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What's New in Obama's Terror Speech?

  • Chris Hannas

FILE - An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Turkey's Incirlik Air Base to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, Aug. 12, 2015, in this image provided by the U.S. Air Force.

FILE - An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Turkey's Incirlik Air Base to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, Aug. 12, 2015, in this image provided by the U.S. Air Force.

President Barack Obama's speech Sunday on confronting the threat of terrorism was met by analysts and lawmakers with questions of what is new about his strategy.

The president laid out a four-part plan to destroy the Islamic State group that included the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, training fighters on the ground in those countries, working with allies to disrupt financing and recruiting, and seeking an end to Syria's civil war. Those elements are largely what the president announced when launching the airstrike campaign in August 2014.

Max Abrahms, a professor of political science at Northeastern University and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA that there is "widespread anxiety" about terrorism in the United States and that the president's speech was weak.

"What Obama needed to do was not to reassure the American public that things were going smoothly, because nobody believes that," Abrahms said. "I think Americans were hoping for a new turn in our approach to dealing with Islamic State because the status quo doesn't seem to be working."

Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had a similar reaction, saying the president failed to give a new strategy.

"The administration has said over and over again it already has congressional authorization to defeat ISIS," Corker said, using another acronym for the militant group. "The American people are still trying to understand how he intends to do so."

FILE -- Skulls remain at the site of a purported mass grave in the city of Sinjar, northern Iraq after it was retaken from Islamic State militants, Nov. 22, 2015.

FILE -- Skulls remain at the site of a purported mass grave in the city of Sinjar, northern Iraq after it was retaken from Islamic State militants, Nov. 22, 2015.

House Speaker Paul Ryan scheduled a vote this week on one proposal Obama mentioned: the effort to update the country's visa waiver program that allows people to enter the U.S. from certain countries with less scrutiny.

The bill would disqualify anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria in the past five years from coming to the U.S. without a visa, and would allow the Department of Homeland Security to remove any country from the program that does not adequately provide information about potential terrorists inside its borders.

But Ryan added to the criticism that Obama offered nothing new on Sunday, calling the address an "attempt to defend and distract from a failing policy."

"Until we hear from the president what more can be done – with our military, our intelligence-gathering, and our international partners – we will remain one step behind our enemy," Ryan said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended the president's speech, saying that he was "resolute and strong" and that the country will not give in to terror. She echoed Obama's calls for Congress to act on altering visa waivers, to authorize force against the Islamic State and to prevent terrorists from being able to buy guns.

FILE - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 23, 2015.

FILE - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 23, 2015.

R. Nicholas Palarino, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, told VOA new regulations will not affect terrorists' access to weapons.

"If a terrorist anywhere in the United States or anywhere in the world wants to get a gun, he or she is going to get a gun," he said. "If a terrorist wants to build a pipe bomb or an improvised explosive device, they're going to be able to do that."

Abrahms also noted the limitations, saying the shooters in last week's attacks in California would have used their bombs if they did not have guns. He said that authorities can't prevent all attacks, but that an important element in limiting an attack's impact is reducing the number of people involved.

"The best way for us to prevent large numbers of people from supporting Islamic State in the United States is by not overreacting," he said. "Because if we overreact, specifically if our counterterrorism measures are indiscriminate and they end up punishing law-abiding Muslims, this will incentivize them toward the path of radicalization and reduce the quality of intelligence we're getting from the Muslim community to identify radical people."

Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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