September 10th, 2010
01:06 PM ET

Obama: 'We are not at war against Islam'

[Updated at 12:25 p.m.] President Obama was asked about his thoughts on the Islamic center being built near ground zero in New York.

"All men and women are created equal, they have certain inalienable rights, and one of those is to practice their religion freely," Obama said. "You can build a church on a site, you can build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, you should be able to build a mosque."

Obama said he recognized the sensitivity in the area because of the 9/11 attacks and acknowledges that family members are continuing to experience pain and anguish over their losses.

However, he urged people to remember who our real enemies are.

"We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam," Obama said. "If we're going to deal with the problems Ed Henry was talking about - reducing the terrorist threat - we need all the allies we can get."

Obama pressed that in fact, the anti-Islam sentiment and a war between the West and Islam is exactly what terrorist organizations are hoping for.

"Al Qaeda,  that's what they've been banking on," Obama said. "The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peace-loving - are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in."

Obama stressed it is important that Americans do not believe the entire religion of Islam is offensive.

iReport: Share your thoughts on controversy surrounding Islamic Center

For more on Obama's question-and-answer session and analysis check out CNN's Political Ticker.

CNN analysts weigh in

[Updated at 12:17 p.m.] CNN's Ed Henry asked President Barack Obama whether he still agrees with his statement that it is crititical to capture Osama bin Laden and if he views it a failure that he hasn't been captured, despite Obama's promise to run a smarter war on terrorism than President Bush.

"I think capturing or killing bin Laden ... would be extremely important to national security," he said. "It doesn't solve all of our problems, but it is a high priority for our administration."

Obama touted success in forcing members of al Qaeda to retreat because of ramped up pressure on its leaders.

"They have been holed up in ways that have made it harder for them to operate - and part of what's happening is bin Laden has gone deeper underground," Obama said. "We have the best minds, the best intelligence officers, the best special forces who are thinking about this day and night, and they will continue to think about it day and night as long as I'm president."

[Updated at 12:07 p.m.] Obama said that although he has missed the deadline to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, "it is not for lack of trying."

"It's because of politics," he said.

He insisted that he believes the U.S. justice system is capable of handling procedures involving terrorist suspects and that military tribunals are not necessary.

"I am absolutely convinced that the American justice system is strong enough, that we should be able to convict people who murdered innocent Americans and that carried out terrorist attacks against us," he said. "We should be able to lock them up and make sure they don't see the light of day. We can do that, and we've done it before."

[Updated at 12:00 p.m.] Obama acknowledged that the looming expiration of Israel's moratorium on settlement construction is a "major bone of contention."

The internal politic pressures for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this issue "are very difficult," Obama said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu have to figure out "how to help each other succeed," he added.

[Updated at 11:58 a.m.] Obama was asked about levels of corruption within the Afghanistan government and what is being done to curtail it.

"We are in the midst of a very difficult but very important project. I just want to remind people why we're there, the day before September 11. We're there because that was the place where al Qaeda launched an attack that killed 3,000 Americans. And we want to make sure we dismantle al Qaeda and that Afghanistan is never again used as a base for attacks against Americans and the American homeland."

Obama asked people to remember that Afghanistan is the second poorest country in the world and that change won't happen overnight, but his administration is working with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Obama criticized former President George W. Bush's administration for failing to provide adequate training of Afghan military forces.

"After seven years of policies in which we weren't even effectively training security forces, we're saying we're going to work with the Afghan government so they can be responsible for their own security. We're going to promote a political settlement in the region that can help to reduce the violence. We're going to encourage an Afghan government that can deliver services for its people."

He insisted that progress has been made in terms of rooting out corruption from the government in Kabul, but "we're a long way from where we need to be on that," he said.

The White House will continue to pressure Karzai on the issue of corruption, Obama said.

[Updated at 11:52 a.m.] Obama said that a proposed settlement for black farmers - who have historically been the target of racial discrimination by the federal government - is "fair" and "just."

The White House will continue to make funding of the settlement - now blocked in the Senate - "a priority," he said.

[Updated at 11:51 a.m.] Obama insisted Friday that skyrocketing medical costs will ultimately decline as more people are covered due to his administration's health care reform initiative.

[Updated at 11:44 a.m.] Obama was asked about Pastor Terry Jones in Florida, who had plans to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and whether he was concerned that by having the secretary of defense call him, it was actually elevating his platform.

"The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for. It's contrary to what this nation was founded on. My hope is that this individual prays on it and refrains from doing it," Obama said. "But I'm also commander in chief, and we are seeing today riots in Kabul, riots in Afghanistan, that threaten our young men and women in uniform, and so we have an obligation to send a very clear message that this kind of behavior or threats of action put our men and women in danger."

Obama said he doesn't think his administration is what elevated this story, but "in the age of the internet, this is something that can cause us profound damage."

"It's also the best imaginable recruiting tool for al Qaeda," he said. "We don't start having a bunch of folks all across the country think this is how to get attention. This is a way of endangering our troops. You don't play games with that."

[Updated at 11:40 a.m.] Obama conceded Friday that there are "enormous hurdles" to the new Middle East peace talks. His administration understood that "it was a risk for us to promote these discussions, but it is a risk worth taking," he

It is in the interests of America, the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a comprehensive settlement, Obama said. The issue of Middle East peace must be dealt with if, among other things, Israel is to remain both Jewish and Democratic, Obama said.  A settlement would also help the United States deal with Iran.

"If these talks break down, we're going to keep on trying," he said.

[Updated at 11:34 a.m.] Obama was asked about why he believes that nine years after the attacks on September 11, 2001, there is now a growing suspicion and resentment of Islam.

"I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally, and gone through a tough time, then you know fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society, and so I think that plays a role," Obama said.

Obama then praised former President George W. Bush for his specific rhetoric on religion following the attacks.

"One of the things I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam, we were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam ... to carry out their acts."

Obama said he was proud the country had rallied around the idea that we can't be divided because of religion or ethnicity - and hopes that is something that can continue.

"We are all Americans, we stand together," Obama said. "I think it is absolutely important now for majority of Americans to hang onto that thing that is best in us: a belief in religious tolerance. We have to make sure we don't start turning on each other."

"We are one nation under God. We may call that God different names, but we are one nation."

[Updated at 11:32 a.m.] Obama said Friday that one of the reasons he hasn't created a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington is because some GOP leaders decided when he took office that "we're going to sit on the sidelines and let the Democrats solve" the economic crisis.

Taking on tough issues with entrenched special interests creates "a lot of big fights," he said.

[Updated at 11:25 a.m.] Obama deflected a question Friday about whether his new economic plans should be referred to as another "stimulus" package. "Everything we've been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth," he said.  "I have no problem with people saying the president is trying" to do that.

He was then asked about several pending Senate nominations - including judges and Homeland Security officials.

"I'm concerned about all Senate nominations these days," he said, noting he wasn't making a joke. "I've got people who have been waiting for six months to get confirmed that nobody has an official objection to ... and I can't get a vote on them."

Obama said it was frustrating when "you've got a determined minority" that is attempting to filibuster all of his nominations.

"They're just playing games," he said.

[Updated at 11:20 a.m.] President Obama was asked about why he waited so long to introduce his latest economic policies and if they are merely being used as a political weapon for the election season.

"We have this notion that we waited until now, but just on the small business issue alone, we have cut taxes for small businesses eight times," Obama said. "So we are hardly Johnny-come-latelys on this issue."

Obama touted a variety of  policy successes as the reason the economy is better than it was when he took office.

"When you put all the things we did together, it made a difference," he said.

[Updated at 11:19 a.m.] Obama said there is room for discussion on competing tax plans.

"If the Republican leadership is prepared to get serious ... I would love to talk to them," he told reporters at the White House.

Obama insisted, however, that GOP plans to extend the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning over $250,000 are a bad idea.

[Updated at 11:13 a.m.] A reporter asked Obama about his assertion that Democrats wouldn't do well in the midterm elections in November if it would be a referendum on the economy.

"For 19 months we have steadily worked to avoid a depression, to take an economy that was contracting and making it grow again," Obama said. "But we're not there yet."

Obama acknowledged Americans' anger about the slow progress.

"And because I'm the president and the Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate, it's understandable that people are saying 'what have you done?' "

However, Obama said, the Republicans don't offer a better solution - in fact, their policies are worse.

"The Republicans' offers are exactly the ones that got us into this trouble," he said. "If you want the same kind of skewed policies that led us to these problems, the Republicans are ready to do that."

[Updated at 11:11 a.m.] Obama announced that Austan Goolsbee will be named chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Goolsbee will replace Christina Romer, who stepped down this month as chair of the council, a panel of three White House officials who offer the president economic advice and help formulate policy.

[Updated at 11:08 a.m.] Obama on Friday once again urged the Senate to pass his small business jobs bill, arguing that it has been blocked by "a partisan (Republican) minority."

Obama praised Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, for announcing that he would not help GOP leaders block the bill.

[Updated at 11:02 a.m.] Obama said the goal of his latest proposals is to help jump-start an economy still dealing with the impact of the recession.

"Even though the economy is growing again ... the hole the recession left has been huge," Obama said.

"Millions of Americans are still looking for work."

He touted his administration's investments in infrastructure as a chance to remain competitive with other countries that are working on similar projects including high-speed rail.

[Posted at 10:50 a.m.] President Obama will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Friday, his first full-scale question-and-answer session at the White House in nearly four months and his seventh full-scale news conference at the White House since he took office.

The last presser was back in May when the president answered questions mainly about the oil spill. This one is expected to focus on the economy.

soundoff (818 Responses)
  1. Rosemary

    I really wish the president would stop blaming all the time and start taking care of problems.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mr USA

    Losers cry the loudest!!! Guess who are crying the loudest – Republicans.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Chrissy


      September 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mike scarpelli

    Mr President, can you hear that train a coming? NOV is a coming! How many more times can we blame that last administration, or should we really be blaming the LAST CONGRESS?

    September 10, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  4. NeSS

    The first thing I notice is how inane so many comments are. I imagine some folks just don't have anything substantive to say, and take advantage of their own VD (verbal dribble.)

    I find the president is answering questions quite well – and to the point. This is one man – and without the help of all U.S. Americans that REALLY want our country to proceed, how the heck do we expect him to move as quickly as he can??? I always hear a lot of complaining and name-calling (of all kinds) – especially from those who don't like him (for varied and sundry reasons) or have political reasons for wanting him to fail.

    And in the wanting him so badly to fail...they are taking us down with them and their agenda of hate and division.

    Let's get real. Stand up together. And quit allowing ourselves to be made afraid and therby spun more easily into Hate and Stupidity – all from lack of knowledge (and some don't even want to know – they'd rather just hate.)

    September 10, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • abqan

      I agree with you entirely. The vast majority of the negative comments that I have seen here are just mindless repeats of half-truths and out right distortions being spewed by the like of Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck. It is a sad reflection on our democracy that the power of the 'media talking heads' can so impede actual progress. People need to start analyzing and thinking for themselves, instead of parroting some else's opinions. The pundits would much rather focus opinion only on negatives, because an angry mob is much easier to create. I don't think there is such thing as a thoughtful mob.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim


      He should be able to move as quickly as he wants, until recently he had a super majority in the Senate (no ability to fillibuster) and a large majority in the House. There was not one bill put forth that a republican HAD to oppose, it wouldn't have mattered if he did. It was the democrats themselves who realized how foolish his ideas are that caused such a stalemate.

      Just because republicans voted no, doesn't mean the democrats couldn't vote yes and pass, without any chance of failure, any bill that Obama put forth.

      Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean you are doing it out of hate. This very idea suggests to me that you are basing your allegiance on emotion instead of logic. Quit playing the race card, put on the big kid pants, use the brain for a minute and at least address the concerns of the opposition from the perspective that maybe they are opposed to this radical ideologue because he wants to fundementally alter the fabric of America.

      If Obama truly loves this country and believes it is the best place on earth, why the hell is he propsing the failed policies of western Europe that took them from positions of power and relegated them to the dustbin of once great nations? We didn't become the best by following others. We became the best by following the very policies (socially and economically) that Obama is trying to undo. All in the name of progress?

      This character assassination of anyone who opposes this current Admin and Congress in order to steer away from a rational, logical discussion is infintile and absurd. Please, grow up.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mr USA

    Hi All, No point discussing, let USA re-elect Republicans(whom they love so much) and then they will drive this country into a hole(finish up the unfinished job) which it cannot come out of.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel Gehrmann

      Reps. did not get us into this mess, they did not have control of congress for the last two years of the Bush Admin. Dems did, that is when the economic downfall started.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • abqan need to do some research on economics and the American economy. Huge economic turns do not happen in one or two years. Much of the economy is cyclic, with the Federal Government as the largest single regulator. The idea that any President (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Obama, et. al.) can turn a switch and have a good/bad economy is just incorrect. It is true that during Clinton's presidency, he took a huge Federal deficit economy and ended with a large surplus. GW took over and changed it to the largest deficit in history, resulting in economic indicators that were pointing to the start of a new Great-er Depression. Obama's economic plan is based upon Keynsian economic theories, where Federal spending is used to keep the depression from occurring. Most would argue that a depression has been avoided, and that we are on a shaky recovery. Of course Obama gets very little credit for this, but the US economy could have been a lot worse. It is harder to see the consequences of the long term debt, but Republicans weren't worried about that when it was Reagan doing it in the 1980s.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      Clinton did not leave record surpluses. Over the course of his two terms he left the country with more debt than when he started. The last two years of his presidency saw a reduction in publicly held debt, but an increase in intragovernmental holdings (IOUs). He was still borrowing, just from the various slush funds such as Social Security.

      It doesn't matter who spends more than another. If we really all gave a damn about it, we would vote out everyone who thinks its okay to spend our money like drunken sailors, and we would replace them with fiscally responsible people.

      Conservatives got tired of Bush's spending sprees admittedly supported by a Republican congress. They voted them out, but we replaced them with people who have been worse.

      We need to quit arguing which folks are better, because it is a losing argument for both sides. Both the Rs and the Ds are terrrible.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • HolySmoke

      @abqan. You need to do some research. It was a long chain of events and poor legislation that contributed to the economic problems we have now starting in the ealy 90's. Congress, Clinton, Bush all had a hand in it but last straw was the incompetant and irrisponsible oversight of the democatic congress. We cannot keeps spending money we don't have to get out of it. That's the problem.

      September 10, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rob in NC

    But yet Pres Obama's admin do nothing to convince Karzai to give up the presidency although he lost the election 5 months ago which show we are still backing Karzai. So how are we trying to end corruption in Afghanistan.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tony Perkins

    Where is the help for my family?
    We are down to one income and our health insurance premiums have risen again. On top of higher premiums our employer contributions towards our premiums are now taxable income. DOUBLE WHAMMY!!!! I heard the POTUS say he was trying to help grow the middle clas, but we are being pushed farther down. Thank you for all the help. Next time leave us alone.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Tony Perkins

      FYI... I tried reading the bill and listened every night to find out what was in the health care reform bill and at no time did anyone mention the tax increase that is coming January 1st on employer contributions towards health care premiums.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • NeSS

      The reasons you – and myself – and many others – are in this situation did not occur in two years. It had actually been coming for more than a decade. Nothing happens overnight. So rather than look to this president or this congress, the reality is that many – especially since the late 90s – have brought this about.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sensible Person

    I'm surprised....I expect this kind of commentary on Fox News, but here in CNN??? Makes this sensible person think that indeed the President is missing the target and his keynesian economic policies are his undoing. Didn't work in the 30's and won't work now. Look Obama – Help business, you build jobs.....Build jobs, you build more tax payers....More taxpayers, more taxes!!! Get out of the college classroom theories and live in the real world!!!

    September 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • keith

      Hey look, a sensible person. It says so right in his name so it must be true.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    It's interesting how the press will ask specific questions, but the President just uses those questions to launch a pre-arrainged and written statement about the broader topic. Does the President ever specifically answer a question, or does he just use the questions as opportunities to give his statements?

    September 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Saddam Obama

    We can't afford 4 more years of a Democrat Majority House and Congress – It's been the policies of 2006 onward that screwed everything up, stop blaming Bush.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel Gehrmann

      I couldn't agree more

      September 10, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • TONY

      Vote Ron Paul.. He might die soon but he still believes in smaller gov't and more state power. Thats the only thing that can save our nation thats going down the toilet

      September 10, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gmo

    I love what President Obama is handling all the current issues! With so much on his plate he is doing such an exceptional job!!!!

    September 10, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • TONY

      Man u are blinddddddd. Just like the rest of this country. Do some research and compare the amount of vacation that Obama has taken and then look at G.W.B. You might want to re-wright your comment. This wonderful president also did such a great job that he spent more on bailing out banks and auto-makers then the whole 9 years of war in Iraq. Sounds like he is sooo great

      September 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. FloridaPat

    I want to go backwards to when I had health insurance, owned a shiny car, and owned a house. All of which I had for the past twenty years. I can't take moving forward anymore, I have nothing left.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sensible Person

      Love it....Very funny!!! Yet, so true!!!

      September 10, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • ntx1

      Welcome to the new america! This is the change that everyone soo desperatly wanted...Lets start the "Bring Bush Back" Campain. Look for this new group to be created on facebook soon!

      September 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. gi610

    some of you aren't looking: There are no telepropmpters today.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jeff

    someone ask him if we were partially responsible for the towers coming down !!

    September 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mr USA

    Owned a home – ON CREDIT, Owned Shiny Car – ON CREDIT, Had health Insurance – ON CREDIT and NEVER USED(as the insurance company would reject all my claims). Sure lets go back and screw the future!!!

    September 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
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