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Here's what Obama could have done better

President Barack Obama's televised address about terrorism was a step in the right direction but ultimately lacked several key points, strategists told CNBC.

"It was an improvement on rhetoric but it did not change the overall strategy with regards to ISIL," said Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice at the California State University. "Obama got a B or C+ for effort but I don't think Americans will sleep significantly better at night."

In his third Oval Office speech, the president on Sunday night called the San Bernardino massacre "an act of terrorism" and outlined how his administration will "destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us."

The extremist organization known as the Islamic State, ISIL, IS or ISIS, has not formally claimed responsibility for the California massacre, which left 14 people dead, but over the weekend, the group's Iraq-based radio station referred to the attackers as "supporters."

"What the speech left out was getting our allies in the Middle East to be more judicious with regard to funding and dissemination of non-ISIS-related extremism," Levin said.

Indeed, several commentators, most notably Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have urged Middle Eastern governments, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, to ramp up counter-terrorism operations. While Obama may not have voiced it on Sunday, anticipated help from regional allies was likely a key factor in his decision to abstain from sending American troops to northern Syria, where ISIS maintains a stronghold.

President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California.
Getty Images
President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California.

As of now, 50 special operation troops have been authorized for deployment to Syria to advise local rebel groups battling ISIS. More than 50 new troops will be sent to Iraq to "conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders," U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said last week.

The president was right to emphasize that he won't be sending troops en masse given America's high level of "threat fatigue," said Jack Rice, a criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer.

"Looking back at 2001 and the next 14 years after that, the idea of sending tens of thousands troops into northern Iraq and Syria to fight against ISIL is something I don't think the American people have the stomach for," he said. "They want to see somebody else to fight this war frankly."

Obama also failed to mention a strategy to bring stability to the Syrian-Iraq theater, "a breeding ground for foreign fighters and ideological recruitment," Levin said.

Several terrorists, including the gunmen behind the deadly Paris attacks, are believed to have traveled to Syria to make contact with ISIS. Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino shooters, is believed to have become radicalized in Saudi Arabia, home to the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam.

In order to prevent individuals from being influenced by fundamentalist versions of Islam, experts have called for governments to closely monitor social media, a key recruitment tool, and publicize evidence revealing ISIS' oppressive regime.

Another factor Obama didn't mention was the intelligence issue, which is greatly hurting the West's current war against ISIS, Rice said.

"Here's the problem, this is something that the president hasn't been willing to address at this point. Americans themselves have the firepower to increase the number of attacks, ... but they still don't know who to kill."

The Obama administration has only recently revamped its strategy in Syria to focus on this aspect. Announced in October, the program will no longer train moderate Syrian rebels but instead, equip Arab and Kurdish groups with weapons and select a few leaders to pass information on potential targets for U.S. airstrikes.

On a positive note, Sunday's speech could improve overall sentiment, Rice said.

"Tonight's speech was really a surprise in some ways. If we look at some of the recent polls, we find that a majority of Americans believe the war with ISIL is going poorly. Sixty percent is the number right now, and that even includes the majority of Democrats."

Obama's strategy of listing all the things that have been done and will be done could help improve those numbers, he added.

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