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Obama To Deliver Speech On Terrorism And San Bernardino Attacks


President Obama is set to deliver a primetime television address tonight. He'll discuss the steps the government is taking to protect the country in the aftermath of last week's deadly shooting spree in San Bernardino, Calif. The FBI is investigating signs that the married couple behind the attack was inspired by the self-described Islamic State. Security experts have worried for a long time about just that sort of homegrown terrorism. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Scott, thanks for being with us.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Lynn.

NEARY: Now, the president is speaking from the Oval Office tonight, and that's something he's only done twice before. What kind of message is he trying to send with this speech?

HORSLEY: President Obama will try to communicate to the American people that the government is doing all it can to keep them safe. Now, you're right, the Oval is not a backdrop that this president uses very often. He's only given two televised speeches there before. And both of those were all the way back in 2010, the first during the Gulf oil spill and then later when the president formally ended combat operations in Iraq. Neither of those is a moment the White House probably wants to relive. But the Oval Office is perhaps the most solemn setting available to the president, and aides say they know Americans are in the mood for a little resolution and reassurance after attacks that felt every close to home - first in Paris and, of course, now in San Bernardino.

NEARY: You can't can help but wonder though how much reassurance the president really can offer. I think people are really worried about the idea that there are killers out there - would-be killers like this who are operating below the radar.

HORSLEY: Yeah, this is a real challenge for political leaders because on the one hand, people want to feel safe when they go to a ballgame or to a concert hall or to their office Christmas party. And on the other hand, as the president said, after the Paris attacks it's very difficult to guard against killers who are willing to sacrifice their own lives, especially if you live in a Western country that is not a police state and even more so in a country like the United States where guns are easy to come by. I expect tonight we're going to hear some echo of what the president said in his weekly radio address, which is that Americans should take whatever steps we can to minimize the threat but also cautioning against any kind of bunker mentality.


BARACK OBAMA: That's how we can send a message to all those who would try to hurt us. We are Americans who will uphold our values in our free and open society. We are strong and we are resilient and we will be not be terrorized.

NEARY: Scott, do you expect the military campaign against ISIS will come up tonight in this speech? The president's gotten a lot of criticism from Republicans and some Democrats about the way he has pursued the military campaign.

HORSLEY: Yes, Lynn, we expect the president will again express his determination to destroy ISIS, using not only military power but also steps to cut off financing and efforts to counter the group's ideology. But you're right, critics have been calling for a more robust military response. We heard Ted Cruz call for carpet bombing ISIS until the sand glows. Of course, Donald Trump has used similar rhetoric, and that has a real political appeal to a certain percentage of Americans. At the same time, there are those who say goading the U.S. into a military overreaction would just hand ISIS another propaganda win. We do now have France, Britain and Germany stepping up their involvement in the military campaign. But as the president said in Paris last week, additional airpower only goes so far until you have a better sense of the targets you're trying to hit. You know, San Bernardino shows ISIS is willing to strike indiscriminately. So far, the United States and its allies are not.

NEARY: NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Lynn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.