- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One year after proclaiming that America was shifting away from “perpetual war,” President Obama called on the United Nations Wednesday to help the U.S. in his widening new war against the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.

“There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil,” Mr. Obama said at the annual U.N. General Assembly. “The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”

At Mr. Obama’s behest, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution to crack down on would-be terrorists from traveling to jihadi conflicts around the globe.

The council unanimously approved a resolution to “prevent and suppress” recruitment and travel of militant fighters to conflicts such as in Syria, where the U.S. estimates about 15,000 militants have traveled from as many as 80 nations to join the Islamic State terrorist group.

“These terrorists believe our countries will be unable to stop them,” Mr. Obama told the 15-member council. “The safety of our citizens demands that we do.”

French President Francois Hollande said he is “fully committed” to the action after learning that an abducted French citizen was beheaded in Algeria by an affiliate of the Islamic State group.

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“This group [the Islamic State] has threatened the entire world. It’s attracting fighters from all over the world and is training them so they can conduct terrorist acts in their own countries,” Mr. Hollande said.

U.S. counterterrorism officials believe at least 100 Americans have traveled to Syria to join the extremist group, and that as many as 40 of them have returned to the U.S.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose nation joined the U.S.-led coalition in airstrikes against the militants in Syria this week, called it “the fight of our times.”

“It is not an Arab or Muslim fight anymore,” he said. “The new breed of extremism is recruiting worldwide through social media and covert partnerships. Time is of the essence.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the international community must defeat “the poisonous ideology” of Islamist extremism.

“From my own country, 500 of these fanatics have gone to Syria and Iraq,” he said. “I believe we’ll be dealing with the effects of this threat for years.”

Unlike many of his speeches in international forums, Mr. Obama was not interrupted once by applause in the general assembly. Foreign heads of state showed no noticeable reaction and gave the president a brief, polite ovation at the end of his 40-minute address, which Mr. Obama wrote mostly himself.

The president’s changed tone came as the U.S. expanded its military campaign against the Islamist militants, with airstrikes hitting targets in both Syria and Iraq. Mr. Obama opened another military front with airstrikes this week against an al Qaeda splinter group in Syria that the Pentagon said was preparing attacks on the U.S. or Europe.

The burgeoning twin threats have drawn Mr. Obama back into a Middle East war that he has long sought to avoid, particularly in Syria, where Russia and Iran have stakes in the outcome of the three-year-old civil war. The renewed conflict is also risking Mr. Obama’s desired reputation for ending wars, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As he has said since ordering airstrikes on Aug. 8, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president referred to his new military action as a “targeted campaign” instead of a “war.”

He repeatedly proclaimed that America is not at war with Islam and tried urged Middle Eastern nations to take the lead in combating violent Islamist extremism.

“It is time for the world — especially Muslim communities — to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and [the Islamic State],” the president said. “Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery.”

He added, “Ultimately, the task of rejecting sectarianism and extremism is a generational task — a task for the people of the Middle East themselves. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds.”

A coalition of five Arab nations joined the U.S. in the strikes in Syria: Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The militant threat in the Middle East is just one in a series of global crises that have tested Mr. Obama, just one year after he proclaimed at the U.N. that at the world was “more stable.”

Russia has ignored warnings and sanctions from the U.S. and Europe to stop its military aggression in Ukraine. And leaders in West Africa have criticized Mr. Obama for not doing more to help combat an Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 2,500 people.

Mr. Obama took on Russia in his speech, accusing Moscow of arming separatists, refusing to allow access to the site of a downed civilian airliner and moving its own troops into Ukraine.

“This is a vision of the world in which might makes right, a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed,” Mr. Obama said. “America stands for something different.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the speech “was a missed opportunity by the president to detail a clear, decisive strategy to defeat radical Islam and deter aggressors like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

“President Obama rightly said radical Islamists only understand the ‘language of force,’” Mr. Graham said. “However, when President Obama then pledges not to use ground forces against [the Islamic State], he emboldens the enemy. They hear what we, the United States, will not do to defeat them.”

Also Wednesday, the new Iraqi prime minister held his first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Obama and asked for the U.S. to send more weapons for Iraq’s armed forces to confront the militants of the Islamic State.

“Our armed forces are in dire need for equipment and for weapons,” said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, “mostly because we lost a lot of the equipment and the weapons in our confrontation and our fight against” the Islamic State.

A senior administration official said the Iraqis are not looking for new weapons but want the U.S. “to move a little faster” on supplying promised military hardware. The U.S. has carried out nearly 200 airstrikes against the militants in Iraq since Aug. 8.

As he often does in front of international audiences, Mr. Obama also called attention to American strife. He said it’s “true” that the U.S. “has plenty of problems within our own borders,” and pointed as an example to the civil unrest spawned by a white police officer shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

“In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri — where a young man was killed, and a community was divided,” Mr. Obama said. “So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.”

But Mr. Obama said Americans “welcome the scrutiny of the world, because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect.”

In advance of next week’s meeting at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Obama said the situation in the Middle East looks “bleak” and laid down a marker for talks between Israel and the Palestinians. “The status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable,” he said.

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