Posts Tagged ‘president obama’
This is an excerpt from the first of three parts of a year-end NPR interview with President Obama.
I could not agree more with this Canadian’s observation of how America has treated our President. In my view, it is not just the conservative right (although they have taken disrespect to new lows), but I feel that some on the left have been hyper-critical as well. This article is an observation of America by a Canadian.
by William Thomas
There was a time not so long ago when Americans, regardless of their political stripes, rallied round their president. Once elected, the man who won the White House was no longer viewed as a republican or democrat, but the President of the United States. The oath of office was taken, the wagons were circled around the country’s borders and it was America versus the rest of the world with the president of all the people at the helm.
Suddenly President Barack Obama, with the potential to become an exceptional president has become the glaring exception to that unwritten, patriotic rule.
Four days before President Obama’s inauguration, before he officially took charge of the American government, Rush Limbaugh boasted publicly that he hoped the president would fail. Of course, when the president fails the country flounders. Wishing harm upon your country in order to further your own narrow political views is selfish, sinister and a tad treasonous as well.
Subsequently, during his State of the Union address, which is pretty much a pep rally for America, an unknown congressional representative from South Carolina, later identified as Joe Wilson, stopped the show when he called the President of the United States a liar. The president showed great restraint in ignoring this unprecedented insult and carried on with his speech. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was so stunned by the slur, she forgot to jump to her feet while clapping wildly, 30 or 40 times after that.
Last spring, President Obama took his wife Michelle to see a play in New York City and republicans attacked him over the cost of security for the excursion. The president can’t take his wife out to dinner and a show without being scrutinized by the political opposition? As history has proven, a president in a theatre without adequate security is a tragically bad idea.
Remember: “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”
At some point, the treatment of President Obama went from offensive to ugly and then to downright dangerous.
The health-care debate, which looked more like extreme fighting in a mud pit than a national dialogue, revealed a very vulgar side of America. President Obama’s face appeared on protest signs white-faced and blood-mouthed in a satanic clown image. In other tasteless portrayals, people who disagreed with his position distorted his face to look like Hitler complete with mustache and swastika.
Odd, that burning the flag makes Americans crazy, but depicting the president as a clown and a maniacal fascist is accepted as part of the new rude America.
Maligning the image of the leader of the free world is one thing, putting the president’s life in peril is quite another. More than once, men with guns were videotaped at the health-care rallies where the president spoke. Again, history shows that letting men with guns get within range of a president has not served America well in the past.
And still the “birthers” are out there claiming Barack Obama was not born in the United States, although public documentation proves otherwise. Hawaii is definitely part of the United States, but the Panama Canal Zone where his electoral opponent Senator John McCain was born? Nobody’s sure.
Last month, a 44-year-old woman in Buffalo was quite taken by President Obama when she met him in a chicken wing restaurant called Duff’s. Did she say something about a pleasure and an honour to meet the man or utter encouraging words for the difficult job he is doing? No. Quote: “You’re a hottie with a smokin’ little body.”
Lady, that was the President of the United States you were addressing, not one of the Jonas Brothers! He’s your president for goodness sakes, not the guy driving the Zamboni at “Monster Trucks On Ice.” Maybe next it’ll be, “Take Your President To A Topless Bar Day.”
In President Barack Obama, Americans have a charismatic leader with a good and honest heart. Unlike his predecessor, he’s a very intelligent leader. And unlike that president’s predecessor, he’s a highly moral man.
In President Obama, Americans have the real deal, the whole package and a leader that citizens of almost every country around the world look to with great envy. Given the opportunity, Canadians would trade our leader, hell, most of our leaders for Obama in a heartbeat.
What America has in Obama is a head of state with vitality and insight and youth. Think about it, Barack Obama is a young Nelson Mandela. Mandela was the face of change and charity for all of Africa but he was too old to make it happen. The great things Obama might do for America and the world could go on for decades after he’s out of office.
America, you know not what you have.
The man is being challenged unfairly, characterized with vulgarity and treated with the kind of deep disrespect to which no previous president was subjected. It’s like the day after electing the first black man to be president, thereby electrifying the world with hope and joy, Americans sobered up and decided the bad old days were better.
President Obama may fail but it will not be a Richard Nixon default fraught with larceny and lies. President Obama, given a fair chance, will surely succeed but his triumph will never come with a Bill Clinton caveat – “if only he’d got control of that zipper.”
Please. Give the man a fair, fighting chance. This incivility toward the leader who won over Americans and gave hope to billions of people around the world that their lives could be enhanced by his example, just naturally has to stop.
Both Pope Francis and President Obama assumed their globally powerful positions with high popular approval. Now we learn that the two leaders will meet at the Vatican in late March as part of the President’s European trip.
The pope has captivated Catholics and non-Catholics alike with a new tone of openness, modesty, and tolerance. While Obama has had a complex and sometimes contentious relationship with the church, he now sees an opportunity to highlight common ground with the new pope.
Francis surprised many Catholics with his nonjudgmental tone on issues like homosexuality and divorce. In his first papal exhortation, the pontiff spoke about mercy and compassion, insisting on the dignity and blessedness of every person.
The pope and the president clearly differ on such issues as abortion, gay rights, and same-sex marriage. Without challenging core Church teachings on these issues, Francis suggested that Catholics stop obsessing about sex and focus more on economic issues.
Francis has often spoken about the poor and economic justice, criticizing “a deified market” in “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” In an oft quoted passage, he wrote, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
Obama has pledged to make the reduction of economic inequality a hallmark of his last three years in office. In his recent state of the union address, Obama spoke directly to this issue in policy terms. He insists that full time work should not mean poverty wages, that the minimum wage should be increased, and that the public and private sectors can collaborate on the creation of good jobs.
Obama has worked hard to promote comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship. Pope Francis seemed to echo these sentiments when he wrote, “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.”
In his first Christmas address, the pope called for global peace and an end to violence in Syria and parts of Africa. Obama’s state of the union noted U.S. actions to wind down the war in Afghanistan and eliminate Syrian chemical weapons and some of Iran’s nuclear stockpile.
While closing the door to female priests, Francis seeks a greater presence for women in traditional Catholic roles. Yet he continues the Pope Benedict-initiated investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious charged with espousing “radical feminist themes” and being insufficiently zealous against abortion and gay rights.
The Pope adopted his name from St. Francis of Assisi, known for his love of nature and the environment. He has urged his followers to respect the whole of creation and protect the environment. For his part, Obama has struggled, but with only limited success, to secure passage of legislation that reduces pollution and promotes clean energy.
The pontiff’s repeated denunciations of income inequality and his support for the poor and immigrants broadly overlaps the President’s second term agenda. Obama has also stated that Catholic social doctrines influenced his work as a community organizer and as president.
Since his elevation to the papacy in March of last year, the pope has taken strong political positions, often with a populist bent. Many have interpreted the Pope’s remarks as more socially and religiously liberal than his predecessors. Not all appreciate his deviations from traditional rhetoric: Rush Limbaugh calls the Pope a Marxist, and Fox News’ Adam Shaw refers to him as the Catholic Church’s Obama.
When Obama and Francis meet next month, we may catch a glimpse of how they interact with one another. More importantly, we may see whether they really are like-minded and potential allies in a crucial battle of ideas.
Ralph Scharnau teaches U. S. history at Northeast Iowa Community College, Peosta. He holds a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University. His publications include articles on labor history in Iowa and Dubuque. Scharnau, a peace and justice activist, writes monthly op-ed columns for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.
A note from President Obama:
The Affordable Care Act has been in the news a lot recently – and increasingly for the right reasons.
The law is working: Already, nearly 365,000 people across the country have picked private plans through the Marketplace – and 800,000 more are on track to get Medicaid through their states. These are people for whom health insurance might not have previously been an option – people who in the past might have been discriminated against for simple medical conditions like asthma, or who may have been dropped from their coverage just because they got sick.
Now, thousands of Americans are signing up for coverage every day. That matters. It means financial security for families all across the country. It means freedom from the fear that one illness or accident might cost you everything you’ve worked so hard to build.
And if you do it before December 23rd, you can be covered on the first day of the New Year.
Now, if you already have health insurance, I’m asking you right now to help make sure that your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and the people you go to college or church with know the facts about how they can get covered, too. Moms and dads, remind your kids this holiday season. And if you’ve recently signed up, tell your friends.
Whether you talk to a family member, share a photo or a story on Facebook, tweet using the hashtag #GetCovered, or walk a friend or colleague through the website — your effort will make a difference right now.
That’s because the most important source of information about this law isn’t going to be me, or anyone here at the White House. It’s going to be you, telling the people you know to check out HealthCare.gov for themselves, and make their own decision about getting covered.
Tens of millions of people have already felt the benefits of reform, from free, recommended preventive care like mammograms, to more affordable prescription medications. But there are millions more of our fellow citizens who stand to be helped — and we’ve got to make sure they know exactly how.
Thanks for your help.
President Barack Obama
A note from Organizing for Action received Aug. 6, 2013:
We wanted to make sure you saw Governor Patrick’s note.
Because the reality is that some groups are going to spend untold millions to confuse people and spread outright lies about Obamacare.
OFA’s Truth Team is going to be the dedicated group of supporters fighting back with the cold, hard facts — sign up right now.
For example, when the House decided to cast its 40th vote to repeal Obamacare last week, we put together a blog post on 40 ways that Obamacare is working — and that’s ready for you to share on Twitter, Facebook, or over email.
Make sure you’re in the loop with the latest on fighting the myths — sign up for OFA’s Truth Team today:
Organizing for Action
From: Deval Patrick
Subject: Fight back – join OFA’s Truth Team
I bet you’re a lot like me.
You spend a lot of time reasoning with your cranky uncle at the holiday table or your friendly neighbor in the grocery line about something the President has done to make us proud, only to find that they are stuck on some claim you know is false.
You care about what we’ve accomplished together because you know it’s good for the country. And it frustrates you to no end that there are people out there spending millions of dollars to lie about it, because they think it helps their politics.
Just look at what some are saying about Obamacare. Here’s a reform that improves the health of both American families and American businesses. But some want to move us backwards — at any cost. Good grief.
That’s why OFA is launching its Truth Team — a dedicated group of supporters who want to push back against the lies, myths, and misunderstandings out there with cold, hard facts.
It’s easy — and it can actually be pretty fun. Above all, it’s really important. Sign up to join the OFA Truth Team today.
By signing up for Truth Team, you’ll get tip sheets, regular updates, and all the facts and figures you need to make sure your friends, family, and coworkers know the facts. OFA will never send you something that isn’t backed up by a source you can check out for yourself — you’ll always be able to feel confident about passing things along.
Having a group of dedicated folks on your side to fight back against the lies is crucial. Trust me, I know, and it makes a difference.
Health care reform in my home state has made a big difference for folks. Today, over 98 percent of Massachusetts residents are insured, we are healthier, and it has not been a budget buster. More companies offer affordable insurance to their employees today than before our reform took effect, too, and the reforms are popular among individuals, families, and businesses alike.
When we began implementing it, we asked supporters all across the state to help respond to the misinformation or misunderstandings out there — and that played a big role in making Massachusetts’ health care reform a success.
Now with Obamacare, we’ve seen political groups willing to spend millions in ads to spread lies and confuse the public about what’s really going on — even about the benefits folks are already seeing, like ending lifetime caps, and young adults who can stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26. In fact, opponents have spent $385 million already doing just that. It’s not that they have a better idea to protect people’s health — it’s that they see Obamacare as a significant policy victory for our President, and they want to do everything they can to undermine that. Same old pattern: hurt the President even if it hurts the country. Just disgusting.
That’s why we’ve got to fight back.
So if you care about telling the real story about Obamacare — or just making sure that the debates going on in Washington are happening over actual facts — you need to be a part of this.
Sign up to be a part of OFA’s Truth Team right now:
Thanks for your help,
Governor Deval Patrick
~ Organizing for Action is a nonprofit organization established to support President Obama in achieving enactment of the national agenda Americans voted for on Election Day 2012. OFA will advocate for these policies throughout the country and will mobilize citizens of all parties and diverse points to speak out for speedy passage and effective implementation of this program, including gun violence prevention, sensible environmental policies to address climate change and immigration reform. In addition, OFA will encourage the formation of chapters that will be dedicated at the grassroots level to this program, but also committed to identifying and working progressive change on a range of issues at the state and local level. In carrying its work, OFA will operate as a “social welfare” organization within the meaning of section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Wednesday, July 24, President Obama returns to Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. to deliver major speech. Details of live event unknown. Speech will be webcast. Click here for available details.
Saturday, July 27, Hawkeye Labor Council Steak Dinner. 1211 Wiley Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Featured Speaker: Rep. Tyler Olson. 5 p.m. Social hour; 6 p.m. dinner; 7 p.m. Live entertainment. Tickets $20.
Monday, July 29, Bruce Braley Luncheon in Wapello beginning at 11:45 a.m. The congressman will be at the El Oasis restaurant north of the elevator on Highway 61. RSVP to Stan Staats firstname.lastname@example.org so they can get a headcount.
The White House released the following statement this afternoon regarding the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case:
Statement by the President:
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
The Trayvon Martin Foundation can be found at http://trayvonmartinfoundation.org/.
President Obama spoke in Berlin this week, and I have been waiting to listen to the speech, doing so this morning. Friends have been talking about Obama’s call for a new series of steps toward nuclear abolition. One friend, who is not an Internet user, called and left a voice mail message saying he hoped that Obama’s speech would generate new energy around nuclear abolition within Veterans for Peace. I don’t know about that. The speech was less than inspiring, even if filled with lofty ideas, many of which have been heard from this president before. Referring to the global AIDS initiative, Obama spoke about peace with justice,
“Peace with justice means meeting our moral obligations. […] Making sure that we do everything we can to realize the promise– an achievable promise– of the first AIDS-free generation. That is something that is possible if we feel a sufficient sense of urgency.”
That last part, “a sufficient sense of urgency,” is always the problem in our consumer society, isn’t it? At the same time, we can’t ignore the president’s call for new energy around what threatens life as we know it— nuclear proliferation, a warming and increasingly polluted planet, and social injustice. Obama touched on all three in the speech.
The heavy lift of the New START Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation was a signature achievement of Obama’s first term. I was proud to have been part of the effort toward ratification. There was a sense in the conference calls with key State Department leaders, even shortly after Russia’s parliament ratified the treaty, that it was the last big thing regarding nuclear abolition for this president. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I heard it from people in a position to know.
Nuclear abolition matters, so it is important to consider the president’s announcement in Berlin, his plan to move forward in slowing nuclear proliferation. The U.S. will negotiate further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons, by up to one third, with the Russian Federation; the U.S. will negotiate with Russia a reduction in tactical nuclear weapons in Europe; we must reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking; the U.S. will host a summit in 2016 to secure nuclear materials in the world; the administration will build support for ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; and the president called on all nations to begin negotiations on a treaty that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. These are all continuations of previous administration policies: baby steps forward.
The day after the speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, posted an article in Foreign Policy titled, “Death by Cuts to a Thousand.” He wrote, “while (the president’s) remarks are overdue and welcome, the pace and scope of his proposals for further nuclear reductions are incremental at best and changes in the U.S. nuclear war plan are less than meets the eye.” I met Kimball in Washington in Fall 2009, and he is a key person among the non-governmental organizations that work on nuclear weapons issues. One suspects he was putting the best face on what was a disappointing policy announcement.
Despite this, as Kimball wrote in the article, “doing nothing in the face of grave nuclear weapons threats is not an option.” My work with others toward nuclear abolition will go on. It is a core part of working toward sustainability in a turbulent world.
It’s an honor to return to the National Defense University. Here, at Fort McNair, Americans have served in uniform since 1791– standing guard in the early days of the Republic, and contemplating the future of warfare here in the 21st century.
For over two centuries, the United States has been bound together by founding documents that defined who we are as Americans, and served as our compass through every type of change. Matters of war and peace are no different. Americans are deeply ambivalent about war, but having fought for our independence, we know that a price must be paid for freedom. From the Civil War, to our struggle against fascism, and through the long, twilight struggle of the Cold War, battlefields have changed, and technology has evolved. But our commitment to Constitutional principles has weathered every war, and every war has come to an end.
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a new dawn of democracy took hold abroad, and a decade of peace and prosperity arrived at home. For a moment, it seemed the 21st century would be a tranquil time. Then, on September 11th 2001, we were shaken out of complacency. Thousands were taken from us, as clouds of fire, metal and ash descended upon a sun-filled morning. This was a different kind of war. No armies came to our shores, and our military was not the principal target. Instead, a group of terrorists came to kill as many civilians as they could.
And so our nation went to war. We have now been at war for well over a decade. I won’t review the full history. What’s clear is that we quickly drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but then shifted our focus and began a new war in Iraq. This carried grave consequences for our fight against al Qaeda, our standing in the world, and – to this day – our interests in a vital region.
Meanwhile, we strengthened our defenses – hardening targets, tightening transportation security, and giving law enforcement new tools to prevent terror. Most of these changes were sound. Some caused inconvenience. But some, like expanded surveillance, raised difficult questions about the balance we strike between our interests in security and our values of privacy. And in some cases, I believe we compromised our basic values – by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.
After I took office, we stepped up the war against al Qaeda, but also sought to change its course. We relentlessly targeted al Qaeda’s leadership. We ended the war in Iraq, and brought nearly 150,000 troops home. We pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan, and increased our training of Afghan forces. We unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.
Today, Osama bin Laden is dead, and so are most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure. Fewer of our troops are in harm’s way, and over the next 19 months they will continue to come home. Our alliances are strong, and so is our standing in the world. In sum, we are safer because of our efforts.
Now make no mistake: our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. We must recognize, however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions – about the nature of today’s threats, and how we should confront them.
These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children.
So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.
Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11. Instead, what we’ve seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP –the most active in plotting against our homeland. While none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11 they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.
Unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria. Here, too, there are differences from 9/11. In some cases, we confront state-sponsored networks like Hizbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Others are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory. While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. That means we will face more localized threats like those we saw in Benghazi, or at the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives – in loose affiliation with regional networks – launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.
Finally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; a plane flying into a building in Texas; or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City – America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our time. Deranged or alienated individuals – often U.S. citizens or legal residents – can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. That pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon.
Lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We must take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya. These attacks were all deadly, and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow. But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.
Moreover, we must recognize that these threats don’t arise in a vacuum. Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.
Nevertheless, this ideology persists, and in an age in which ideas and images can travel the globe in an instant, our response to terrorism cannot depend on military or law enforcement alone. We need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills and ideas. So let me discuss the components of such a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.
First, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces.
In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counter-terrorism force which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe-haven to launch attacks against us or our allies.
Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al Shabaab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we are providing military aid to a French-led intervention to push back al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.
Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence; the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That’s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic.
But despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain a foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth. They take refuge in remote tribal regions. They hide in caves and walled compounds. They train in empty deserts and rugged mountains.
In some of these places – such as parts of Somalia and Yemen – the state has only the most tenuous reach into the territory. In other cases, the state lacks the capacity or will to take action. It is also not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist. And even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians– where a terrorist compound cannot be breached without triggering a firefight with surrounding tribal communities that pose no threat to us, or when putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis.
To put it another way, our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm. The risks in that case were immense; the likelihood of capture, although our preference, was remote given the certainty of resistance; the fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties, or embroiled in an extended firefight, was a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our Special Forces – but also depended on some luck. And even then, the cost to our relationship with Pakistan – and the backlash among the Pakistani public over encroachment on their territory – was so severe that we are just now beginning to rebuild this important partnership.
It is in this context that the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones. As was true in previous armed conflicts, this new technology raises profound questions – about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality.
Let me address these questions. To begin with, our actions are effective. Don’t take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden’s compound, we found that he wrote, “we could lose the reserves to the enemy’s air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.” Other communications from al Qaeda operatives confirm this as well. Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers, and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.
Moreover, America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.
And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it. That’s why, over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.
In the Afghan war theater, we must support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. That means we will continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces. However, by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we have made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.
Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. Even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.
This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.
Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted, lethal action is the use of conventional military options. As I’ve said, even small Special Operations carry enormous risks. Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies; unleash a torrent of unintended consequences; are difficult to contain; and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict. So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths, or to create enemies in the Muslim world. The result would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.
So yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life. Indeed, our efforts must also be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations. In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed. So neither conventional military action, nor waiting for attacks to occur, offers moral safe-harbor. Neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services – and indeed, have no functioning law.
This is not to say that the risks are not real. Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies, and impacts public opinion overseas. Our laws constrain the power of the President, even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.
For this reason, I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action. After I took office, my Administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that – not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP.
This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team
That’s who Anwar Awlaki was – he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S. bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Christmas Day bomber – went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, and helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack. His last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki.
Of course, the targeting of any Americans raises constitutional issues that are not present in other strikes – which is why my Administration submitted information about Awlaki to the Department of Justice months before Awlaki was killed, and briefed the Congress before this strike as well. But the high threshold that we have set for taking lethal action applies to all potential terrorist targets, regardless of whether or not they are American citizens. This threshold respects the inherent dignity of every human life. Alongside the decision to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way, the decision to use force against individuals or groups – even against a sworn enemy of the United States – is the hardest thing I do as President. But these decisions must be made, given my responsibility to protect the American people.
Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested – the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch – avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national-security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. Despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these – and other – options for increased oversight.
I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.
So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia. As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking. We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred. Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better. But our security and values demand that we make the effort.
This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as a rebuke to violent extremists. We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating extremist elements – because the end of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorism. We are working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians – because it is right, and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region. And we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship – because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with peoples’ hopes, and not simply their fears.
Success on these fronts requires sustained engagement, but it will also require resources. I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures – even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.
America cannot carry out this work if we do not have diplomats serving in dangerous places. Over the past decade, we have strengthened security at our Embassies, and I am implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi. I have called on Congress to fully fund these efforts to bolster security, harden facilities, improve intelligence, and facilitate a quicker response time from our military if a crisis emerges.
But even after we take these steps, some irreducible risks to our diplomats will remain. This is the price of being the world’s most powerful nation, particularly as a wave of change washes over the Arab World. And in balancing the trade-offs between security and active diplomacy, I firmly believe that any retreat from challenging regions will only increase the dangers we face in the long run.
Targeted action against terrorists. Effective partnerships. Diplomatic engagement and assistance. Through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large scale attacks on the homeland and mitigate threats to Americans overseas. As we guard against dangers from abroad, however, we cannot neglect the daunting challenge of terrorism from within our borders.
As I said earlier, this threat is not new. But technology and the Internet increase its frequency and lethality. Today, a person can consume hateful propaganda, commit themselves to a violent agenda, and learn how to kill without leaving their home. To address this threat, two years ago my Administration did a comprehensive review, and engaged with law enforcement. The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the Muslim American community – which has consistently rejected terrorism – to identify signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. Indeed, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.
Indeed, thwarting homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part because of our proud commitment to civil liberties for all who call America home. That’s why, in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication, and build in privacy protections to prevent abuse. That means that – even after Boston – we do not deport someone or throw someone in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the State Secrets doctrine. And that means finally having a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counter-terrorism efforts and our values may come into tension.
The Justice Department’s investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As Commander-in Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.
Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.
All these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact – in sometimes unintended ways – the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.
The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.
And that brings me to my final topic: the detention of terrorist suspects.
To repeat, as a matter of policy, the preference of the United States is to capture terrorist suspects. When we do detain a suspect, we interrogate them. And if the suspect can be prosecuted, we decide whether to try him in a civilian court or a Military Commission. During the past decade, the vast majority of those detained by our military were captured on the battlefield. In Iraq, we turned over thousands of prisoners as we ended the war. In Afghanistan, we have transitioned detention facilities to the Afghans, as part of the process of restoring Afghan sovereignty. So we bring law of war detention to an end, and we are committed to prosecuting terrorists whenever we can.
The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The original premise for opening GTMO – that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention – was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –almost $1 million per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep GTMO open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home.
As President, I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from GTMO with Congress’s support. When I ran for President the first time, John McCain supported closing GTMO. No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most GTMO detainees. Given my Administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.
Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.
Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain: how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.
I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?
Our sense of justice is stronger than that. We have prosecuted scores of terrorists in our courts. That includes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; and Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square. It is in a court of law that we will try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of bombing the Boston Marathon. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, is as we speak serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison here, in the United States. In sentencing Reid, Judge William Young told him, “the way we treat you…is the measure of our own liberties.” He went on to point to the American flag that flew in the courtroom – “That flag,” he said, “will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag still stands for freedom.”
America, we have faced down dangers far greater than al Qaeda. By staying true to the values of our founding, and by using our constitutional compass, we have overcome slavery and Civil War; fascism and communism. In just these last few years as President, I have watched the American people bounce back from painful recession, mass shootings, and natural disasters like the recent tornados that devastated Oklahoma. These events were heartbreaking; they shook our communities to the core. But because of the resilience of the American people, these events could not come close to breaking us.
I think of Lauren Manning, the 9/11 survivor who had severe burns over 80 percent of her body, who said, “That’s my reality. I put a Band-Aid on it, literally, and I move on.”
I think of the New Yorkers who filled Times Square the day after an attempted car bomb as if nothing had happened.
I think of the proud Pakistani parents who, after their daughter was invited to the White House, wrote to us, “we have raised an American Muslim daughter to dream big and never give up because it does pay off.”
I think of the wounded warriors rebuilding their lives, and helping other vets to find jobs.
I think of the runner planning to do the 2014 Boston Marathon, who said, “Next year, you are going to have more people than ever. Determination is not something to be messed with.”
That’s who the American people are. Determined, and not to be messed with.
Now, we need a strategy – and a politics –that reflects this resilient spirit. Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony on a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground. Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street. The quiet determination; that strength of character and bond of fellowship; that refutation of fear – that is both our sword and our shield. And long after the current messengers of hate have faded from the world’s memory, alongside the brutal despots, deranged madmen, and ruthless demagogues who litter history – the flag of the United States will still wave from small-town cemeteries, to national monuments, to distant outposts abroad. And that flag will still stand for freedom.
Thank you. God Bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.