President Barack Obama said it’s important to see the Islamic State for what it is and not to exaggerate the group’s strengths.
“When you look at ISIL, it has no governing strategy,” Obama said Sunday in an interview on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. “It can talk about setting up the new caliphate, but nobody is under any illusions that they can actually in a sustained way feed people or educate people or organize a society that would work.”
The Islamic State continues to hold vast stretches of territory in Syria and Iraq.
Winning the support of local populations is key to the militant group’s long-term success, but today its power is derived mostly through fear. In Raqqa, the group’s headquarters in Syria, public beheadings and crucifictions are regular occurrences.
But perhaps more threatening to its long-term stability is the group’s inability to deliver a functioning government and a productive economy to the people who live in the territory it controls. The Islamic State brags about its ability to administer services and promotes itself as an alternative to the corruption and poor governance of the Syrian or Iraqi government, but reports of poverty, inflation, water shortages and power outages are emerging from cities like Mosul in Iraq. With no journalists inside these places though, it is difficult to get a clear picture of what life is really like there.
Obama said it’s important “we maintain a proper perspective,” on the Islamic State, describing it as a “death cult or a entirely backward-looking fantasy that can’t function in the world.”
The group, and other Islamic extremist terrorist organizations, can do harm, but they are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.”
The U.S. needs to see the threat for what it is and respond to it in a way that doesn’t undermine American values, the president said.
“It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears, because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military,” he said.
Instead, “what’s required is a surgical, precise response to a very specific problem,” Obama added.