Donald Trump rolled through Raleigh Friday with his usual blasts about China, Japan and Mexico, and his attacks on Barack Obama, and then on Monday the GOP presidential candidate escalated his rhetoric. He called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
By contrast, President Obama on Sunday offered a real-world example of what a leader – rather than a demagogue – does and says in a crisis.
The president spoke to the nation from the Oval Office in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and an attack in San Bernardino, Calif., now linked to Islamic State sympathizers. Obama sounded the right notes in pledging more airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and promising an intensified hunt for the leaders of terrorist organizations that have inspired or orchestrated attacks.
“We will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless,” Obama said.
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But the president did not connect a strong response to what would be a foolish one – sending thousands of troops back into Iraq and possibly entering Syria. U.S. forces would defeat the Islamic State, Obama said, but direct engagement would fuel years-long insurgencies, cost billions of dollars and expose American soldiers to death and injury from suicide bombers, roadside bombs and snipers.
On the domestic front, the president ordered government officials to review a program under which one of the suspects in the San Bernardino attack entered the country. Tashfeen Malik came to the United States on a so-called “fiancee visa” and became the wife of Syed Farook, an American citizen. Authorities now say the couple, who were killed in a shootout with police shortly after the attack, had been making deadly plans for years.
Some Republican presidential candidates, most prominently Trump, have called for a “tougher” response to terrorism in the Mideast and at home. But Obama said the best response is one based on reason and and tolerance. “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,” he said.
Tolerance must also be joined by vigilance. The background of the couple suspected in the California attack raises questions about whether U.S. security officials need to refine their strategy for detecting, monitoring and pursuing potential terrorists.
In an anxious time, the president has asked Americans not to succumb to the temptation of linking the Muslim faith to terrorism, as Trump now has. Without the weight of office, it is easy to talk tough. The president is taking us on a harder, but better course.