The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Obama Warns Against Exaggerating the Islamic State Threat

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 ...

INDIA-US-DIPLOMACY
INDIA-US-DIPLOMACY
US President Barack Obama speaks on US - India relations during a townhall event at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on January 27, 2015. President Barack Obama said the United States could be India's "best partner" January 27 as he wrapped up a three-day visit to New Delhi by highlighting the shared values of the world's biggest democracies. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. Twitter: @K8brannen

More from Foreign Policy

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands.

Xi-Biden Meeting May Help End China’s Destructive Isolation

Beijing has become dangerously locked off from the world.

The exterior of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, is pictured on March 27, 2018.
The exterior of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, is pictured on March 27, 2018.

Sweden’s Espionage Scandal Raises Hard Questions on Spy Recruitment

Intelligence agencies debate whether foreign-born citizens are more targeted.

President Joe Biden gestures with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the two leaders met in a hallway as Biden was going to a European Commission on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali, on November 15, 2022.
President Joe Biden gestures with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the two leaders met in a hallway as Biden was going to a European Commission on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali, on November 15, 2022.

The G-20 Proved It’s Our World Government

At a time of global conflict, world powers showed that cooperation can actually work.

An illustration for Puck magazine from 1905 shows the battle against bureaucracy.
An illustration for Puck magazine from 1905 shows the battle against bureaucracy.

Only an Absolute Bureaucracy Can Save Us

The West will only restore its stability when civil servants are again devoted to the public rather than themselves.