Just before one of the busiest times of the year to travel, U.S. President Barack Obama told Americans they should be aware but not worried about potential terrorist attacks. The president did not announce any new policies but reiterated that the United States is in a “new phase of terrorism” and threatened by lone wolf attacks.
“I want to repeat what my team just told me: At this moment our intelligence and counterterrorism officials do not have any credible and specific information about an attack on the homeland,” he said after a meeting with his top homeland security advisors at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia. “That said, we must be vigilant.”
Obama went on to discuss three fronts of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, including attacking terrorist groups abroad, increasing security at home through coordinated anti-terror efforts between law enforcement at all levels and calling on American citizens to resist fear. He said that refugees would continue to endure strict vetting, that national security teams were looking into how best to monitor social media accounts for threats and that changes were being considered for the visa-waiver program.
He also said he had been briefed on security at American posts abroad.
The president has been trying to put together a message that reassures Americans that American counterterrorism measures are robust and serious in spite of what he sees as alarmist rhetoric from his opponents. He gave a rare Oval Office speech Dec. 6 on the subject and spoke on Monday at the Pentagon.
Those efforts follow the recent deadly terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, both of which have been linked to the Islamic State group. In California, two radicalized shooters – one an American citizen and the other a Pakistani national who moved to the U.S. on a so-called “fiancée” visa – shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party and wounded 21 others. In Paris, several teams of coordinated terrorists wreaked havoc across the French capital last month, killing 130 in shootings and bomb blasts, injuring hundreds more.
Republicans in Congress and on the 2016 campaign trail have criticized the president for what they have characterized as a weak approach to national security. President Obama has refused to deploy American troops en-masse in Syria, preferring instead to order targeted airstrikes, but the GOP’s 2016 field has been more aggressive in their rhetoric.
During the fifth Republican debate Tuesday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stood by his statements that he would bomb ISIS until he finds out if “sand glows in the dark.” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he would put troops on the ground and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continually employed fearful rhetoric, saying the American people felt “betrayed” by Obama’s foreign policy.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) December 16, 2015
But, while the GOP field has largely focused on messages of fear, the president struck a tone Thursday that invited resilience. He encouraged Americans to continue their day-to-day lives and to overcome anxiety provoked by terrorist threats.
“When Americans stand together, nothing can beat us,” Obama said. “Most of all, we cannot give in to fear or change how we live our lives because that’s what terrorists want. That’s the only leverage [terrorists] have. They can’t defeat us on the battlefield, but they can lead us to change in ways that would undermine what this country is all about.”
"We cannot give in to fear or change how we live our lives—because that’s what terrorists want" —@POTUS on our fight against ISIL
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 17, 2015