Obama chides Republicans for lack of alternatives on Islamic State

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Obama: No Credible Terror Threat Over Holidays


HONOLULU, Dec 21 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said his administration is open to some "legitimate criticism" for failing to adequately explain its strategy to counter Islamic State, though he chided Republican presidential candidates for criticizing his policy without offering an alternative.

In a Dec. 17 interview set to air on NPR public radio at 5 a.m. ET (1000 GMT) on Monday, Obama attributed his low approval ratings for how he has handled terrorism to the saturation of Islamic State attacks in the media after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Obama noted that the United States has carried out 9,000 strikes against the Islamic State and taken back towns including Sinjar, Iraq from the militant group.

"When you ask them, 'well, what would you do instead?' they don't have an answer," Obama said of Republican candidates he has observed in televised debates.

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Obama chides Republicans for lack of alternatives on Islamic State
FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 20, 2014 file photo, thick smoke and flames from an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition rise in Kobani, Syria, as seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border. For a force that has built its reputation on projecting an aura of momentum and invincibility, the prolonged stalemate in Kobani is a setback for Islamic State militants with potential implications in terms of recruitment and support. Nearly two months after it launched its lightning assault on the small Kurdish town, the group is bogged down with an increasingly entrenched and costly battle in which hundreds of its fighters have been killed and a good deal of its military apparatus destroyed. (AP Photo, Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Armed people, believed to be Kurdish fighters, stand behind a wall, bottom center-left, as smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2014 file photo, smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border. The mass beheadings of Egyptian Christians by militants in Libya linked to the Islamic State group have thrown a spotlight on the threat the extremists pose beyond their heartland in Syria and Iraq, where they have established a self-declared proto-state. Militants in several countries - including Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia - have pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)
A tractor drives on agricultural fields as smoke rises from an Islamic State group position in eastern Kobani, after an airstrike by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Two bombs, seen on top right, fall on an Islamic State fighters' position in the town of Kobani during airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from the outskirts of Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
This image made from gun-camera video taken on July 4, 2015 and released by United States Central Command shows an airstrike on a bridge near Islamic State group-held Raqqa, Syria, that was a key transit route for the militants. After billions of dollars spent and more than 10,000 extremist fighters killed, the Islamic State group is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began a year ago, American intelligence agencies have concluded. (U.S. Central Command via AP)
This image made from gun-camera video taken on July 4, 2015 and released by United States Central Command shows an airstrike on a main road and transit route near the Islamic State group-held Raqqa, Syria. After billions of dollars spent and more than 10,000 extremist fighters killed, the Islamic State group is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began a year ago, American intelligence agencies have concluded. (U.S. Central Command via AP)
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey, people watch as smoke from a US-led airstrike rises over the outskirts of Tal Abyad, Syria, Monday, June 15, 2015. Thousands of Syrians cut through the border fence and crossed over into Turkey Sunday, fleeing intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and jihadis. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke from a US-led airstrike rises over the outskirts of Tal Abyad, Syria, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Syrian Kurdish fighters closed in on the outskirts of a strategic Islamic State-held town on the Turkish border Sunday, Kurdish officials and an activist group said, potentially cutting off a key supply line for the extremists' nearby de facto capital. Taking Tal Abyad, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, would mean the group wouldn't have a direct route to bring in new foreign militants or supplies.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkish soldiers guard the border area with Syria in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey, as smoke from a fire caused by a US-led airstrike rises over the outskirts of Tal Abyad, Syria, Monday, June 15, 2015. A day after thousands of Syrians cut through the border fence and crossed over into Turkey, fleeing intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State group, Turkish army retook control. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2014, file photo, thick smoke from an airstrike by the US-led coalition rises in Kobani, Syria, as seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border. For four months, Syrian Kurdish fighters battled Islamic State militants in the rubble-strewn streets and crumpled buildings in the town of Kobani as U.S. aircraft pounded the extremists from the skies above. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
A bombs, seen top left, falls on an Islamic State position in eastern Kobani, during an airstrike by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Children run on a hillside as smoke rises from an Islamic State fighters position in the town of Kobani during airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from the outskirts of Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 10, 2015, members of a U.S. Air Force munitions team assemble guided bombs to support the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The base is the regional nerve center for the air war against the militants who have taken over nearly a third of Iraq and Syria. That makes it the main hub for coordinating warplanes from the U.S. and 11 other nations in the coalition carrying out bombing raids. (AP Photo/Adam Schreck)
In this photo taken Monday, March 9, 2015, a B-1 bomber prepares to land after finishing a mission at the al-Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar. The base is the regional nerve center for the air war against the militants who have taken over nearly a third of Iraq and Syria. That makes it the main hub for coordinating warplanes from the U.S. and 11 other nations in the coalition carrying out bombing raids. (AP Photo/Osama Faisal)
A U.S. military officer looks out at the flight deck of the French navy aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Persian Gulf as the U.S. helicopter prepares for takeoff Thursday, March 19, 2015. The Charles de Gaulle, France's only aircraft carrier and the flagship of the French navy, arrived in the Persian Gulf last month to help provide additional air power to the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State militants who have seized a third of Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
FILE - In this Aug. 10, 2014 file photo, an aircraft lands after missions targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq from the deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf. Combined U.S.-Arab airstrikes at the heart of the Islamic State group's military strongholds in Syria achieved their strategic aim of showing the extremists that their savage attacks will not go unanswered, the top American military officer said Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)
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The interview is one of many recent attempts by the president to ease Americans' fears following the Paris attacks and the shootings by a radicalized Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California on Dec. 2 that killed 14 people.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center found 37 percent of respondents approve of the way Obama is handling terrorism, while 57 percent disapprove, the lowest rating he has received on the issue.

In his year-end news conference before leaving for a two-week vacation in Hawaii, Obama urged Americans to stay vigilant against homegrown threats while not allowing themselves to become terrorized or divided.

"Now on our side, I think that there is a legitimate criticism of what I've been doing and our administration has been doing in the sense that we haven't ... on a regular basis ... described all the work that we've been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL," he said, using an acronym used to describe Islamic State.

Asked if he would consider instating a no-fly zone in Syria, as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has suggested, Obama said such a move would not serve to counter Islamic State since the militant group does not have an air force.

Obama also used the interview to criticize Republican frontrunner Donald Trump for exploiting the fear of blue-collar men who have had trouble adjusting to recent economic and demographic changes.

Obama said Trump is exploiting their "anger, frustration, fear."

"Some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That's what he's exploiting during the course of his campaign," Obama said.

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