Political Musings September 17, 2014: House passes spending bill and authorization to train and arm Syrian rebels

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

House passes spending bill and authorization to train and arm Syrian rebels

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The Republican controlled House of Representatives passed a continuing appropriations resolution on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 to fund the federal government for 10 weeks into the 2015 fiscal year, lasting past the midterm elections. The bill passed with bipartisan support…Continue

Full Text Obama Presidency September 10, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech Announcing Military Strategy to Combat “Degrade and Destroy” ISIS ISIL Terrorist Group — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on ISIL

Source: WH, 9-10-14 

State Floor

9:01 P.M. EDT

My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people.  Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country.  We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia.  We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year.  Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.

Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat.  We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.  That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.  And that’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge.  At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain.  And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear:  ISIL is not “Islamic.”  No religion condones the killing of innocents.  And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.  And ISIL is certainly not a state.  It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border.  It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates.  ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.  And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality.  They execute captured prisoners.  They kill children.  They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage.  They threatened a religious minority with genocide.  And in acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities.  If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.  While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.  Our Intelligence Community believes that thousands of foreigners -– including Europeans and some Americans –- have joined them in Syria and Iraq.  Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

I know many Americans are concerned about these threats.  Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve.  Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances.  Since then, we’ve conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq.  These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory.  These strikes have also helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

But this is not our fight alone.  American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region.  And that’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days.  So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.

Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.

First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists.  Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.  Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.  That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.  This is a core principle of my presidency:  If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.  In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces.  Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq.  As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.  But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.  We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.

Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition.  Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.  In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.  Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.

Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks.  Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.  And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.

Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization.  This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities.  We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.

So this is our strategy.  And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners.  Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid.  Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity.  And in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria, to drive these terrorists from their lands.  This is American leadership at its best:  We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.

My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home.  I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL, but I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together.  So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.

Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.  And any time we take military action, there are risks involved –- especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions.  But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.  This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.  This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.  And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year:  to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.

My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked.  Next week marks six years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression.  Yet despite these shocks, through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back, America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.

Our technology companies and universities are unmatched.  Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving.  Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades.  For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history.  Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day –- and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.

Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world.  It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists.  It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny.  It is America –- our scientists, our doctors, our know-how –- that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola.  It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again.  And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden.  But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.  From Europe to Asia, from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East, we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity.  These are values that have guided our nation since its founding.

Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward.  I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform –- pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and servicemembers who support our partners on the ground.

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said:  “We owe our American friends our lives.  Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”

That is the difference we make in the world.  And our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for –- timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.

May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

Political Headlines September 7, 2014: Full Meet the Press Interview With President Obama — Video

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Full Meet the Press Interview With President Obama

Source: NBC News, 9-7-14

Obama_Meet_the_Press_9-7-14

 

Full Text Obama Presidency September 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the NATO Summit

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at NATO Summit Press Conference

Source: WH, 9-5-14

Celtic Manor Resort
Newport, Wales

4:50 P.M. BST

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon.  Let me begin by thanking my great friend, Prime Minister Cameron — and his entire team — for hosting this NATO Summit and making it such a success.  And I want to thank the people of Newport and Cardiff and the people of Wales for welcoming me and my delegation so warmly.  It’s a great honor to be the first sitting U.S. President to visit Wales.

We’ve met at a time of transition and a time of testing.  After more than a decade, NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end.  Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens our vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.  In the Middle East, the terrorist threat from ISIL poses a growing danger.  Here at this summit, our Alliance has summoned the will, the resources and the capabilities to meet all of these challenges.

First and foremost, we have reaffirmed the central mission of the Alliance.  Article 5 enshrines our solemn duty to each other — “an armed attack against one…shall be considered an attack against them all.”  This is a binding, treaty obligation.  It is non-negotiable.  And here in Wales, we’ve left absolutely no doubt — we will defend every Ally.

Second, we agreed to be resolute in reassuring our Allies in Eastern Europe.  Increased NATO air patrols over the Baltics will continue.  Rotations of additional forces throughout Eastern Europe for training and exercises will continue.  Naval patrols in the Black Sea will continue.  And all 28 NATO nations agreed to contribute to all of these measures — for as long as necessary.

Third, to ensure that NATO remains prepared for any contingency, we agreed to a new Readiness Action Plan.  The Alliance will update its defense planning.  We will create a new highly ready Rapid Response Force that can be deployed on very short notice.  We’ll increase NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe with additional equipment, training, exercises and troop rotations.  And the $1 billion initiative that I announced in Warsaw will be a strong and ongoing U.S. contribution to this plan.

Fourth, all 28 NATO nations have pledged to increase their investments in defense and to move toward investing 2 percent of their GDP in our collective security.  These resources will help NATO invest in critical capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and missile defense.  And this commitment makes clear that NATO will not be complacent.  Our Alliance will reverse the decline in defense spending and rise to meet the challenges that we face in the 21st century.

Fifth, our Alliance is fully united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and its right to defend itself.  To back up this commitment, all 28 NATO Allies will now provide security assistance to Ukraine.  This includes non-lethal support to the Ukrainian military — like body armor, fuel and medical care for wounded Ukrainian troops — as well as assistance to help modernize Ukrainian forces, including logistics and command and control.

Here in Wales, we also sent a strong message to Russia that actions have consequences.  Today, the United States and Europe are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors.  At the same time, we strongly support President Poroshenko’s efforts to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict in his country.  The cease-fire announced today can advance that goal, but only if there is follow-through on the ground.  Pro-Russian separatists must keep their commitments and Russia must stop its violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Beyond Europe, we pay tribute to all those from our ISAF mission, including more than 2,200 Americans, who have given their lives for our security in Afghanistan.  NATO’s combat mission ends in three months, and we are prepared to transition to a new mission focused on training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.  Both presidential candidates have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would be the foundation of our continued cooperation.  But, as we all know, the outcome of the recent election must be resolved.  And so we continue to urge the two presidential candidates to make the compromises that are necessary so Afghans can move forward together and form a sovereign, united and democratic nation.

Finally, we reaffirmed that the door to NATO membership remains open to nations that can meet our high standards.  We agreed to expand the partnership that makes NATO the hub of global security.  We’re launching a new effort with our closest partners — including many that have served with us in Afghanistan — to make sure our forces continue to operate together.  And we’ll create a new initiative to help countries build their defense capabilities — starting with Georgia, Moldova, Jordan and Libya.

I also leave here confident that NATO Allies and partners are prepared to join in a broad, international effort to combat the threat posed by ISIL.  Already, Allies have joined us in Iraq, where we have stopped ISIL’s advances; we’ve equipped our Iraqi partners, and helped them go on offense.  NATO has agreed to play a role in providing security and humanitarian assistance to those who are on the front lines.  Key NATO Allies stand ready to confront this terrorist threat through military, intelligence and law enforcement, as well as diplomatic efforts.  And Secretary Kerry will now travel to the region to continue building the broad-based coalition that will enable us to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

So, taken together, I think the progress we’ve achieved in Wales makes it clear that our Alliance will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure our collective defense and to protect our citizens.

So with that, let me take a few questions.  I’ll start with Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to go back to the situation in Ukraine.  If this cease-fire does take effect and appears to be holding, would you and your European counterparts back away from these sanctions that you say you’ve prepared?  Or do you feel that it’s important to levy these sanctions regardless of this cease-fire agreement?  And if I could go back to the Rapid Response Force, can you say specifically what U.S. contributions will be in terms of troop numbers and equipment?  Is it beyond the agreement that you announced — or the proposal you announced in Warsaw?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to the cease-fire agreement, obviously we are hopeful, but based on past experience also skeptical that, in fact, the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  So it has to be tested.

And I know that the Europeans are discussing at this point the final shape of their sanctions measures.  It’s my view that if you look at President Poroshenko’s plan, it is going to take some time to implement.  And as a consequence, for us to move forward based on what is currently happening on the ground with sanctions — while acknowledging that if, in fact, the elements of the plan that has been signed are implemented — then those sanctions could be lifted is a more likely way for us to ensure that there’s follow-through. But that’s something that obviously we’ll consult closely with our European partners to determine.

I do want to point out, though, that the only reason that we’re seeing this cease-fire at this moment is because of both the sanctions that have already been applied and the threat of further sanctions, which are having a real impact on the Russian economy and have isolated Russia in a way that we have not seen in a very long time.

The path for Russia to rejoin the community of nations that respects international law is still there, and we encourage President Putin to take it.  But the unity and the firmness that we’ve seen in the Transatlantic Alliance in supporting Ukraine and applying sanctions has been I think a testimony to how seriously people take the basic principle that big countries can just stomp on little countries, or force them to change their policies and give up their sovereignty.

So I’m very pleased with the kind of work that’s been done throughout this crisis in Ukraine, and I think U.S. leadership has been critical throughout that process.

With respect to the Rapid Response Force and the Readiness Action Plan that we’ve put forward, in Warsaw I announced $1 billion in our initiative.  A sizeable portion of that will be devoted to implementing various aspects of this Readiness Action Plan.

We’ve already increased obviously rotations of personnel in the Baltic states, for example.  We have the air policing.  We have the activities that are taking place in the Baltic and the Black Sea.  But this allows us to supplement it.  It allows us to coordinate it and integrate it further with additional contributions from other partners.  And what it signifies is NATO’s recognition that, in light of recent Russian actions as well as rhetoric, we want to make it crystal clear:  We mean what we say when we’re talking about our Article 5 commitments.  And an increased presence serves as the most effective deterrent to any additional Russian aggression that we might see.

Angela Keane, Bloomberg.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  What are your specific expectations for what regional actors like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan can legitimately provide to a coalition against Islamic State?  Is there a role there for Iran, as well?  As you know, Secretary Kerry today said that he expects the Allied countries to coalesce around a specific plan by the end of September.  Do you agree with the timeline that he set out?  And what concrete commitments, if any, are you leaving this summit with from the other nations that were here?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me start with a general point.  There was unanimity over the last two days that ISIL poses a significant threat to NATO members.  And there was a recognition that we have to take action.  I did not get any resistance or pushback to the basic notion that we have a critical role to play in rolling back this savage organization that is causing so much chaos in the region and is harming so many people, and poses a long-term threat to the safety and security of NATO members.  So there’s great conviction that we have to act as part of the international community to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And that was extremely encouraging.

Beyond that, what we have already seen is significant support from a variety of member states for specific actions that we’ve been taking in Iraq.  Keep in mind, we’ve taken already 100 strikes in Iraq that have had a significant impact on degrading their capabilities, and making sure that we’re protecting U.S. citizens, critical infrastructure, providing the space for the Iraqi government to form.  Our hope is that the Iraqi government is actually formed and finalized next week.  That, then, allows us to work with them on a broader strategy.

And some of the assistance has been in the form of airlift or humanitarian assistance.  Much of it has been providing additional arms to the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces.  There’s been logistical support, intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance support.  And so a variety of folks with different capabilities have already made a contribution.  I’m confident that we’re going to be able to build on that strong foundation and the clear commitment, and have the kind of coalition that will be required for the sustained effort we need to push ISIL back.

Now, John Kerry is going to be traveling to the region to have further consultations with the regional actors and the regional players.  And I think it is absolutely critical that we have Arab states, and specifically Sunni majority states, that are rejecting the kind of extremist nihilism that we’re seeing out of ISIL that say that is not what Islam is about, and are prepared to join us actively in the fight.  And my expectation is, is that we will see friends and allies and partners of ours in the region prepared to take action, as well, as part of a coalition.

One of our tasks, though, is also going to be to build capability.  What we’ve learned in Iraq is, yes, ISIL has significant capabilities, and they combine terrorist tactics with traditional military tactics to significant effect, but part of the problem also is, is that we haven’t seen as effective a fighting force on the part of the Iraqi Security Forces as we need.  And we’re going to have to focus on the capable units that are already there, bolster them, bolster the work that the Peshmerga has done.  We can support them from the air, but ultimately we’re going to need a strong ground game, and we’re also going to need the Sunni tribes in many of these areas to recognize that their future is not with the kind of fanaticism that ISIL represents so that they start taking the fight to ISIL, as well.  And that’s going to require the sort of regional partnerships that we’re talking about.

In terms of timetable, we are working deliberately.  If you look at what we’ve done over the last several months, we’ve taken this in stages.  The first stage is to make sure that we were encouraging Iraqi government formation.  Second stage was making sure that, building on the intelligence assessments that we have done, that we were in a position to conduct limited airstrikes to protect our personnel, critical infrastructure and engage in humanitarian activities.

The third phase will allow us to take the fight to ISIL, broaden the effort.  And our goal is to act with urgency, but also to make sure that we’re doing it right — that we have the right targets; that there’s support on the ground if we take an airstrike; that we have a strong political coalition, diplomatic effort that is matching it; a strong strategic communications effort so that we are discouraging people from thinking somehow that ISIL represents a state, much less a caliphate.  So all those things are going to have to be combined.

And as I said, it’s not going to happen overnight, but we are steadily moving in the right direction.  And we are going to achieve our goal.  We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaeda, and the same way that we have gone after the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia where we released today the fact that we had killed the leader of al-Shabaab in Somalia, and have consistently worked to degrade their operations.

We have been very systematic and methodical in going after these kinds of organizations that may threaten U.S. personnel and the homeland.  And that deliberation allows us to do it right.  But have no doubt, we will continue and I will continue to do what is necessary to protect the American people.  And ISIL poses a real threat, and I’m encouraged by the fact that our friends and allies recognize that same threat.

Julie Davis.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to follow up on what you were saying about ISIL and ask, if you think that the objective here is to destroy and degrade them, are those the same thing in your mind?  Is the goal to ultimately — Secretary Kerry said that there’s no containing them, so is the goal to ultimately annihilate them?  And also, you talked about the importance of expertise on the ground and building up capacity on the ground.  Do you think since airstrikes are not going to do it here, if ultimately action is needed in Syria, can you realistically expect the Free Syrian Army to do what’s needed on the ground to really destroy, not just push back, ISIL?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women.  The goal has to be to dismantle them.

And if you look at what happened with al Qaeda in the FATA, where their primary base was, you initially push them back.  You systematically degrade their capabilities.  You narrow their scope of action.  You slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control.  You take out their leadership.  And over time, they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could.

As I said I think in my last press conference, given the nature of these organizations, are there potentially remnants of an organization that are still running around and hiding and still potentially plotting?  Absolutely.  And we will continue to hunt them down the same way we’re doing with remnants of al Qaeda in the FATA or elements of al-Shabaab in Somalia, or terrorists who operate anywhere around the world.

But what we can accomplish is to dismantle this network, this force that has claimed to control this much territory, so that they can’t do us harm.  And that’s going to be our objective.  And as I said before, I’m pleased to see that there’s unanimity among our friends and allies that that is a worthy goal and they are prepared to work with us in accomplishing that goal.

With respect to the situation on the ground in Syria, we will not be placing U.S. ground troops to try to control the areas that are part of the conflict inside of Syria.  I don’t think that’s necessary for us to accomplish our goal.  We are going to have to find effective partners on the ground to push back against ISIL.  And the moderate coalition there is one that we can work with.  We have experience working with many of them.  They have been, to some degree, outgunned and outmanned, and that’s why it’s important for us to work with our friends and allies to support them more effectively.

But keep in mind that when you have U.S. forces, other advanced nations going after ISIL and putting them on the defensive and putting them on the run, it’s pretty remarkable what then ground forces can do, even if initially they were on the defensive against ISIL.

So that is a developing strategy that we are going to be consulting with our friends, our allies, our regional partners.  But the bottom line is, we will do what is necessary in order to make sure that ISIL does not threaten the United States or our friends and partners.

One last question.  Colleen Nelson, Wall Street Journal.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Some say that Democrats who are facing tough races in November have asked you to delay action on immigration.  How have the concerns of other Democrats influenced your thinking?  And do you see any downside at this point to delaying until after the election?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I have to tell you that this week I’ve been pretty busy, focused on Ukraine and focused on ISIL and focused on making sure that NATO is boosting its commitments, and following through on what’s necessary to meet 21st century challenges.

Jeh Johnson and Eric Holder have begun to provide me some of their proposals and recommendations.  I’ll be reviewing them.  And my expectation is that fairly soon I’ll be considering what the next steps are.

What I’m unequivocal about is that we need immigration reform; that my overriding preference is to see Congress act.  We had bipartisan action in the Senate.  The House Republicans have sat on it for over a year.  That has damaged the economy, it has held America back.  It is a mistake.  And in the absence of congressional action, I intend to take action to make sure that we’re putting more resources on the border, that we’re upgrading how we process these cases, and that we find a way to encourage legal immigration and give people some path so that they can start paying taxes and pay a fine and learn English and be able to not look over their shoulder but be legal, since they’ve been living here for quite some time.

So I suspect that on my flight back this will be part of my reading, taking a look at some of the specifics that we’ve looked at.  And I’ll be making an announcement soon.

But I want to be very clear:  My intention is, in the absence of action by Congress, I’m going to do what I can do within the legal constraints of my office — because it’s the right thing to do for the country.

Thank you very much, people of Wales.  I had a wonderful time.

END
5:15 P.M. BST

Political Musings September 4, 2014: Damage control for Obama, Biden’s tough response on ISIS as Congress plans war

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Damage control for Obama, Biden’s tough response on ISIS as Congress plans war

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The news of the beheading of another American journalist by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) commenced a new round of responses from President Barack Obama and his administration and differing levels of how to militarily respond to…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 3, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Joint Press Conference with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and President Ilves of Estonia in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 9-3-14

Bank of Estonia
Tallinn, Estonia

11:59 A.M. EEST

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Good morning.  To begin with, I’d like to welcome President Obama to Estonia.  It is a genuine pleasure and an honor to receive you right before the NATO Summit.  Your visit sends a strong message.  We are grateful to the United States and to you personally for your leadership, your commitment, and your support to Estonia.

To begin with, I also want to say that we are appalled by the latest news from Iraq.  We condemn these barbaric acts.  We see ISIS as a serious threat to all of us, and stand together with the United States and our allies on this issue.

The main issue on our agenda today is security.  The question on everyone’s mind is the situation in Ukraine and its wider impact on European security.  I just did hear that President Poroshenko and President Putin have agreed on a cease-fire.  I just hope it works.  But in the general situation, we need to be clear and consistent in the language that we use to describe the situation in Ukraine.

As the EU underlined last weekend, this is Russian aggression.  The EU and the United States are ready to take further restrictive measures in response to Russia’s behavior.  Russia must admit that it is a party to the conflict, and take genuine steps that will lead to a de-escalation of the conflict.  We must also continue to support Ukraine by providing the country with the assistance that it needs.

When it comes to the security of our region, the United States engagement here runs deep.  Estonia is a close and reliable ally to the United States.  We take our NATO commitment seriously — very seriously.  We have not sat back and waited for others to take care of our security.  Since joining the Alliance, Estonian soldiers have consistently defended the freedom of others — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and most recently in the Central African Republic.  We dedicate sufficient resources to defense, and are consistently increasing our national defense capacity.

We are grateful to the United States for sending troops here and for actively participating in the Baltic air policing mission.  Your presence underlies the credibility of NATO’s Article 5.  Without a doubt, your bilateral contributions have helped set an example for other NATO Allies.  A robust and visible Allied presence here in Estonia is the best way of discouraging any possible aggressors.  We look forward to the NATO Summit confirming this.

But we face a completely new security situation in Europe, and we are pleased that this is reflected in many of the summit’s documents.  We expect the NATO Summit in Wales to adopt the readiness action plan that will guide allied nations for years to come through a set of practical steps and measures of reassurance and deterrence.

In addition to our close defense cooperation, I am also pleased that our bilateral relations are strong in many, many other areas, including and especially cyber and energy security.

Globally, we are working together to promote our common values — democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  Estonia is a world leader in Internet freedom and in e-governance.  We have a liberal economy offering many exciting opportunities for increased trade, cooperation and investment.  And this is also one reason why we believe that T-TIP is a crucial, crucial effort on the part of both the European Union and the United States.

And let me once again welcome President Obama to Estonia, to Northern Europe, one of Europe’s most prosperous and successful regions.  Our countries share common values and interests, and I’m certain that together we can and will contribute to the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Tere Päevast.  To President Ilves — I want to thank you and the people of Estonia for welcoming me here today.  It is a great honor to be in Estonia, especially as we mark our 10th anniversary as NATO Allies.

Mr. President, thank you for being such an outstanding partner.  I was proud to welcome you to the White House last year, and we’ve spoken since on the situation in Ukraine.  Your life reflects the story of your nation — the son of refugees who returned home to help to chart a path for a free and democratic Estonia.  As many of you know, that long journey also took Toomas and his family to America, to New Jersey, where they still remember him as “Tom.”  And it was wonderful to meet your daughter today and find out she had gone back to New Jersey as well.  He says that he “knew Bruce Springsteen before he had his first record.”  So you embody the deep ties between Americans and Estonians.  I want to thank you for your friendship.

I’ve come here today because Estonia is one of the great success stories among the nations that reclaimed their independence after the Cold War.  You’ve built a vibrant democracy and new prosperity, and you’ve become a model for how citizens can interact with their government in the 21st century, something President Ilves has championed.  With their digital IDs, Estonians can use their smart phones to get just about anything done online — from their children’s grades to their health records.  I should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our health care website.

Most of all, I’m here because Estonia has been a model ally.  Estonian forces have served with courage and skill in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we honor our servicemembers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, including nine brave Estonians.  As NATO nears the end of our combat mission in three months, I want to thank Estonia for the commitments you have made to help sustain Afghan security forces going forward.

As a high-tech leader, Estonia is also playing a leading role in protecting NATO from cyber threats.  Estonia contributes its full share — its full 2 percent of GDP — to the defense of our Alliance.  In other words, Estonia meets its responsibilities.  And as we head into the NATO Summit in Wales, Estonia is an example of how every NATO member needs to do its fair share for our collective defense.

So I’ve come here, first and foremost, to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the security of Estonia.  As NATO Allies, we have Article 5 duties to our collective defense.  That is a commitment that is unbreakable.  It is unwavering.  It is eternal.  And Estonia will never stand alone.

As President, I’ve made sure that we are fulfilling that promise.  Early in my presidency, I urged our Alliance to update our contingency planning for the defense of this region, and additional NATO forces began rotating through the Baltics, including Estonia, for more training and exercises.  In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine earlier this year, the United States increased our presence further.  We have contributed additional aircraft to the Baltic air policing mission — a mission to which 14 other NATO Allies have also contributed over the past decade.  And we’re now continuously rotating additional personnel and aircraft through the Baltics.  I look forward to joining Prime Minister Rõivas in thanking our servicemembers later today.

On my visit to Warsaw this spring, I announced a new initiative to bolster the American military presence here in Europe, including in the Baltics, and we’re working with Congress to make sure that we deliver.  Today, I can announce that this initiative will include additional air force units and aircraft for training exercises here in the Nordic-Baltic region.  And we agree with our Estonian allies that an ideal location to host and support these exercises would be Amari Air Base here in Estonia.  With the support of Congress and our Estonian friends, I’m confident that we can make this happen.  And I look forward to discussing this further when we meet with Presidents Bērziņš and Grybauskaitė this afternoon.

As President Ilves indicated, we spend a great deal of time on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  I’ll have much more to say about this in my speech today.  For now, I just want to commend Estonia — including President Ilves — for being such a strong voice both in NATO and the EU on behalf of the Ukrainian people.  Estonia has provided assistance as Ukrainians work to strengthen their democratic institutions and reform their economy.  And because we’ve stood together, Russia is paying a heavy price for its actions, and NATO is poised to do more to help Ukraine strengthen its forces and defend their country.

And more broadly, I want to commend Estonia for being such a strong leader beyond NATO.  Whether it’s contributing forces to the EU mission in the Central African Republic or supporting relief efforts for the Syrian people, helping nations like Tunisia in their own transition to democracy or standing up for Internet freedom and human rights, this nation of 1.3 million people, as we say, truly punches above its weight.  The world is better for it, and it’s yet another reason why the United States will always be proud to stand with our ally, Estonia.

Finally, I want to say that today the prayers of the American people are with the family of a devoted and courageous journalist, Steven Sotloff.  Overnight, our government determined that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence.  We cannot even begin to imagine the agony that everyone who loved Steven is feeling right now, especially his mother, his father and his younger sister.  So today, our country grieves with them.

Like Jim Foley before him, Steve’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who have murdered him so brutally.  They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world.  His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East, risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity.

Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed.  They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism.  We will not be intimidated.  Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.  And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.

Mr. President.

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Well, I thought we could open things up for some questions, I understand two from Estonian journalists and two from President Obama’s entourage.  As the host, I’ll give the first opportunity to one of our tough questioners, Aarne Rannamäe.

Q    Yes, thank you.  Aarne Rannamäe, Estonian Public Broadcasting.  I have the same question to both presidents.  The partnership between Russia and NATO is not the same, as we all know.  Why to keep actually it alive, the agreement signed in 1997 between Russia and NATO?  Perhaps it would push or give some new opportunities to our region’s security in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Well, from our side, first of all, NATO did decide to freeze its relations with Russia several months ago.  But on the issue in terms of what is the — what are the implications of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, I suggest all those who say we can’t do anything because of the NATO-Russia Founding Act read the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which says that these conditions hold — to quote — “in the current and foreseeable” future, or “the security environment of the current and foreseeable” future.  That was the security environment of 1997, when Boris Yeltsin was President, and there had been no violations of either the U.N. Charter or the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1990 Paris Charter.

So I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment, and therefore one has to hold on to certain provisions.  It does not mean we have to give up the whole act, but certainly when an agreement in certain parts no longer holds, well, then it’s time to make a change.

I mean, the NATO-Russia Founding Act has been violated by Russia.  We continue to support the vision of that document, but its substance has changed dramatically, and I am confident that all of NATO’s actions are and will be conducted in accordance with its international commitments as an alliance.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  The circumstances clearly have changed.  And I think this will be a topic of discussion in Wales.  Beyond the issue of that particular document, our top priority has been to make sure that there is no ambiguity when it comes to our Article 5 commitments to our NATO Allies.  And as a consequence of the rotations that have been increased, the presence of U.S. troops in the course of those rotations and additional NATO Allies, what we want to send a clear message to everyone is, is that we take those commitments seriously.

And I think what’s going to be clear during the course of this summit is that, given the changed landscape, not only do we have to make sure that these rotations are effective and designed towards current threats, but more broadly, NATO has to look at its defense capabilities as a whole and make sure that they are updated and properly resourced.  For I think a certain period of time there was a complacency here in Europe about the demands that were required to make sure that NATO was able to function effectively.  My former Secretary of Defense I think came here and gave some fairly sharp speeches repeatedly about the need for making certain that every NATO member was doing its fair share.  I think Secretary General Rasmussen, during the course of his tenure, continually emphasized the need for us to upgrade our joint capabilities.

And obviously what’s happened in Ukraine is tragic, but I do think it gives us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes and understand what it is that’s necessary to make sure that our NATO commitments are met.  And that’s one of the reasons that I’m here in Estonia today.

I’m going to call on Ann Compton.  Ann is on her farewell tour.

Q    Thank you very much, Mr. President.  Now that you say a second American has been slain, what is your response?  Will airstrikes continue inside Iraq?  Might they expand into Syria?  Will you have a full strategy now on ISIS which will satisfy those like Prime Minister Cameron, who call it an imminent threat to all the interests?  And will it satisfy some of your supporters like Senator Feinstein who fears that on this you may have been too cautious?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, keep in mind that from the outset, the moment that ISIS went into Mosul, we were very clear that this was a very serious threat not just to Iraq but to the region and to U.S. interests.  And so we’ve been putting forward a strategy since that time that was designed to do a number of things.  Number one, to make sure that Americans were protected in Iraq, in our embassies, in our consulates.  Number two, that we worked with Iraqis to create a functioning government that was inclusive and that could serve as the basis for Iraq to begin to go on the offensive.

And the airstrikes that we’ve conducted in support of protecting Americans conducting humanitarian missions and providing space for the Iraqi government to form have borne fruit.  We’ve seen that in Sinjar Mountain.  We’ve seen it most recently in the town of Amerli, which heroically held out against a siege by ISIL.  We’re seeing progress in the formation of an inclusive Sunni-Shia-Kurd central government.  And so what we’ve seen is the strategy that we’ve laid out moving effectively.

But what I’ve said from the start is, is that this is not going to be a one-week or one-month or six-month proposition.  Because of what’s happened in the vacuum of Syria, as well as the battle-hardened elements of ISIS that grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq during the course of the Iraq war, it’s going to take time for us to be able to roll them back.  And it is going to take time for us to be able to form the regional coalition that’s going to be required so that we can reach out to Sunni tribes in some of the areas that ISIS has occupied, and make sure that we have allies on the ground in combination with the airstrikes that we’ve already conducted.

So the bottom line is this:  Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States.  In order for us to accomplish that, the first phase has been to make sure that we’ve got an Iraqi government that’s in place and that we are blunting the momentum that ISIL was carrying out.  And the airstrikes have done that.

But now what we need to do is make sure that we’ve got the regional strategy in place that can support an ongoing effort — not just in the air but on the ground — to move that forward.

And last week when this question was asked, I was specifically referring to the possibility of the military strategy inside of Syria that might require congressional approval.  It is very important from my perspective that when we send our pilots in to do a job, that we know that this is a mission that’s going to work, that we’re very clear on what our objectives are, what our targets are; we’ve made the case to Congress and we’ve made the case to the American people; and we’ve got allies behind us so that it’s not just a one-off, but it’s something that over time is going to be effective.

And so the bottom line is this, Ann — it’s not only that we’re going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men.  More broadly, the United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the kind of barbaric and ultimately empty vision that ISIL represents.  And that’s going to take some time, but we’re going to get it done.  I’m very confident of it.

Q    Did you just say that the strategy is to destroy ISIS, or to simply contain them or push them back?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region.  And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort. As we’ve seen with al Qaeda, there are always going to be remnants that can cause havoc of any of these networks, in part because of the nature of terrorist activities.  You get a few individuals, and they may be able to carry out a terrorist act.

But what we can do is to make sure that the kind of systemic and broad-based aggression that we’ve seen out of ISIL that terrorizes primarily Muslims, Shia, Sunni — terrorizes Kurds, terrorizes not just Iraqis, but people throughout the region, that that is degraded to the point where it is no longer the kind of factor that we’ve seen it being over the last several months.

Q    Argo Ideon.  Estonian daily newspaper, Postimees.  My question is also for both presidents.  Ukraine is facing a difficult time, and the situation on the ground may become even more complicated in the run-up to the parliamentary elections there in October.  In your view, what more could be done and should be done to support Ukraine politically, economically, and also from a security point of view?  What do you think about the idea of providing Ukrainian armed forces with weapons to counter Russia’s attack in the east of the country more effectively?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Well, most importantly, Ukraine needs above all continued political support.  And from that support comes decisions that involve everything else — economic aid, humanitarian aid, and also military aid.  And from that come also decisions on equipment.

In Wales, the NATO-Ukraine committee will gather and will decide how to increase NATO defense cooperation with Ukraine.  This is the kind of decision that we in NATO take together.  On the humanitarian side, we have doubled our humanitarian and development assistance in looking for what more we can do.  We have already brought wounded, seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers to our top-notch rehabilitation center here and will continue to do so.  That is certainly one thing that is — we know the Ukrainians lack that and we have it at a superbly high level, and also, I should add quickly, that with the assistance with the United States and the Walter Reed Hospital that we have this here.

The next couple of months leading up to the parliamentary elections will be very tricky.  Russia, I predict, will do everything in its power to undermine the elections.  We saw this already in the case of the presidential elections.  It will try to destabilize the government in Kyiv, and to keep Ukraine forces from regaining ground in the east.  So we should be prepared for a tough several — or a month, month and a half.  The next government, of course, that will be then will have the full legitimacy that comes with the new parliamentary elections — must show that it is a clear and better alternative to the one that the people of Ukraine ousted half a year ago.

And I also see that making sure — ensuring that the elections are carried out in a free and fair manner will be a topmost priority for us, for the OSCE.  And I think one of the issues should be, in fact, the kind of interference that we saw in the presidential elections, that not be allowed or be fully addressed and recognized by the monitoring of the elections.  I think that we all — after especially the presidential elections, we all know what the Russian forces can do to disrupt the democratic process.  And I think we should be far better prepared to document all of that when we get to the elections.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Political support is absolutely vital.  And one of our goals at the summit over the next several days is to once again project unity across NATO on behalf of Ukraine’s efforts to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The sanctions that we’ve applied so far have had a real effect on Russia.  And I think it’s important for us to continue to impose costs on Russia so long as it is violating basic principles of international law.  And so far at least we’ve been able to combine efforts between Europe and the United States and some of our allies around the world, and the results are a Russian economy that is effectively contracting, capital flight putting a burden on the Russian economy that at the moment may be overridden by politics inside of Russia as a consequence of state-run propaganda, but over time will point to the fact that this is a strategy that’s not serving Russia well, in addition to not serving Ukraine, obviously, well.

Beyond that, the Ukrainian economy is something that we have been paying a lot of attention to.  We helped work with the IMF to ensure that Ukraine had the resources to get through some of the emergency financing issues that they had to deal with, but we’re going to have more work to do.

The military efforts that have been required to deal with Russian-financed, Russian-armed, Russian-trained, Russian-supported and often Russian-directed separatists has meant that — has meant a drain on the Ukrainian economy, not to mention the fact that you have major industrial areas inside of Ukraine that obviously have been impacted by the conflict there.

So we’re going to have to make sure that the international community stands behind the Ukrainian economy in the short term, even as we encourage and advise and work with Ukraine to carry out some of the basic reforms that are going to be required in order for them to achieve the kinds of models of success that we’ve seen in Estonia and Poland and other places.  And that’s a tough row to hoe.  It took a couple of decades for some of the countries who are currently in the EU to achieve the sort of market-based reforms that have led to such great prosperity.

Ukraine is not going to be able to do that overnight, but we have to make sure that we are helping build a bridge towards that new future.  And if we combine those efforts with a commitment to continuing the NATO-Ukraine military relationship — they are not a member of NATO, but we have consistently worked with their military in terms of training and support — then I think that not only will Ukraine feel that in words we are behind them, but they’ll see that in deed we are working with them, as well.

Steve Holland of Reuters.

Q    Thank you, sir.  Just following up on Ann — will you have this military strategy on ISIS ready for discussion with NATO allies this week?  And in your view, what should NATO be prepared to do to take on Islamic State?  Lastly, how much stock do you put in this reported cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia?  How do you assess Putin’s motives?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  It’s too early to tell what this cease-fire means.  We haven’t seen any details; we’ve just seen a couple of wire reports.  We have consistently supported the effort of President Poroshenko to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that could lead to a political settlement of the conflict.

So far, it hasn’t held, either because Russia has not been serious about it or has pretended that it’s not controlling the separatists; and the separatists, when they’ve thought it was to their advantage, have not abided by the cease-fire.  So we haven’t seen a lot of follow-up on so-called announced cease-fires.

Having said that, if, in fact, Russia is prepared to stop financing, arming, training — in many cases joining with Russian troops — activities in Ukraine, and is serious about a political settlement, that is something that we all hope for.

I’ve said consistently our preference is a strong, productive, cooperative Russia.  But the way to achieve that is by abiding to international norms, to improving the economy, to focusing on how they can actually produce goods and services that other people want and give opportunity to their people and educate them.  That’s not the path that they’ve been pursuing over the last several years.  It’s certainly not in evidence when it comes to their strategy in Ukraine.

I’ll leave it up to others to interpret Mr. Putin’s psychology on this.  But in terms of actions, what we’ve seen is aggression and appeals to nationalist sentiments that have historically been very dangerous in Europe and are rightly a cause of concern.

So there’s an opportunity here.  Let’s see if there’s follow-up.  In my discussions with President Poroshenko I’ve consistently said that he needs to follow up on the kinds of reforms that he proposed so that eastern Ukraine feels as if it is fairly represented and that Russian-language speakers are protected against discrimination.  These are all things that are part of this platform.  We encourage them to move forward.  But no realistic political settlement can be achieved if effectively Russia says we are going to continue to send tanks and troops and arms and advisors under the guise of separatists who are not homegrown, and the only possible settlement is if Ukraine cedes its territory or its sovereignty or its ability to make its own decisions about its security and its economic future.

With respect to Iraq, we will be discussing this topic.  Even before ISIL dominated the headlines, one of the concerns that we have had is the development of terrorist networks and organizations, separate and apart from al Qaeda, whose focus oftentimes is regional and who are combining terrorist tactics with the tactics of small armies.  And we’ve seen ISIS to be the first one that has broken through, but we anticipated this awhile back and it was reflected in my West Point speech.

So one of our goals is to get NATO to work with us to help create the kinds of partnerships regionally that can combat not just ISIL, but these kinds of networks as they arise and potentially destabilize allies and partners of ours in the region.

Already we’ve seen NATO countries recognize the severity of this problem, that it is going to be a long-run problem.  Immediately, they’ve dedicated resources to help us with humanitarian airdrops, to provide arms to the Peshmerga and to the Iraqi security forces.  And we welcome those efforts.  What we hope to do at the NATO Summit is to make sure that we are more systematic about how we do it, that we’re more focused about how we do it.

NATO is unique in the annals of history as a successful alliance.  But we have to recognize that threats evolve, and threats have evolved as a consequence of what we’ve seen in Ukraine, but threats are also evolving in the Middle East that have a direct effect on Europe.

And to go back to what I said earlier to Ann, we know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.  And the question is going to be making sure we’ve got the right strategy, but also making sure that we’ve got the international will to do it.  This is something that is a continuation of a problem we’ve seen certainly since 9/11, but before.  And it continues to metastasize in different ways.

And what we’ve got to do is make sure that we are organizing the Arab world, the Middle East, the Muslim world along with the international community to isolate this cancer, this particular brand of extremism that is, first and foremost, destructive to the Muslim world and the Arab world and North Africa, and the people who live there.  They’re the ones who are most severely affected.  They’re the ones who are constantly under threat of being killed.  They’re the ones whose economies are completely upended to the point where they can’t produce their own food and they can’t produce the kinds of goods and services to sell in the world marketplace.  And they’re falling behind because of this very small and narrow, but very dangerous, segment of the population.  And we’ve got to combat it in a sustained, effective way.  And I’m confident we’re going to be able to do that.

Thank you very much.  I appreciate it, Mr. President.

END

12:39 P.M. EEST

Full Text Obama Presidency September 3, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Murder of Steven Sotloff

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Gives a Statement on the Murder of Steven Sotloff

Source: WH, 9-3-14

Finally, I want to say that today the prayers of the American people are with the family of a devoted and courageous journalist, Steven Sotloff. Overnight, our government determined that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence. We cannot even begin to imagine the agony that everyone who loved Steven is feeling right now, especially his mother, his father and his younger sister. So today, our country grieves with them.

Like Jim Foley before him, Steve’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who have murdered him so brutally. They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world. His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East, risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity.

Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed. They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists. And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.

Full Text Obama Presidency August 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement and Press Conference updating on Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and the Economy

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-28-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:09 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I want to say a few words on a number of topics and take a few questions before the long Labor Day weekend.

First, beginning with the number one thing most Americans care about — the economy.  This morning, we found out that our economy actually grew at a stronger clip in the 2nd quarter than we originally thought.  Companies are investing.  Consumers are spending.  Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have now created nearly 10 million new jobs.  So there are reasons to feel good about the direction we’re headed.

But as everybody knows, there’s a lot more that we should be doing to make sure that all Americans benefit from the progress that we’ve made.  And I’m going to be pushing Congress hard on this when they return next week.

Second, in Iraq, our dedicated pilots and crews continue to carry out the targeted strikes that I authorized to protect Americans there and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will always do what is necessary to protect the American people and defend against evolving threats to our homeland.  Because of our strikes, the terrorists of ISIL are losing arms and equipment.  In some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push them back.

And we continue to be proud and grateful to our extraordinary personnel serving in this mission.

Now, ISIL poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region.  And that’s why our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL.  And that starts with Iraq’s leaders building on the progress that they’ve made so far and forming an inclusive government that will unite their country and strengthen their security forces to confront ISIL.

Any successful strategy, though, also needs strong regional partners.  I’m encouraged so far that countries in the region — countries that don’t always agree on many things — increasingly recognize the primacy of the threat that ISIL poses to all of them.  And I’ve asked Secretary Kerry to travel to the region to continue to build the coalition that’s needed to meet this threat.  As I’ve said, rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can — and we will — working closely with our allies and our partners.

For our part, I’ve directed Secretary Hagel and our Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options.  I’ll be meeting with my National Security Council again this evening as we continue to develop that strategy.  And I’ve been consulting with members of Congress and I’ll continue to do so in the days ahead.

Finally, I just spoke with Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the situation in Ukraine.  We agree — if there was ever any doubt — that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine.  The violence is encouraged by Russia.  The separatists are trained by Russia.  They are armed by Russia.  They are funded by Russia.  Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  And the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see.  This comes as Ukrainian forces are making progress against the separatists.

As a result of the actions Russia has already taken, and the major sanctions we’ve imposed with our European and international partners, Russia is already more isolated than at any time since the end of the Cold War.  Capital is fleeing.  Investors are increasingly staying out.  Its economy is in decline.  And this ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine will only bring more costs and consequences for Russia.

Next week, I’ll be in Europe to coordinate with our closest allies and partners.  In Estonia, I will reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the defense of our NATO allies.

At the NATO Summit in the United Kingdom, we’ll focus on the additional steps we can take to ensure the Alliance remains prepared for any challenge.  Our meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission will be another opportunity for our alliance to continue our partnership with Ukraine.  And I look forward to reaffirming the unwavering commitment of the United States to Ukraine and its people when I welcome President Poroshenko to the White House next month.

So with that, I’m going to take a few questions.  And I’m going to start with somebody who I guess is now a big cheese — he’s moved on.  But I understand this is going to be his last chance to ask me a question in the press room.  So I want to congratulate Chuck Todd and give him first dibs.

Q    I’m glad you said “in the press room.”  Let me start with Syria.  The decision that you have to make between — first of all, is it a “if” or “when” situation about going after ISIL in Syria?  Can you defeat ISIL or ISIS without going after them in Syria?  And then how do you prioritize?  You have said that Assad has lost legitimacy to lead.  Defeating ISIS could help Assad keep power.  Talk about how you prioritize those two pieces of your foreign policy.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I want to make sure everybody is clear on what we’re doing now, because it is limited.  Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq; to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected.

Where we see an opportunity that allows us with very modest risk to help the humanitarian situation there as we did in Sinjar Mountain, we will take those opportunities after having consulted with Congress.  But our core priority right now is just to make sure that our folks are safe and to do an effective assessment of Iraqi and Kurdish capabilities.

As I said I think in the last press conference, in order for us to be successful, we’ve got to have an Iraqi government that is unified and inclusive.  So we are continuing to push them to get that job done.  As soon as we have an Iraqi government in place, the likelihood of the Iraqi security forces being more effective in taking the fight to ISIL significantly increases.  And the options that I’m asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq.

What is true, though, is that the violence that’s been taking place in Syria has obviously given ISIL a safe haven there in ungoverned spaces.  And in order for us to degrade ISIL over the long term, we’re going to have to build a regional strategy.  Now, we’re not going to do that alone.  We’re going to have to do that with other partners, and particularly Sunni partners, because part of the goal here is to make sure that Sunnis both in Syria and in Iraq feel as if they’ve got an investment in a government that actually functions, a government that can protect them, a government that makes sure that their families are safe from the barbaric acts that we’ve seen in ISIL.  And right now, those structures are not in place.

And that’s why the issue with respect to Syria is not simply a military issue, it’s also a political issue.  It’s also an issue that involves all the Sunni states in the region and Sunni leadership recognizing that this cancer that has developed is one that they have to be just as invested in defeating as we are.

And so to cut to the chase in terms of what may be your specific concerns, Chuck, my priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back, and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself.

But when we look at a broader strategy that is consistent with what I said at West Point, that’s consistent with what I said at the National Defense College, clearly ISIL has come to represent the very worst elements in the region that we have to deal with collectively.  And that’s going to be a long-term project.  It’s going to require us to stabilize Syria in some fashion, and stabilizing Syria in some fashion means that we’ve got to get moderate Sunnis who are able to govern and offer a real alternative and competition to what ISIL has been doing in some of these spaces.

Now, the last point with respect to Assad, it’s not just my opinion — I think it would be international opinion — that Assad has lost legitimacy in terms of dropping barrel bombs on innocent families and killing tens of thousands of people.  And right now, what we’re seeing is the areas that ISIL is occupying are not controlled by Assad anyway.  And, frankly, Assad doesn’t seem to have the capability or reach to get into those areas.  So I don’t think this is a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we’ve been seeing there.  We will continue to support a moderate opposition inside of Syria, in part because we have to give people inside of Syria a choice other than ISIL or Assad.

And I don’t see any scenario in which Assad somehow is able to bring peace and stability to a region that is majority Sunni and has not so far shown any willingness to share power with them or in any kind of significant way deal with the longstanding grievances that they have there.

Q    Do you need Congress’s approval to go into Syria?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have consulted with Congress throughout this process.  I am confident that as Commander-in-Chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently.  As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress.  And I do think that it will be important for Congress to weigh in, or that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.

But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.  We don’t have a strategy yet.  I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.  And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military as well.  We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them.  At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.  But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you consider today’s escalation in Ukraine an invasion?  And when you talk about additional costs to Russia, are you ready at this point to impose broader economic sanctions?  Or are you considering other responses that go beyond sanctions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now.  As I said in my opening statement, there is no doubt that this is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine.  The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia.  Throughout this process, we’ve seen deep Russian involvement in everything that they’ve done.

I think in part because of the progress that you had seen by the Ukrainians around Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia determined that it had to be a little more overt in what it had already been doing.  But it’s not really a shift.

What we have seen, though, is that President Putin and Russia have repeatedly passed by potential off-ramps to resolve this diplomatically.  And so in our consultations with our European allies and partners, my expectation is, is that we will take additional steps primarily because we have not seen any meaningful action on the part of Russia to actually try to resolve this in diplomatic fashion.

And I think that the sanctions that we’ve already applied have been effective.  Our intelligence shows that the Russians know they’ve been effective, even though it may not appear on Russian television.  And I think there are ways for us to deepen or expand the scope of some of that work.

But ultimately, I think what’s important to recognize is the degree to which Russian decision-making is isolating Russia.  They’re doing this to themselves.  And what I’ve been encouraged by is the degree to which our European partners recognize even though they are bearing a cost in implementing these sanctions, they understand that a broader principle is at stake.  And so I look forward to the consultations that we’ll have when I see them next week.

Zeke Miller.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last year, you said that you believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress.  In response to Chuck’s question you said you don’t have a strategy yet, but you’ll reconsider that going forward.  But why didn’t you go to Congress before this current round of strikes in Iraq?  Do you not believe that that’s the case anymore, what you said last year?  And throughout your career you’ve also said that — you raised concerns with the expansion of powers of the executive.  Are you concerned that your recent actions, unilaterally, had maybe — have cut against that?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  And here’s why:  It is not just part of my responsibility, but it is a sacred duty for me as Commander-in-Chief to protect the American people.  And that requires me to act fast, based on information I receive, if an embassy of ours or a consulate of ours is being threatened.  The decisions I made were based on very concrete assessments about the possibility that Erbil might be overrun in the Kurdish region and that our consulate could be in danger.  And I can’t afford to wait in order to make sure that those folks are protected.

But throughout this process, we’ve consulted closely with Congress, and the feedback I’ve gotten from Congress is, is that we’re doing the right thing.  Now, as we go forward — as I’ve described to Chuck — and look at a broader regional strategy with an international coalition and partners to systematically degrade ISIL’s capacity to engage in the terrible violence and disruptions that they’ve been engaging in not just in Syria, not just in Iraq, but potentially elsewhere if we don’t nip this at the bud, then those consultations with Congress for something that is longer term I think become more relevant.

And it is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people.  And, by the way, the American people need to hear what that strategy is.  But as I said to Chuck, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.  And in some of the media reports the suggestion seems to have been that we’re about to go full scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL, and the suggestion, I guess, has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress — still out of town — is going to be left in the dark.  That’s not what’s going to happen.

We are going to continue to focus on protecting the American people.  We’re going to continue, where we can, to engage in the sort of humanitarian acts that saved so many folks who were trapped on a mountain.  We are going to work politically and diplomatically with folks in the region.  And we’re going to cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy.  There will be a military aspect to that, and it’s going to be important for Congress to know what that is, in part because it may cost some money.

I’ll just take a couple more.  Yes.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you regret not moving on ISIS earlier?  There are some reports indicating that most of the weapons, the U.S. weapons that they have, they got it or they acquired it after the fall of Mosul.  And also, the Iraqi President said today that the Iraqi forces are in no position to stand up to ISIS.  What makes you think that forming a new government will change the situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, once ISIL got into Mosul that posed a big problem, because there’s no doubt that they were able to capture some weapons and resources that they then used to finance additional operations.

And at that stage, we immediately contacted the Iraqi government.  Keep in mind we had been in communications with the Iraqi government for more than a year indicating that we saw significant problems in the Sunni areas.  Prime Minister Maliki was not as responsive perhaps as we would have liked to some of the underlying political grievances that existed at the time.

There is no doubt that in order for Iraq security forces to be successful, they’re going to need help.  They’re going to need help from us.  They’re going to need help from our international partners.  They’re going to need additional training.  They’re going to need additional equipment.  And we are going to be prepared to offer that support.

There may be a role for an international coalition providing additional air support for their operations.  But the reason it’s so important that an Iraqi government be in place is this is not simply a military problem.  The problem we have had consistently is a Sunni population that feels alienated from Baghdad and does not feel invested in what’s happening, and does not feel as if anybody is looking out for them.

If we can get a government in place that provides Sunnis some hope that a national government serves their interest, if they can regain some confidence and trust that it will follow through on commitments that were made way back in 2006 and 2007 and 2008 and earlier about how you arrive at, for example, de-Baathification laws and give people opportunities so they’re not locked out of government positions — if those things are followed through on, and we are able to combine it with a sound military strategy, then I think we can be successful.  If we can’t, then the idea that the United States or any outside power would perpetually defeat ISIS I think is unrealistic.

As I’ve said before — I think I said in the previous press conference — our military is the best in the world.  We can route ISIS on the ground and keep a lid on things temporarily.  But then as soon as we leave, the same problems come back again.  So we’ve got to make sure that Iraqis understand in the end they’re going to be responsible for their own security.  And part of that is going to be the capacity for them to make compromises.

It also means that states in the region stop being ambivalent about these extremist groups.  The truth is that we’ve had state actors who at times have thought that the way to advance their interests is, well, financing some of these groups as proxies is not such a bad strategy.  And part of our message to the entire region is this should be a wake-up call to Sunni,to Shia — to everybody — that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.  And as a consequence, we’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out.

Last question.

Q    Mr. President, despite all of the actions the West has taken to get Russia to pull back from Ukraine, Russia seems intent on taking one step after another — convoys, transports of arms.  At what point do sanctions no longer work?  Would you envisage the possibility of a necessity of military action to get Russia to pull back from Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem.  What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia.  But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.  Now, the fact that Russia has taken these actions in violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainians has resulted, I believe, in a weakening of Russia, not a strengthening of Russia.  That may not be apparent immediately, but I think it will become increasingly apparent.

What it’s also done is isolated Russia from its trading partners, its commercial partners, international business in ways that I think are going to be very difficult to recover from.  And we will continue to stand firm with our allies and partners that what is happening is wrong, that there is a solution that allows Ukraine and Russia to live peacefully.  But it is not in the cards for us to see a military confrontation between Russia and the United States in this region.

Keep in mind, however, that I’m about to go to a NATO conference.  Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but a number of those states that are close by are.  And we take our Article 5 commitments to defend each other very seriously, and that includes the smallest NATO member, as well as the largest NATO member.  And so part of the reason I think this NATO meeting is going to be so important is to refocus attention on the critical function that NATO plays to make sure that every country is contributing in order to deliver on the promise of our Article 5 assurances.

Part of the reason I’ll be going to Estonia is to let the Estonians know that we mean what we say with respect to our treaty obligations.  We don’t have those treaty obligations with Ukraine.  We do, however, stand shoulder to shoulder with them, and we’re doing not just a lot of work diplomatically but also financially in order to make sure that they have the best chance at dealing with what is admittedly a very difficult situation.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Q    On immigration?

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, guys.  Thank you.

Q    Immigration?

Q    Mr. President, how are external events and your executive decision-making going to impact your decision on immigration reform?  Some people say you’re going to delay this.

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me just say this:  I’ve been very clear about the fact that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed.  And my preference continues to be that Congress act.  I don’t think anybody thinks that Congress is going to act in the short term, but hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections they may act.

In the meantime, what I’ve asked Jeh Johnson to do is to look at what kinds of executive authorities we have in order to make the system work better.  And we’ve had a lot of stakeholder discussions; that set of proposals is being worked up.

And the one thing that I think has happened was the issue with unaccompanied children that got so much attention a couple of months back.  And part of the reason that was important was not because that represented a huge unprecedented surge in overall immigration at the border, but I do think that it changed the perception of the American people about what’s happening at the borders.

And so one of the things we’ve had — have had to do is to work through systematically to make sure that that specific problem in a fairly defined area of the border, that we’re starting to deal with that in a serious way.  And the good news is we’ve started to make some progress.  I mean, what we’ve seen so far is that throughout the summer the number of apprehensions have been decreasing — maybe that’s counterintuitive, but that’s a good thing because that means that fewer folks are coming across.  The number of apprehensions in August are down from July, and they’re actually lower than they were August of last year.  Apprehensions in July were half of what they were in June.  So we’re seeing a significant downward trend in terms of these unaccompanied children.

And what that I think allows us to do is to make sure that those kids are being taken care of properly, with due process.  At the same time, it’s allowed us to then engage in a broader conversation about what we need to do to get more resources down at the border.  It would have been helped along if Congress had voted for the supplemental that I asked for; they did not.  That means we’ve got to make some administrative choices and executive choices about, for example, getting more immigration judges down there.

So that has kept us busy, but it has not stopped the process of looking more broadly about how do we get a smarter immigration system in place while we’re waiting for Congress to act.  And it continues to be my belief that if I can’t see congressional action, that I need to do at least what I can in order to make the system work better.

But some of these things do affect timelines, and we’re just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done.  But have no doubt, in the absence of congressional action, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the system works better.

Thank you, guys.
END 4:39 P.M. EDT

Political Musings August 20, 2014: Obama condemns Foley beheading, WH warned, Bush warned of rise of terrorist Iraq

POLITICAL MUSINGS

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=500&h=80?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama condemns Foley beheading, WH warned, Bush warned of rise of terrorist Iraq

By Bonnie K. Goodman

A day after a video posted online showed the beheading of freelance journalist James (Jim) Foley, 40 by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the White House and National Security Council confirmed the video as authentic and…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 20, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the execution of journalist James Foley by Islamic State ISIS — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-20-14

The Edgartown School
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

12:52 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL.

Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend.  He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away.  He was taken hostage nearly two years ago in Syria, and he was courageously reporting at the time on the conflict there.

Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world.  He was 40 years old — one of five siblings, the son of a mom and dad who worked tirelessly for his release.  Earlier today, I spoke to the Foleys and told them that we are all heartbroken at their loss, and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did.

Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers.  Let’s be clear about ISIL.  They have rampaged across cities and villages — killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence.  They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery.  They have murdered Muslims — both Sunni and Shia — by the thousands.  They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion.  They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion.  Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.  No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.  ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings.  Their ideology is bankrupt.  They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

And people like this ultimately fail.  They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.

The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.  We will be vigilant and we will be relentless.  When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.  And we act against ISIL, standing alongside others.

The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities.  The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists.  They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.

From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread.  There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies.  One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.

Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday.  And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism, and replace it with a sense of hope and civility.  And that’s what Jim Foley stood for, a man who lived his work; who courageously told the stories of his fellow human beings; who was liked and loved by friends and family.

Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim.  All of us feel the ache of his absence.  All of us mourn his loss.  We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families.  We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

May God bless and keep Jim’s memory, and may God bless the United States of America.

END
12:57 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 18, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on the Unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over Michael Brown’s Shooting and Update on Iraq Airtrikes and Recapture of Mosul Dam — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-18-14 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:27 P.M. PDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Earlier today I received an update from my team on two separate issues that I’ve been following closely — our ongoing operation in Iraq and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

With respect to Iraq, we continue to see important progress across different parts of our strategy to support the Iraqi government and combat the threat from the terrorist group, ISIL. First, our military operations are effectively protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq.  Over the last 11 days, American airstrikes have stopped the ISIL advance around the city of Erbil and pushed back the terrorists.  Meanwhile, we have urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines.

Today, with our support, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq near the city of Mosul.  The Mosul Dam fell under terrorist control earlier this month and is directly tied to our objective of protecting Americans in Iraq.  If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic, with floods that would have threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endangered our embassy compound in Baghdad.  Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead on the ground and performed with courage and determination.  So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together in taking the fight to ISIL.  If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.

Second, we’re building an international coalition to address the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq.  Even as we’ve worked to help many thousands of Yazidis escape the siege of Mount Sinjar, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by ISIL’s violence and many more are still at risk.  Going forward, the United States will work with the Iraqi government, as well as partners like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia, to get food and water to people in need and to bring long-term relief to people who have been driven from their homes.

Third, we will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region and beyond.  Over the last week, we saw historic progress as Iraqis named a new Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi, and Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Maliki agreed to step down.  This peaceful transition of power will mark a major milestone in Iraq’s political development, but as I think we’re all aware, the work is not yet done.

Over the next few weeks, Dr. Abadi needs to complete the work of forming a new, broad-based, inclusive Iraqi government, one that develops a national program to address the interests of all Iraqis.  Without that progress, extremists like ISIL can continue to prey upon Iraq’s divisions.  With that new government in place, Iraqis will be able to unite the country against the threat from ISIL, and they will be able to look forward to increased support not just from the United States but from other countries in the region and around the world.

Let’s remember ISIL poses a threat to all Iraqis and to the entire region.  They claim to represent Sunni grievances, but they slaughter Sunni men, women and children.  They claim to oppose foreign forces, but they actively recruit foreign fighters to advance their hateful ideology.

So the Iraqi people need to reject them and unite to begin to push them out of the lands that they’ve occupied, as we’re seeing at Mosul Dam.  And this is going to take time.  There are going to be many challenges ahead.  But meanwhile, there should be no doubt that the United States military will continue to carry out the limited missions that I’ve authorized — protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq in both Erbil and Baghdad, and providing humanitarian support, as we did on Mount Sinjar.

My administration has consulted closely with Congress about our strategy in Iraq and we are going to continue to do so in the weeks to come, because when it comes to the security of our people and our efforts against a terror group like ISIL, we need to be united in our resolve.

I also want to address the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Governor Nixon, as well as Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill.  I also met with Attorney General Eric Holder.  The Justice Department has opened an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown.  They are on the ground and, along with the FBI, they are devoting substantial resources to that investigation.  The Attorney General himself will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation, and he will receive an update from them on their progress.  He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson.

Ronald Davis, the Director of the DOJ’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services — or COPS — is also traveling to Ferguson tomorrow to work with police officials on the ground.  We’ve also had experts from the DOJ’s Community Relations Service working in Ferguson since the days after the shooting to foster conversations among local stakeholders and reduce tensions among the community.

So let me close just saying a few words about the tensions there.  We have all seen images of protestors and law enforcement in the streets.  It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting.  What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not.  While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos.  It undermines rather than advancing justice.

Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these.  There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully.  Ours is a nation of laws for the citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them.

So to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other.  Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other.  As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment — the potential of a young man and the sorrows of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.

I’ve said this before — in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.  In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.  Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality.  And already we’re making some significant progress as people of goodwill of all races are ready to chip in.  But that requires that we build and not tear down.  And that requires we listen and not just shout.  That’s how we’re going to move forward together, by trying to unite each other and understand each other, and not simply divide ourselves from one another.  We’re going to have to hold tight to those values in the days ahead.  That’s how we bring about justice, and that’s how we bring about peace.

So with that, I’ve got a few questions I’m going to take.  I’m going to start with Jim Kuhnhenn of AP.

Q    Right here, Mr. President.  The incident in Ferguson has led to a discussion about whether it’s proper to militarize the nation’s city police forces, and I’m wondering whether you wonder or do you think that — you see that as a factor regarding the police response in Ferguson.  And also, do you agree with the decision by the Governor to send in the National Guard?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement.  That helps preserve our civil liberties.  That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction.  And that has to be preserved.

After 9/11, I think understandably, a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack, and I think people in Congress, people of goodwill decided we’ve got to make sure that they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities.  And some of that has been useful.  I mean, some law enforcement didn’t have radios that they could operate effectively in the midst of a disaster.  Some communities needed to be prepared if, in fact, there was a chemical attack and they didn’t have HAZMAT suits.

Having said that, I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred.  That would be contrary to our traditions.  And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.

With respect to the National Guard, I think it’s important just to remember this was a state activated National Guard and so it’s under the charge of the Governor.  This is not something that we initiated at the federal level.  I spoke to Jay Nixon about this, expressed an interest in making sure that if, in fact, a National Guard is used it is used in a limited and appropriate way.  He described the support role that they’re going to be providing to local law enforcement, and I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson.

Steve Holland, Reuters.

Q    Thank you.  How do you avoid mission creep in Iraq?  And how long do you think it will take to contain ISIL?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I have been firm from the start that we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat.  We’re not the Iraqi military.  We’re not even the Iraqi air force.  I am the Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces, and Iraq is going to have to ultimately provide for its own security.

On the other hand, we’ve got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them — that a group like that is contained, because ultimately they can pose a threat to us.

So my goal is, number one, to make sure we’ve got a viable partner.  And that’s why we have so consistently emphasized the need for a government formation process that is inclusive, that is credible, that is legitimate, and that can appeal to Sunnis as well as Shias and Kurds.  We’ve made significant progress on that front, but we’re not there yet.  And I told my national security team today and I will say publicly that we want to continue to communicate to politicians of all stripes in Iraq, don’t think that because we have engaged in airstrikes to protect our people that now is the time to let the foot off the gas and return to the same kind of dysfunction that has so weakened the country generally.

Dr. Abadi has said the right things.  I was impressed in my conversation with him about his vision for an inclusive government.  But they’ve got to get this done, because the wolf is at the door and in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people they’re going to have to put behind some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government.

When we see a credible Iraqi government, we are then in a position to engage when planning not just with the Iraqi government but also with regional actors and folks beyond the Middle East so that we can craft the kind of joint strategy — joint counterterrorism strategy that I discussed at West Point and I discussed several years ago to the National Defense College University**.  Our goal is to have effective partners on the ground.  And if we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely.

Typically what happens with mission creep is when we start deciding that we’re the ones who have to do it all ourselves.  And because of the excellence of our military, that can work for a time — we learned that in Iraq — but it’s not sustainable.  It’s not lasting.  And so I’ve been very firm about this precisely because our goal here has to be to be able to build up a structure not just in Iraq, but regionally, that can be maintained, and that is not involving us effectively trying to govern or impose our military will on a country that is hostile to us.

Q    How long to contain ISIL then?  It sounds like a long-term project.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think, Steve, at this point I’m prepared to provide a blanket answer to that.  A lot of it depends on how effectively the Iraqi government comes together.  I think that you will see if, in fact, that government formation process moves rapidly and credibly that there will be a lot of actors in the region and around the world that are prepared to help and to step up assistance — many of whom may have been reticent over the last several years because the perception was, at least, that Baghdad was not being inclusive and that it was going to be self-defeating to put more resources into it.

I think you’ll see a lot of folks step up; suddenly now Iraq will have a variety of partners.  And with more folks unified around the effort, I think it’s something that can be accomplished.  It also means that there’s the prospect of Sunni tribes who are the primary residents of areas that ISIL now controls saying, we’ve got a viable option and we would rather work with a central government that appears to understand our grievances and is prepared to meet them rather than to deal with individuals who don’t seem to have any values beyond death and destruction.

I’m going to take the last question from somebody, who after 41 years, I understand has decided to retire — Ann Compton, everybody here knows is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know.  I was proud to be able to hug her grandbaby recently.  And I suspect that may have something to do with her decision.  But I just want to say publicly, Ann, we’re going to miss you, and we’re very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you’ve done, and we hope you’re not a stranger around here.  (Applause.)

Q    Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ann Compton.  I suspect you may get some cake at some point.  (Laughter.)

Q    Let me ask you, this is an interesting time in your presidency.  And one of the things that you have so emphasized in the last few months, the last year or so, is this reach out to brothers — My Brother’s Keeper and to a generation that doesn’t feel that it has much chance.  Sending the Attorney General to Ferguson is a step.  Has anyone there — have you considered going yourself?  Is there more that you personally could do not just for Ferguson but for communities that might also feel that kind of tension and see it erupt in the way it has in Ferguson?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Ann, obviously, we’ve seen events in which there’s a big gulf between community perceptions and law enforcement perceptions around the country.  This is not something new.  It’s always tragic when it involves the death of someone so young.

I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed because, although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me and when they’re conducting an investigation I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.  So it’s hard for me to address a specific case beyond making sure that it’s conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process, hoping that as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.

But as I think I’ve said in some past occasions, part of the ongoing challenge of perfecting our union has involved dealing with communities that feel left behind, who, as a consequence of tragic histories, often find themselves isolated, often find themselves without hope, without economic prospects.  You have young men of color in many communities who are more likely to end up in jail or in the criminal justice system than they are in a good job or in college.  And part of my job that I can do I think without any potential conflicts is to get at those root causes.

Now, that’s a big project.  It’s one that we’ve been trying to carry out now for a couple of centuries.  And we’ve made extraordinary progress, but we have not made enough progress.  And so the idea behind something like My Brother’s Keeper is can we work with cities and communities and clergy and parents and young people themselves all across the country, school superintendents, businesses, corporations, and can we find models that work that move these young men on a better track?

Now, part of that process is also looking at our criminal justice system to make sure that it is upholding the basic principle of everybody is equal before the law.

And one of the things that we’ve looked at during the course of where we can — during the course of investigating where we can make a difference is that there are patterns that start early.  Young African American and Hispanic boys tend to get suspended from school at much higher rates than other kids, even when they’re in elementary school.  They tend to have much more frequent interactions with the criminal justice system at an earlier age.  Sentencing may be different.  How trials are conducted may be different.  And so one of the things that we’ve done is to include the Department of Justice in this conversation under the banner of My Brother’s Keeper to see where can we start working with local communities to inculcate more trust, more confidence in the criminal justice system.

And I want to be clear about this, because sometimes I think there’s confusion around these issues and this dates back for decades.  There are young black men that commit crime.  And we can argue about why that happened — because of the poverty they were born into and the lack of opportunity, or the schools systems that failed them, or what have you.  But if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted because every community has an interest in public safety.  And if you go into the African American community or the Latino community, some of the folks who are most intent on making sure that criminals are dealt with are people who have been preyed upon by them.

So this is not an argument that there isn’t real crime out there, and that law enforcement doesn’t have a difficult job and that they have to be honored and respected for the danger and difficulty of law enforcement.  But what is also true is that given the history of this country, where we can make progress in building up more confidence, more trust, making sure that our criminal justice system is acutely aware of the possibilities of disparities in treatment, there are safeguards in place to avoid those disparities, where training and assistance is provided to local law enforcement who may just need more information in order to avoid potential disparity — all those things can make a difference.

One of the things I was most proud of when I was in the state legislature, way back when I had no gray hair and none of you could pronounce my name, was I passed legislation requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions and I passed legislation dealing with racial profiling in Illinois.  And in both cases, we worked with local law enforcement.  And the argument was that you can do a better job as a law enforcement official if you have built up credibility and trust.  And there are some basic things that can be done to promote that kind of trust.  And in some cases, there’s just a lack of information, and we want to make sure that we get that information to law enforcement.

So there are things that can be done to improve the situation.  But short term, obviously, right now what we have to do is to make sure that the cause of justice and fair administration of the law is being brought to bear in Ferguson.  In order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances and maybe longstanding grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior — and tossing Molotov cocktails, or looting stores.  And that is a small minority of folks and may not even be residents of Ferguson, but they are damaging the cause; they’re not advancing it.

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.

END
4:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 14, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement Updating in the Situations in Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-14-14

Edgartown, Massachusetts

12:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody. This sound system is really powerful.  Today, I’d like to update the American people on two issues that I’ve been monitoring closely these last several days.

First of all, we continue to make progress in carrying out our targeted military operations in Iraq.  Last week, I authorized two limited missions:  protecting our people and facilities inside of Iraq, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded on a mountain.

A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yezidi men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter.  We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving Yezidi civilians in their custody, and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice — starve on the mountain, or be slaughtered on the ground.  That’s when America came to help.

Over the last week, the U.S. military conducted humanitarian air drops every night –- delivering more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water.  We were joined in that effort by the United Kingdom, and other allies pledged support. Our military was able to successfully strike ISIL targets around the mountain, which improved conditions for civilians to evacuate the mountain safely.

Yesterday, a small team of Americans -– military and civilian -– completed their review of the conditions on the mountain.  They found that food and water have been reaching those in need, and that thousands of people have been evacuating safely each and every night.  The civilians who remain continue to leave, aided by Kurdish forces and Yezidis who are helping to facilitate the safe passage of their families.  So the bottom line is, is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts.

Because of the skill and professionalism of our military –- and the generosity of our people –- we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives.  Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain.  The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Iraq in the coming days.  And I just want to say that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the men and women of our military who carried out this humanitarian operation almost flawlessly.  I’m very grateful to them and I know that those who were trapped on that mountain are extraordinarily grateful as well.

Now, the situation remains dire for Iraqis subjected to ISIL’s terror throughout the country, and this includes minorities like Yezidis and Iraqi Christians; it also includes Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.  We’re going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in northern Iraq wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground.

We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well.  We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq.  We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines.

And, perhaps most importantly, we are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against ISIL –- above all, by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new, inclusive government under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Abadi.  I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister-designate Abadi a few days ago, and he spoke about the need for the kind of inclusive government — a government that speaks to all the people of Iraq — that is needed right now.  He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.

Now, second, I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days and that’s the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country, as police have clashed with people protesting.  Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.

This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team.  I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground.

The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation.  I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.

I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri.  I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward.  He is going to be traveling to Ferguson.  He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.

Of course, it’s important to remember how this started.  We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.  He was 18 years old.  His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.  And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.

There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.  There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.  And here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.  Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.

I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened.  There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred.  There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward.  That’s part of our democracy.  But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family.  We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.

So now is the time for healing.  Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.  Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done.  And I’ve asked that the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward.  They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.

Thanks very much, everybody.

END
12:58 P.M. EDT

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