Barack Obama photo

Remarks Following a Meeting With Foreign Chiefs of Defense at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland

October 14, 2014

Well, good afternoon, everybody. I want to thank Chairman Dempsey for bringing us here together to review coalition operations to degrade and to ultimately destroy ISIL. I want to thank General Austin of Central Command and General Votel, down at the end, of Special Operations Command for their outstanding leadership as well.

At this stage, some 60 nations are contributing to this coalition, including more than 20 coalition members who are represented here today, among them, Iraq, Arab nations, Turkey, NATO allies, and partners from around the world. So this is an operation that involves the world against ISIL.

So far, we've seen some important successes: stopping ISIL's advance on Erbil, saving many civilians from a massacre on Mount Sinjar, retaking the Mosul Dam, destroying ISIL targets and fighters across Iraq and Syria.

Obviously, at this point, we're also focused on the fighting that is taking place in Iraq's Anbar Province, and we're deeply concerned about the situation in and around the Syrian town of Kobani, which underscores the threat that ISIL poses in both Iraq and Syria. And coalition airstrikes will continue in both these areas.

One of the things that has emerged from the discussions, both before I came and during my visit here, is that this is going to be a long-term campaign. There are not quick fixes involved. We're still at the early stages. As with any military effort, there will be days of progress, and there are going to be periods of setback.

But our coalition is united behind this long-term effort. Our nations agree that ISIL poses a significant threat to the people of Iraq and Syria. It poses a threat to surrounding countries. And because of the numbers of foreign fighters that are being attracted and the chaos that ISIL was creating in the region, ultimately, it will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States, Europe, and far-flung countries like Australia that have already seen terrorist networks trying to infiltrate and impact population centers on the other side of the world.

So we are united in our goal to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat to Iraq, to the region, or the international community. But one of the things that's also been emphasized here today is, this is not simply a military campaign. This is not a classic army in which we defeat them on the battlefield and then they ultimately surrender. What we're also fighting is an ideological strain of extremism that has taken root in too many parts of the region. We are dealing with sectarianism and political divisions that for too long have been a primary political, organizational rallying point in the region. We're dealing with economic deprivation and lack of opportunity among too many young people in the region.

And so one of the interesting things to hear from our military leadership is the recognition that this cannot simply be a military campaign. This has to be a campaign that includes all the dimensions of our power. We have to do a better job communicating an alternative vision for those who are currently attracted to the fighting inside Iraq and Syria. It is going to be absolutely critical to make sure that the political inclusion that Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq is committed to is actually translated into real progress. It's going to require us developing and strengthening a moderate opposition inside of Syria that is in a position then to bring about the kind of legitimacy and sound governance for all people inside of Syria.

And so, in addition to denying ISIL safe haven in Iraq and Syria, in addition to stopping foreign fighters, in addition to the intelligence gathering and airstrikes and ground campaigns that may be developed by the Iraqi security forces, we're also going to have to pay attention to communications. We're going to have to pay attention to how all the countries in the region begin to cooperate in rooting out this cancer. And we're going to have to continue to deliver on the humanitarian assistance of all the populations that have been affected. And we have three countries here—Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey—who obviously are bearing an extraordinary burden from the displaced persons, not just recently over the last few months, but for several years now as a consequence of the civil war in Syria. That all plays a part in this campaign.

But I want to thank all the nations who are represented here in what is a growing coalition. I'm encouraged by the unanimity of viewpoints and the commitment of the countries involved to make sure that we're making steady progress.

Before I close, I do want to say something about another topic that's obviously attracted a lot of attention, and that is the situation with Ebola. We have made enormous strides in just a few short weeks in standing up a U.S. military operation in western Africa that can start building the kind of transport lines and supply lines to get workers, supplies, medicine, equipment into Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. And a number of the countries who are represented here are really stepping up and doing what's necessary in order for us to contain this epidemic.

But as I've said before and I'm going to keep on repeating until we start seeing more progress, the world as a whole is not doing enough. There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up. Those that have stepped up, all of us are going to have to do more, because unless we contain this at the source, this is going to continue to pose a threat to individual countries at a time when there's no place that's more than a couple of air flights away. And the transmission of this disease obviously directly threatens all our populations.

In addition, we have not only a humanitarian crisis in West Africa that threatens hundreds of thousands of lives, but we also have the secondary effects of destabilization, economically and politically, that could lead to more severe problems down the road.

So everybody is going to have to do more than they're doing right now. And I am reaching out directly to heads of state and government who, I believe, have the capacities to do more. I spoke yesterday with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who agrees that everybody has to do more. And I can assure everybody that the United States will continue to do its part.

With respect to Ebola here in the United States, we are surging resources into Dallas to examine what exactly has happened that ended up infecting the nurse there. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with her and all the courageous health care workers around the country who put themselves in challenging situations in treating this disease. We are going to make sure that all the lessons learned from Dallas are then applied to hospitals and health centers around the country.

As I've said before, we have a public health infrastructure and systems and support that make an epidemic here highly unlikely. But obviously, one case is too many, and we've got to keep on doing everything we can, particularly to protect our health care workers, because they're on the front lines in battling this disease. And we've also now instituted some additional screening measures, starting at JFK Airport, that will then apply to a number of other airports where we know the bulk of travelers that may have come in contact with Ebola would be coming through. We're confident that we're going to be able to put those in place in the days ahead.

But in the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the nurse, who, like so many nurses and health care workers around the country, day in, day out, do what they need to do, sometimes at some risk to themselves, in order to provide the kind of care that we all depend on. We need to eliminate those risks for them, and we're confident that we can build the protocols and make sure that they are observed carefully to avoid additional repeats of what's happened in Dallas.

But we're going to be as vigilant as we need to be in order to make sure that this disease is properly contained. The best way for us to do that, though, is also to make sure and understand that what happens in West Africa has an impact here in the United States and in all the other countries that are represented here.

So thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:31 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Nina Pham, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, TX, who contracted Ebola while treating a patient. He also referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist organization.

Barack Obama, Remarks Following a Meeting With Foreign Chiefs of Defense at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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