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Top 3 questions Obama needs to answer in his speech on Islamic State

As President Obama prepares to make his case about the necessity of confronting the Islamic State – a fundamentalist self-designated “caliphate” that now controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria –  including the need for further US military strikes, there are key questions he must answer for the American people and for Pentagon officials who must carry out the strategy. Here are the Top 3:

In this image made through a window of the Oval Office, President Barack Obama speaks on the phone to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah from his desk at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, ahead of his address to the nation tonight regarding Iraq and Islamic State group militants.
Charles Dharapak/AP
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1. Why is the Islamic State a threat to US national security?

“This is the most important thing the president needs to lay out for the American people,” argues retired Col. Peter Mansoor, former executive officer to retired Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and now an associate professor of military history at The Ohio State University. “He needs to make it clear that IS is every bit as deadly, and perhaps even more deadly than Al Qaeda, and needs to be confronted before they start attacking us.”

Defense analysts debate the capacity of IS, also known as ISIS and ISIL, to carry out a terrorist attack on US soil – the risk seems far greater for Europe than for American on this front, they note, with some 2,000 Westerners now believed to be fighting in Syria and Iraq. But it is clear, too, they add, that IS is ably training some fierce foreign fighters and sewing instability in the region.

“ISIL’s ability to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the West is currently limited,” said Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, in testimony Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “Left unchecked, however, that capability is likely to grow and present a much more direct threat to the homeland.”

Recent polls show that Americans are more amenable to the idea of US intervention in the region than they have been in some time: a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday finds that almost two-thirds of Americans believe it is in the nation’s interest to confront IS; 13 percent said that it was not. 


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