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Obama Delivers Rare, Prime-Time Address From The Oval Office


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. In his Oval Office address last night, President Obama marked an unsettling shift in the violence of our time. He acknowledged a pattern of attacks against the United States. They are terror attacks by people apparently inspired by extremist ideology, even if they were not directly commanded by extremist groups.


The president said last week's attack in San Bernardino may have been just such a strike. And he noted that stopping such attacks is different than detecting complicated plots like 9/11.

INSKEEP: He also argued that his strategy to defeat ISIS, the group that has been calling for such attacks, will work. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama had kept a relatively low profile in the days immediately following the San Bernardino shooting. But by Friday afternoon he and his staff knew he would have to speak up. Obama recognized that, like the Paris shootings three weeks earlier, the massacre in California hit close to home. And Americans wanted some reassurance.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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 coworkers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino. I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris.

HORSLEY: For the first time Obama said explicitly the San Bernardino killings were an act of terrorism. And while there's no evidence the killers were directed by ISIS or part of a broader conspiracy, Obama says Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik had gone down a dark path of radicalization.


OBAMA: They'd stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition and pipe bombs. So this was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.

HORSLEY: Obama warned terrorist plots have evolved over the years from complex and spectacular 9/11-style attacks to simpler but still deadly assaults like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino. Such attacks require less coordination and are thus harder for authorities to detect. But speaking from a lectern in front of a resolute desk, Obama tried to sound resolute. He vowed the U.S. will destroy ISIS or ISIL which inspired the California attack.


OBAMA: 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.

HORSLEY: That includes not only military power but also a push to strangle ISIS financing and to counteract its recruiting efforts on social media. Republican critics were not swayed by the president's speech. House Speaker Paul Ryan complained Obama offered no new plan but only a halfhearted distraction from what Ryan labeled a failing policy. Obama insists the U.S. and its allies are stepping up their military attacks on ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But he cautioned against getting sucked into another long and costly ground war in the Middle East.


OBAMA: If we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources and using our presence to draw new recruits.

HORSLEY: The president also renewed his call for stricter gun safety legislation. And he cautioned Americans not to let themselves be divided along religious lines. While Muslims have a responsibility to root out extremist ideologies, Obama says, Americans of all faiths have a responsibility to reject religious discrimination.


OBAMA: If we're 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.

HORSLEY: Both the president and congressional Republicans stressed the importance of Americans working together to defeat an enemy like ISIS. Judging by comments before and after the president's speech, though, political leadership in the nation's capital remains as divided as ever. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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