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World

At U.N., Obama Vows To Dismantle Islamic State

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The latest attacks began after President Obama delivered a forceful address to the United Nations. He said more than 40 countries have showed support for the fight against ISIS, and he called on others to join them. The speech marked a subtle evolution for a president who has long been reluctant to get dragged into another war in the Middle East. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama catalogued the atrocities ISIS has committed in its march across Syria and Iraq - raping women, gunning down children, beheading hostages for videotape propaganda. He vowed to work with a broad coalition of countries to destroy what he called a network of death.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No god condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation with this brand of evil.

HORSLEY: But while battling ISIS is the immediate threat, Obama told the UN General Assembly the world also has to address the broader challenge of divisive and violent ideology that gives rise to such groups.

This afternoon the president hosted a Security Council meeting aimed at reducing the flow of foreign fighters into places like Syria. He also said it's time to end the centuries-old struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims - a battle, he said, that no one is winning.

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OBAMA: And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity's future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along the fault lines of tribe or sect.

HORSLEY: Speaking directly to young Muslims, Obama urged them to reject extremism while promising the U.S. will work with those who promote education and opportunity. David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, said the speech was strong on American values, though he's not sure about the U.S. staying power to put those values into action.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: We found that we can't simply walk away from the Middle East and hope things will take care of themselves. And even big investments - like almost $30 billion in training the Iraqi Army - without real follow-up from us, don't work.

HORSLEY: Polls show most Americans support the airstrikes against ISIS targets, but there are still widespread doubts about Obama's broader approach to foreign policy. Rothkopf believes the president has been too cautious at times, overreacting to the missteps of the previous administration. In Obama's address to the UN today, Rothkopf hears a president trying to correct his course.

ROTHKOPF: The president, I think, is trying to respond to this. And this process of trying to find out just how much is enough is also positive. But as of right now, I don't think we've found the Goldilocks formula where it's not too little or too much, but it's just right.

HORSLEY: Obama stressed many of the challenges of the UN is confronting this week, from climate change to the Ebola epidemic, are collective in nature - not limited to any one country. Just as globalization brings the spread of new wealth and new opportunities, it's also created pathways for contagion and cross-border terror. Obama says that's produced a global unease, but rather than trying to insulate themselves, he says he and his fellow leaders have to act together.

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OBAMA: And I stand before you today committed to investing American strength - to working with all nations to address the problems we face in the 21st century.

HORSLEY: Obama regularly quotes Martin Luther King about the gap between the world as it ought to be and the world as it actually is. The president's own speech today continued to paint a hopeful picture of the world that ought to be, even as U.S. warplanes are confronting a terror that is. Scott Horsley, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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