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Obama to use Oval to calm nation's fears

<p>President Barack Obama knows he hasn’t convinced people he’s keeping them safe. He’s hoping an Oval Office camera shot will help. </p><p>Two and a half weeks after terrorist attacks across Paris and four days after a rampage in San Bernardino, California, that the FBI is investigating as terrorism, Obama will make what will be just his third address ever from the Oval Office. It comes as the West Wing recognizes that Obama’s reserved response to crises over the years and in the last three weeks, and his insistence that he’s beating ISIL, has left many feeling nervous.</p><p>Obama won’t be announcing a new strategy against ISIL, administration officials say. He’s going for the hearts and guts, not the minds. The president understands that the Paris and California attacks made the threat feel close to home, an aide explained Sunday, and he wanted to speak directly to the country about the threat and steps he’s taken since the terrorists hit France.</p><p>Administration officials say they understand why Americans are concerned. They’ve launched an intense administration-wide catch-up effort that began Thursday and continued into the weekend, with briefings for reporters at the White House and State Department, a deployment of officials armed with talking points to Sunday news shows, and culminating with the address from the Oval Office. The only previous occasions Obama has scheduled an address from the Oval Office were both in the summer of 2010 — first to address the Gulf oil spill and then to announce the end of combat operations in Iraq.</p><p>One reason the president has made so few national statements from the Oval Office is that Obama and his aides don’t like the format. They think the president’s at his best feeding off of a crowd, and argue that people who make a big deal out of primetime presidential speeches are stuck in a 20<sup>th</sup> century media mindset. And on the few occasions when he’s had to straight-to-camera speeches from the White House—revealing the killing of Osama bin Laden, marking the Supreme Court’s approval of Obamacare in 2012, announcing the Iran nuclear deal in July—they’ve had him stride in and out of the hallway of the East Room.</p><br><p>But actually, at this moment, America could do with a fireside chat, the White House decided. America needs that leader-father-comforter presence that Obama’s never quite mastered—a result of his own laid-back approach to power, deep-seated generational and racial tensions many people feel about having him in charge and larger existential anxieties about living in a time as dangerous and unpredictable as 2015.</p><p>“The president has the opportunity tonight to tell the American people how he is willing to adapt to the threat and how he can better prepare our nation for a fight that will inevitably be passed on to his successor,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday, in a statement ahead of the speech.</p><p>That should include, McConnell said, laying out the new legal authorities Obama needs to help authorities crack ISIL’s online communications, how a coalition ground force would work as well as what its goals and structure would be, and why he’s not going to interrogate more people involved at Guantanamo Bay.</p><p>Administration officials say not to expect anything that detailed. But they are hoping to shift the general mood.<br /><b> </b><br />In a sign of how much reassurance he needs to provide, even Obama’s former secretary of state said Sunday that his terrorism strategy needs a reboot.</p><p>“We’re not winning, but it’s too soon to say that we are doing everything we need to do,” said Hillary Clinton, the nearly presumptive Democratic nominee who has the most to lose if he seems like he’s slipping.</p><p>Asked on ABC’s This Week by George Stephanopoulos, once the communications director in her husband’s White House, what she’d say if she were the one in the Oval Office making the speech, Clinton predicted “a much more robust air campaign against ISIS targets, against the oil infrastructure, against their leadership.”</p><p>The two terror attacks, horrible and deadly as they were, haven’t changed Obama’s mind that invading and occupying another<b> </b>country in the Middle East isn’t in his or America’s long-term interests. That will leave him on Sunday night trying to explain progress when there’s no easily measurable progress, and trying to provide security when he’s said before that there’s only so much that can be done to stop people who are willing to die for their hateful cause. He’ll have to sit and look into the camera and figure out how to say both that ISIL’s a more serious threat than he’s made it out to be and that he’s done more to disable it than he’s made clear.</p><br><p>On Thursday, in a session for reporters called to discuss ISIL strategy at the White House, a senior administration official struggled with just how tricky that message is. On one hand, ISIL is &quot;degraded,&quot; the official said. </p><p>&quot;If I was here six months ago, I don’t think I might have said that. But it’s a degraded organization. I haven’t thought through I’m going to use that word to kind of signal something,” the official said.</p><p>But at the same time, ISIL remains &quot;extremely dangerous.&quot; </p><p>“This is one of the most complicated things in the world and this is so incredibly difficult and challenging,” the official said. “Just because it’s degraded doesn’t mean it’s still not extremely dangerous. It’s going to take a very long time. I can’t overemphasize how difficult this is.” </p><p><i>Nahal Toosi and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report</i>.</p><br>

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