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World & Nation

Obama resolves to defeat Islamic State, urges Americans to reject fear

President Obama

President Obama holds a news conference in Kuala Lumpur after taking part in the ASEAN Summit.

(Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)

President Obama on Sunday urged Americans not to “succumb to fear” or accept the threat of terrorism as a “new normal,” vowing as the United States intensifies its military campaign that defeating the Islamic State was “not only a realistic goal, we’re going to get it done.”

In a news conference closing a three-nation tour of Asia, Obama seemed to acknowledge the critique that he’s misjudged the threat of the Islamic State while at the same time challenging its validity, expressing resolve to defeat the terrorist network “with every aspect of American power,” but later arguing that the best way to do so would be to deprive it of the exalted status its leaders seek.

At one point the president seemed to dismiss the radical group as “a bunch of killers with good social media” as he was asked to explain to the American people just how it should view the security threat it poses.

In addition to the military action and intelligence gathering, “the most powerful tool that we have to fight ISIL is to say that we’re not afraid,” Obama said, using an alternate term for the Islamic State. “To not elevate them, to somehow buy into their fantasy that they’re doing something important.”

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Throughout his nine days overseas — a trip that ultimately takes him fully around the globe before returning to Washington Monday — the president’s characteristic drive to urge patience and restraint in a media and political climate that often tolerates neither has only been more difficult.

In a nearly hour-long news conference he repeatedly urged the public to take a long view of recent events, saying for instance that Americans should “catch our breath” amid a political storm over the prospect of accepting Syrian refugees. Obama said the kind of “prejudice” shown in the debate, including some “radical” ideas from Republican presidential hopefuls, “helps ISIL and undermines our national security.”

“And so even as we destroy ISIL on the battlefield — and we will destroy them,” he said, “we want to make sure that we don’t lose our own values and our own principles. We can all do our part by upholding the values of tolerance and diversity and equality that help keep America strong.”

The president did say it was understandable that Americans are afraid of the threat of terrorism. He invoked the memory of Nohemi Gonzalez, the 23-year-old Californian killed in Paris, as well as another American killed in the more recent attack in Mali — saying they reminded him “of my daughters, or my mother.”

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“It is worth us remembering when we look at the statistics that there are beautiful, wonderful lives behind the terrible death tolls that we see in these places,” he said. 

Still, Americans should “not accept the idea that terrorist assaults on restaurants and theaters and hotels are the new normal or that we are powerless to stop them.”

After returning to Washington, Obama will meet with French President Francois Hollande to discuss the next steps in the international campaign against Islamic State after a series of attacks in Paris killed 130.

The president said there was increasing awareness on the part of the Russians that Islamic State represents a greater threat to them “than anything else in the region.” He has criticized President Vladimir Putin for being more interested in propping up President Bashar Assad than combating a terrorist threat that he said took down a Russian airliner; on Sunday he reiterated that Assad could not play a role in any solution to the Syrian civil war.

“There are large numbers of members of this coalition including President Hollande who agree with me on that,” he said.    

Follow @mikememoli for more White House coverage.

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