By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says his best advice to his eventual successor on dealing with terrorist threats is “not just to shoot, but to aim.”
Obama criticized Republican calls for carpet bombing against Islamic State in the Middle East, and continued to reject calls for a no-fly zone in Syria that have been supported by a number of those aspiring to the Oval Office, including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“Who is it you are going to bomb? Where is it that you are going to bomb?” Obama said in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep taped Dec. 17 at the White House before Obama departed for a family vacation in Hawaii, and broadcast on Monday. “When you talk about something like carpet bombing, what do you mean?”
Obama said his administration is carrying out “precision strikes” on Islamic State based on intelligence, and that “if the suggestion is that we kill tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians and Iraqis, that is not who we are and that would be a strategy that would have enormous backlash against the United States. It would be terrible for our national security.”
Obama said that while some variation of a no-fly zone in Syria has been under consideration for more than three years, “the challenge there is that ISIL doesn’t have an air force, so the damage done there is not against ISIL, it’s against the Syrian regime.”
Without a large number of troops on the ground “it’s hard to create a safe zone” and “that doesn’t solve the ISIL problem,” Obama said, using one of the alternative names for Islamic State.
Obama compared some Americans’ concerns about Muslims living in the U.S. to past discrimination against Irish and Japanese immigrants, blacks and gays. He singled out Donald Trump, the front-runner in national Republican presidential polls, for “exploiting” voters’ fears.
“I do think that the country is inexorably changing” in positive ways that overall lead to more tolerance, Obama said. At the same time, he said that demographic changes combined with economic stresses have meant that “particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble” adjusting.
“There is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear — some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that,” Obama said.
Obama continued to defend his approach to threats from Islamic State jihadists, who control large parts of Iraq and Syria and have been associated with terrorist attacks in Europe. “I make no apologies for us wanting to do this appropriately and in a way that is consistent with American values,” he said.
“What I would say to my successor is that it is important not just to shoot but to aim,” Obama said. “And it is important in this seat to make sure that you are making your best judgments based on data, intelligence, the information that’s coming from your commanders and folks on the ground, and you’re not being swayed by politics.”
©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he leaves his end of the year news conference at the White House in Washington December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria