President Obama really did not say anything new in his televised speech Sunday night. But he took the opportunity to send a number of powerful messages to both the American people and to Congress. First, he argued that there is a strategy, carefully laid out by the military and our diplomats that includes a combination of airstrikes, special forces, training of local forces, inducement of both our allies and rivals to defeat ISIL on its home turf in Iraq and Syria. He admitted that, as in many wars, strategies can be adjusted.

He reiterated that more work had to be done to encourage Muslim nations to carry the burden in the region to not only provide ground forces but also to fight the poison of jihadist radicals. He recognized that the United States has limits, particularly in a region where our direct intervention on the ground can make things worse rather than better.

He appeared to be aiming some of his comments to Republican leaders and presidential candidates -- particularly the frontrunner -- that this war will not be won by tough talk. It is a fact that very tough talk that plays into the hands of ISIL. So, too, the President noted, did anti-Muslim rhetoric. That kind of talk is contrary to the tradition of inclusiveness imbedded in our history and character as Americans, while at the same time, it empowers ISIL to spread its venom and hate against the US and Americans.

He directly challenged Congress to declare war on ISIL by authorizing the President to continue airstrikes and use special forces when necessary. To date, Congress has criticized Mr. Obama for doing nothing while they have not been proactive in the attacking the problem.

He also, not surprisingly, addressed the issue of gun control. He urged Congress to rethink its rejection of a bill that would prevent those who are on a "No Fly List" from purchasing guns, particularly heavy assault weapons, the kind used in most mass shootings in the US.

He reminded Americans that his administration has rooted out many terrorist plots both here in the US as well as abroad. Perhaps most importantly, he urged the American people to not turn against themselves by making this a war against Muslims and Islam. We need Muslim leaders in our communities to continue to help root out the poisonous rhetoric on the internet and in social media. Besides, anti-Muslim bigotry also further empowers ISIL in its message that American is the evil enemy. "All Americans must reject discrimination" and dangerous ideas like religious tests for new immigrants. This is contrary to who we are.

Mr. Obama tried to conjure up the "better angels of our nature" in a time of xenophobic hate and rhetoric by reminding Americans that in every battle between freedom and fear, freedom wins. American and Americans are indeed an exceptional force in history and Mr. Obama offered encouragement that we will prevail.

The speech was short. The President faces a barrage of criticism from those who feel he is weak, disorganized, lacks a plan to defeat terrorism, and demand greater and tougher action. This speech will not convince those who simply hate him but it will remind those in his Democratic base that he is very much on the job -- both domestically and internationally. He scored no real points tonight, but he at least explained what he has been doing and what needs to be done. With some help from allies, rivals like Russia, and a public determined to live their lives rather than condemn everything he has done, the President can make some progress. He did put the GOP on notice, however, that this is not the time to be renewing failed policies of the past and dangerous ideas that could actually exacerbate an already bad situation.