jihadist offshoot groups during a January interview with the New Yorker, when he called ISIS and others a “JV team.” Obama told NBC News his “JV” metaphor did not refer specifically to ISIS, which he says grew out of the U.S. invasion in Iraq and “has metastasized.”
“Our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there's a terrorist organization,” he added during the Saturday interview, referencing his remarks at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in May. “Our goal has to be to partner more effectively with governments that are committed to pushing back against the kind of extremism that [ISIS] represents.”
The president noted that one of the challenges that the United States and its moderate allies in the Arab world must address is the skill ISIS has shown in gaining support from young people in the region via the web.
“One of the things we’ve seen about (ISIS) is they’re really good on social media,” he said. “They understand how to message to disaffected youth throughout the Arab world and throughout the Sunni world what they’re doing.”
Ebola ‘a national security priority’
During the sit-down with Meet the Press, Obama also focused on the Ebola outbreak ravaging western Africa.
The president said the United States has a responsibility to give countries without sufficient public health infrastructure the resources they need to contain the virus.
“What I've said, and I said this two months ago to our National Security Team, is we have to make this a national security priority,” he said. “We have to mobilize the international community, get resources in there.”
Citing the need for U.S. military assets to set up isolation units and provide security for public health workers, Obama acknowledged that the virus may still not be controllable in Africa for “months.” He noted the outbreak should not reach U.S. soil because it is transmitted by bodily fluids and not through the air, making it containable in areas with secure health facilities and infrastructure.
But he also warned that the virus could mutate if not controlled, making it dramatically more threatening throughout the world and even at home in the United States.
“If we don't make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there's the prospect then that the virus mutates,” he said. “It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”
Obama chastised those who dispute the need to spend U.S. dollars on public health aid in developing countries, saying that preventative measures are crucial to stopping outbreaks that could endanger the rest of the globe.
“When we make those short-term investments now, it really pays a lot of dividends in the future,” he said.
On immigration, a politics that “did shift midsummer”
During the exclusive interview, Obama also defended his decision to delay executive action on immigration, saying that the summer’s surge of unaccompanied undocumented children at the Mexican border changed the politics of the issue.
“The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” he said. “I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy."
Obama rejected criticism that the postponement is merely a political tactic intended to help embattled Democrats in the months before contentious midterm elections, saying that the delay will help make new immigration policies “sustainable” when they are announced later this year.
“What I'm saying is that I'm going to act because it's the right thing for the country,” he said. “But it's going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we've done on unaccompanied children, and why it's necessary.”
White House officials confirmed to NBC News on Saturday that the president will delay any executive action on immigration until after November.
“The reality the President has had to weigh is that we're in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans' extreme politicization of this issue, the President believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” a White House official said.
The administration continues to say that the president will take executive action to address the nation’s undocumented population before the end of the year. But furious immigration activists are deriding the delay as a reversal of Obama’s previous promises to curb deportations before the end of the summer.
“The president’s latest broken promise is another slap to the face of the Latino and immigrant community,” said Cristina Jimenez, the head of immigration rights group United We Dream. “Where we have demanded leadership and courage from both Democrats and the president, we’ve received nothing but broken promises and a lack of political backbone.”