Return to Transcripts main page


President Obama Speaks at the G20 Summit. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 16, 2015 - 10:30   ET


[10:29:53] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is unique about ISIL is the degree to which it has been able to control territory that then allows them to attract additional recruits. And the greater effectiveness that they have on social media and their ability to use that to not only attract recruits to fight in Syria, but also potentially to carry out attacks in the homeland, and in Europe and in other parts of the world.

And so, our ability to shrink the space in which they can operate, combined with a to the Syria situation, which will reduce the freedom with which they feel they can operate, and getting local forces who are able to hold and keep them out over the long-term, that ultimately is going to be what's going to make a difference.

And it's going to take some time, but it's not something that, at any stage in this process have we not been aware, needs to be done.


OBAMA: OK, go ahead.


OBAMA: No, I can hear you.


OBAMA: Yeah. Well, this is something we spoke a lot about at the G-20. The overwhelming majority victims of terrorism over the last several years, and certainly the overwhelming majority of victims of ISIL are themselves Muslims. ISIL does not represent Islam.

It is not representative in any way of the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. This is something that's been emphasized by Muslim leaders, whether it's President Erdogan, or the president of Indonesia or the president in Malaysia, countries that are majority Muslim, but have shown themselves to be tolerant, and to work to be inclusive in their political process.

And so, to the degree that anyone would equate the terrible actions that took place in Paris with the views of Islam, you know, those kinds of stereotypes are counterproductive. They're wrong. They will lead, I think, to greater recruitment in the terrorist organizations over time, if this becomes somehow defined as a Muslim problem, as opposed to a terrorist problem.

Now, what is also true is, is that the most vicious terrorist organizations at the moment are ones that claim to be speaking on behalf of true Muslims. And I do think that Muslims around the world, religious leaders, political leaders, ordinary people, have to ask very serious questions about how did these extremist ideologies take root? Even if it's only affecting a very small fraction of the population, it is real. And it is dangerous. And it is built up over time, and with social media, it is now accelerating.

And so, I think on the one hand, non-Muslims cannot stereotype, but I also think the Muslim community has to think about how we make sure that children are not being infected with this twisted notion that somehow they can kill innocent people, and that that is justified by religion.

And to some degree, that is something that has to come from within the Muslim community itself.

[10:34:55] And I think there have been times where there has not been enough push back against extremism. There's been pushback -- there's some who say, "Well, we don't believe in violence," but are not as willing to challenge some of the extremist thoughts or rationales for why Muslims feel oppressed. And I think those ideas have to be challenged.

Let me one last point about this and then, unfortunately, I have to take a flight to Manila. I'm looking forward to seeing Manila, but I hope I can come back to Turkey when I'm not so busy. One of the places that you're seeing this debate play itself out is on the refugee issue, both in Europe and, I gather, it started popping up while I was gone back in the United States. The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents, they are children, they are orphans, and it is very important -- and I was glad to see that this affirmed again and again by the G- 20 -- that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.

You know, in Europe, I think people like Chancellor Merkel have taken a very courageous stance in saying it is our moral obligation as fellow human beings to help people who are in such vulnerable situations. And I know that it is putting enormous strains on the resources of the people of Europe. Nobody's been carrying a bigger burden than the people here in Turkey, with 2-and-a-half million refugees and the people of Jordan and Lebanon who are also admitting refugees. The fact that they've keep their borders open to these refugees is a signal of their belief in a common humanity.

And so we have to, each of us, do our part. And the United States has to step up and do its part. And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who's fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that's shameful. That's not American, it's not who we are.

We don't have religious tests to our compassion. When Pope Francis came to visit the United States and gave a speech before Congress, he didn't just speak about Christians who were being persecuted, he didn't call on Catholic parishes just to admit those who were of the same religious faith, he said protect people who were vulnerable.

And so I think it is very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.

Now, I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam.

[10:39:59] And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that's not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It's our better impulse.

And whether you are European or American, you know, the values that we are defending -- the values that we're fighting against ISIL for are precisely that we don't discriminate against people because of their faith. We don't kill people because they're different than us.

That's what separates us from them. And we don't feed that kind of notion, that somehow Christians and Muslims are at war, and if we want to be successful defeating ISIL, that's a good place to start, by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians.

And we are -- it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. That's what my administration intends to stand for.

All right? Thank you very much, everybody.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You've been watching a live press news conference by President Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Turkey. To break it down I'm joined by our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour host of AMANPOUR; terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank; White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is joining us from Turkey; chief political analyst Gloria Borger is also joining us; and CNN military analyst Lt. Col. Rick Francona.

Christiane -- let's start with you, a very -- at times defensive President Obama.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if anybody was expecting to hear in the passion and eloquence and speech patterns of President Obama a tipping point, they did not hear that today.

And as you say, defensive when he was asked questions about American leadership, dismissing the notions of American leadership as mere slogans, seeming not to take into account the very palpable fear amongst citizens, certainly here in France, to an extent in the United States, certainly in the United Kingdom -- everybody bracing for the worst of the worst to happen again.

He said something that was pretty incredible, according to many of the military experts here and around the world who I have spoken to -- that our strategy is working. People do not believe that to be the case. The only strategy that's working is the strategy that he tends to dismiss and that's the ground troop strategy -- Sinjar, Tikrit, Kobani. Those are the only ISIS strongholds that have been taken back by a combination of American intelligence and air power and local ground forces.

Whether they're Iranian-backed militias in Tikrit, whether they're Kurdish Peshmerga and other Kurdish forces in Sinjar and in Kobani -- this is a fact. He's saying that ISIS is contained -- this also is not actually true. ISIS is not contained because ISIS attacked a Russian plane, attacked Beirut, and has now attacked here. And military strategists say that the length of time between the ISIS attack on Charlie Hebdo and the al Qaeda, of course, Charlie Hebdo and the hyper kosher market and here -- ten months is strategically insignificant. That is no time at all. That means they are not contained.

COOPER: In terms of containment, though, he is trying to stress, and whether it's walking back comments he made before, he's really in this was stressing geographic containment on the ground compared to the same time --

AMANPOUR: Fine. But in terms of ability they are not contained. They have just slaughtered 129 people in Paris. The death toll may rise very higher because there are 352 people injured, of whom 99 are critically wounded. So the question is to have an honest conversation now about a new strategy.

COOPER: He also was very strongly against the notion of having more American troops on the ground. I want to play just some of what he said, particularly on that point, because it's a key point between him and many of his critics, as he pointed out, who say there should be a far more robust U.S. presence on the ground, whether it be in Syria or in Iraq. Let's listen to what he said.


[10:44:58] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There have been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground. And keep in mind that, you know, we have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world. And I've been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options. And it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that would be a mistake.


COOPER: I want to bring in now Paul Cruickshank. Paul -- what did you take from this?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there's no change in strategy. The strategy is not working because of the terrible terrorism we've seen in Paris, in Beirut, in Ankara, that Metrojet that went down, likely terrorism, likely ISIS.

Sure, they've shrunk the territory they control a little bit in Syria and Iraq, but this is a group now using those countries, a huge (inaudible) as a platform for international terrorism. They're the richest terrorist group in the history, tens of millions, if not more in the bank. They've got up to 6,000 European recruits coming in, joining the various groups.

And ISIS, they've got training camps on a scale bigger than we saw in Afghanistan before 9/11. And all of that requires more urgency, I think, for all international, not just the United States. Clearly the United States needs to take a leadership role. I don't think it's the speech people in Paris today wanted to hear.

And from a geographic point of view, ISIS is expanding in other countries. If you look at Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula. You look at Libya -- very worrying (inaudible) where they control on the Mediterranean. They're in other towns, they have a presence in as well. They're expanding in Yemen, they're expanding in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they're expanding in North Africa, they're expanding in some degree in Somalia.

And so all of this is a huge concern, and so the idea that you can really contain a terrorist group doesn't really make sense because you cannot deter terrorist groups like you can deter rogue nation states, because they have this desire, which they believe comes from God, to launch international terrorism, attack the west. And I don't think that this is the response that the people here were looking for.

COOPER: Lieutenant Colonel Francona I want to go to. Colonel just in terms of U.S. airstrikes, which is primarily what the focus of the U.S. strategy has been, is it actually working? I mean are there enough actual targets that are fruitful for the U.S. to hit?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's a two- pronged problem here, Anderson. We have pilots that go out, they see targets, but by the time they get authorization to strike those targets, the target has disappeared, moved on, melted into the civilian community and they can't strike it.

The other one is how many targets are there? This is a very difficult enemy. They hide among the civilian population. So to develop a target and to strike that without U.S. eyes on the ground is very, very difficult.

And right now the United States is so casualty averse, so civilian casualty averse, that they're erring on the side of not dropping bombs. I think the last figure I saw was about 45 percent of the aircraft are returning to base with bombs on the wings.

COOPER: And Gloria Borger -- Gloria, I know you were listening to the speech as well. What did you take away from President Obama's speech?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what I took away was this is a president who was very defensive about his policy, who had to explain what he meant about ISIS being contained and who said a lot of his critics are playing political games and that he doesn't have that luxury to pose, as he put it. And that some people think if I were more bellicose, this is the President's word, that it would make a difference.

You know, this is a president who is, as he says, going to intensify his strategy but not going to change his strategy. I think his problem is that he has to be able to tell Americans who may be worried and tell the world why his strategy is going to work when they've seen that it isn't working given what occurred in Paris.

COOPER: You know, Gloria is talking about the defense of this Christiane. Let's show the question that Jim Acosta asked, which is a question which sort of echoed an earlier question and President Obama's response.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world. It has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS, and I guess the question is, and if you'll forgive the language, is why can't we take out these bastards?

[10:49:57] OBAMA: Well, Jim, I just -- I just spent the last three questions answering that very question. So I don't know what more you want me to add. I think I've described very specifically what our strategy is. And I've described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.

This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. As long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution.


COOPER: It's interesting to hear President Obama kind of pushing back on the idea that this is just looking for a neat headline as opposed to a change in policy. AMANPOUR: Unfortunately, this is more of the same. The

President has pushed back against this kind of suggestion by many military strategists for all the years of the Iraq war. And he has lambasted his critics for basically having fantastical notions about what is possible.

He said we can retake territory. The answer is, well then, retake territory. Some territory has been retaken but again, with the help of ground forces. Not American boots on the ground, but forces on the ground.

And I've been speaking, for instance, to CNN's senior military analyst, and he believes that there needs to be, you know, now a joint session, a joint strategy with Russia. Russia is in there for better or for worse. Russian was given basically control of the skies by just taking control of the skies.

And now Russia and United States have to decide how they're going to divide and conquer in Syria. And he was suggesting smothering the place with bombing raids, like they did in Belgrade, in Serbia during Kosovo, including in Kosovo. And then going in, and very strategically using certain ground forces to, let's just say, take Raqqa. You just keep doing that and you push them out and you push them out. That's what the military strategists suggested.

COOPER: Lieutenant Colonel Francona, what do you make to that? Because I mean obviously the counterargument to that is how many U.S. forces is it going to take and how long do they end up staying there? It's one thing to take territory and it's another thing to hold it indefinitely if the local forces aren't up to the task of maintaining control?

FRANCONA: Well, we do have local forces that are capable of maintaining control.

Christiane just gave some of the best cogent military analysis I've heard. Everywhere we see in Iraq and Syria it has been because there have been ground troops going into combat supported by American and coalition air power. So you need a competent force on the ground. And we have that. The Kurds are competent. The Iraqis not so much but they're getting there. The problem is, what do we do in Syria? Are we willing to insert American forces? I don't think so. But there are the Syrian Kurds that have been very effective.

Yes, there need to be boots on the ground. They don't need to be American boots on the ground, but we do need an American presence on the ground, and that would have to be the advisers and somebody to work these airstrikes more effectively. But what we're doing right now isn't working.

COOPER: I want to go to Nick Paton Walsh, who's standing by in Erbil, in northern Iraq -- Kurdish controlled part of Iraq. I mean just in terms of what has been going on over the last 24 hours or so, both in Syria and in Iraq, we have seen an uptick in airstrikes. There were airstrikes, I understand, by the U.S., I think it was, actually targeting a convoy of vehicles, I guess, controlled by ISIS, carrying oil to the border. That's obviously major sort of income from them. That convoy was hit. Is that a common target?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, they're certainly targeting the black market ability for ISIS to make money out of the oil facilities it's taken over in Iraq. 116 separate hits in that one strike alone near Abu Kamal (ph) in eastern Syria; also a couple of strikes around Raqqa. So the air campaign is continuing unabated. I think the difficulty is, when you hear Barack Obama -- we've heard so many speeches about Syria. He sounds tired. He's lacking clear ideas. But the central tenet of all he's been saying, which is we do not want to put up the 82nd airborne inside Syria or Iraq, that's still, frankly, accurate and fair. The problem is, there are many groups on the ground inside there who have local support, who may be al Qaeda affiliates who would not respond well to a completely external western force moving in.

The troop on the ground there are mostly Kurds. And a lot of the areas they're moving into are Sunni Arab areas. Raqqa is a Sunni Arab city, sending Syrian Kurds and Peshmerga into that city -- that's fine. They are going to kick out ISIS but what are the local population going to do at the idea of being occupied by Kurdish militia?

[10:55:12] That's an extraordinary, messy issue. And that's why at this stage, there's such focus on something called the Syria Democratic Forces who are Sunni Arabs who are being used to be the sort of the acceptable Sunni Arab face of this Kurdish force.

So I have to say while you're here, Barack Obama, defending a policy which sounds like it's run out of steam and that's to some degree true, the alternatives are significantly worse. I think the missing issue here is local support. We're not talking about the Turkish closing their border more hermetically. We're not talking about other powers in the region lessening their support for those players in the proxy war that is Syria.

People are looking to the White House for immediate leadership but it's extraordinarily hard, frankly. You heard Barack Obama echoing (inaudible), he sounds tired of war himself. It's hard to really imagine how you'll find the resources within Washington's debate to actually send thousands in to clean this up.

Otherwise we're looking to local forces who simply are not up to the job yet. It's an intractable problem but it's not one you can cuss a solution from, as Barack Obama was saying, in simply a matter of hours -- Anderson.

COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh, be careful in Erbil. Gloria Borger, thank you. Lt. Col. Francona, Paul Cruickshank, Christiane Amanpour -- Our coverage from Paris -- from France and Belgium, the latest on the investigation, the aftermath of the Paris attacks continues here on CNN.

We'll be right back.