How the world responded to Obama's Islamic State speech

President Obama's plan to defeat the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has sparked global reactions on the legalities and consequences of American military power in the Middle East.

Saul Loeb/AP
President Obama addresses the nation from the Cross Hall in the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.

From Tehran to Berlin, commentators are chewing over President Barack Obama’s speech last night on fighting the self-named Islamic State (IS). And while the prospect of expanded US intervention in the Middle East alarms some, he gets plaudits from others for his combative message. 

Mr. Obama’s speech wasn’t top news in many outlets, and more reactions will likely follow. Here’s a sampling of responses, from countries that Obama hopes will join his “coalition of partners” to those with frostier ties.

In the Middle East, initial reaction was largely pessimistic, according to translations of local media reports provided by the BBC.

Syria bristled at the threat of US airstrikes in its territory, which Obama said he could do in pursuit of IS fighters. Syrian state TV said:

Obama's strategy against the Islamic State exposes Washington's lack of seriousness regarding combating terrorism, as it fights against only one group while arming others.

Iran's Fars News Agency didn’t publish a direct response to the speech, but its top story online critiqued Washington:

Iran's Judiciary Chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani voiced concern over the negative impacts of Washington's politically-tainted policy towards campaign against terrorism in various countries, saying that alleging attack on the ISIL in Iraq and arming the same group in Syria means a full lack of logic.

In Israel, a columnist for the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper gave Obama mixed reviews for his speech: 

U.S. President Barack Obama wasn't Rambo or Captain America on Wednesday night, but his speech on fighting the Islamic State got the job done […]

Though he didn't mention him by name, Obama took pains to remind everyone that despite his combative message, he was not George Bush the cowboy who sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Iraq and managed to isolate America in the process. But he also made clear, without admitting as much even to himself, that he is no longer the old Obama either – not the bright eyed and bushy tailed Obama who thought he would win Arab hearts with a speech in Cairo, nor the jilted and disillusioned Obama who wanted to put it all behind him and pivot to Asia.

A commentary in Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar English, published the day of Obama’s speech, writes that “the US war on ISIS is unlikely to succeed for many reasons.” Among them:

1) The US is relying on allies, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who share the very ideology of ISIS.

2) The US is relying on Arab and Muslim allies who have very bad standing among their own local populace.

3) The US has an established track record: it usually replaces a bad monster with an even worse monster in the Middle East.

In Europe, the response focused both on Obama’s delivery and on his relationship with the US Congress. Germany’s Duetsche Welle wrote:

American Presidents become solemn when they announce new wars or military conflicts. They explain why the fight is necessary, how they will win in the end, and why America must lead. President Obama also followed this pattern in his speech from the White House. He described the crimes of the “ Islamic State,” (IS). He outlined his plan to defeat the Islamists with help from the Iraqis, Kurds, the Free Syrian Army as well and numerous allies. He became emotional when explaining why only America is capable of leading a coalition against IS.

Britain's The Guardian writes:

In the space of a single primetime address on Wednesday night, Barack Obama dealt a crippling blow to a creaking, 40-year old effort to restore legislative primacy to American warmaking - a far easier adversary to vanquish than the Islamic State. Obama’s legal arguments for unilaterally expanding a war expected to last years have shocked even his supporters.

RT, Russia’s official news agency, ran a critical question and answer piece with anti-war activist Brian Becker. Among his responses:

The Obama administration said that they have the right to strike forces whomever they declare to be the enemy in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government and, in fact, they made it clear they will not work with the Syrian government. That is the violation of the international law. The US government has no right whatsoever to arrogate itself to use force in Syria, a country that is technically at peace with the US. I think what is even more here what we have seen is the dishonest presentation to the American people.

In a commentary before the speech, Mexican daily newspaper, La Jornada, slammed what it calls "inconsistencies" in US policy toward the Middle East:

"These facts are a clear ​examples of the inconsistencies characterizing U​S​ politics, and Western politics in general, in the conflicts unfolding in the Middle East, Central Asia​,​ and the Islamic world: ​​extremely pragmatic, fluctuating​,​ and unscrupulous ​policies, in which the villains of today are the allies of tomorrow and vice versa.'

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