President Obama on Wednesday took the unusual step during a press conference in Buenos Aires of specifically criticizing proposals made by Texas senator and Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz in the aftermath of the ISIS terror attacks in Brussels as “inhumane” and “counter-productive.”
Cruz, in different interviews after the attacks on Tuesday, said that the U.S. police departments ought to be directed to “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods. In the fight against ISIS, he restated his insistence that the US ought to “carpet bomb” areas where Islamic State fighters are based.
During a joint press conference with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Obama said that defeating ISIS and protecting national security are together his number one priority, but he won’t be distracted from his strategy by misguided proposals at the height of the campaign season that would be counter-productive or harmful to the national interest.
“I’ve got a lot on my plate, but my top priority is to defeat ISIL and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that’s been taking place around the world,” he said. “And we see high profile attacks in Europe, but they are also killing Muslims throughout the Middle East. People who are innocent, people who are guilty only of worshipping Islam in a different way than this organization. They are poisoning the minds of young people everywhere, not just in Europe but the United States and probably Argentina.”
The main issue, he added, is “how do we do it in an intelligent way. And our approach has been continuously to adjust to see what works, and what doesn’t.”
What has worked, he said, are the allied air strikes on ISIS’s leadership, infrastructure and their financial systems, as well as special U.S. operators partnering with Iraqi security forces and going after leadership networks, couriers and disrupting their bases in Raqqa and Mosul.
“We have taken away 40 percent of their territory and ISIL leadership has been hunkered down, and we are going to continue to press on them until they are driven out of their strongholds until they’re destroyed,” he said. “While we are doing that, we’re also extraordinarily vigilant about preventing attacks in our homeland and working with our allies to prevent attacks in Europe.”
But it’s difficult and challenging “to identify very small groups of people who are willing to die themselves and can walk into a crowd and detonate a bomb. My charge to my team is to find every strategy possible to successfully reduce the risk of such terrorist attacks even after we go after their beating hearts in places like Iraq and Syria.”
“What we don’t do – and what we should not do—is take approaches that are going to be counter-productive,” he said. “So when I hear people say we should carpet bomb Iraq or Syria, not only is that inhumane, not only is that contrary to our values, but that would likely be an extraordinary mechanism for ISIL to recruit more people willing to die or explode bombs in an airport or a subway station. That is not a smart strategy.”
As for Cruz’s proposal to police Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S., Obama said that one of the great strengths in the US, and the reason there hasn’t been more terrorist attacks here, is cooperation from Muslim community leaders in discouraging radical activities.
“So any approach that would single them out or target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American but it also would be counter-productive because it would reduce the strength, the anti-bodies we have to resist terrorism.”
“As far as the notion of having surveillance of neighborhoods where Muslims are present, I just left a country (Cuba) that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance,” he said, adding that Cruz’s father fled Cuba for America in search of freedom. “The notion that we would start down that slippery slope makes absolutely no sense. It’s contrary to who we are and it’s not going to help defeat ISIL.”