Full Text Obama Presidency July 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Economy and on the Malaysia Airlines Jet Shot Down Over Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Economy — Wilmington, DE

Source: WH, 7-17-14 

Port of Wilmington
Wilmington, Delaware

2:10 P.M.
THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  Please have a seat.  It is wonderful to be back in Delaware.

Before I begin, obviously the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.  And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.  Right now, we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens onboard.  That is our first priority.  And I’ve directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government.  The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why.  And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home.

I want to thank Jeremie for that introduction.  Give Jeremie a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  It is great to be in the state that gave us Joe Biden.  (Applause.)  We’ve got actually some better-looking Bidens with us here today.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got Beau and his wife, Hallie, are here.  Give them a big round of applause.  We love them.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Governor Jack Markell.  (Applause.)  Senator Chris Coons, Congressman John Carney, County Executive Tom Gordon, and the Mayor of Wilmington, Dennis Williams.  (Applause.)  We’ve also got two terrific members of my Cabinet — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is here — (applause) — and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is here.  (Applause.)

Jack Lew’s signature is actually on your money.  (Laughter.) Although it’s kind of illegible.  We teased him when he first became Treasury Secretary that he was going to have to fix his signature a little bit because it looked just like a caterpillar running along the bottom.  (Laughter.)

Now, the bridge behind me used to carry 90,000 cars every day — 90,000.  Since last month, it’s been closed for repairs.  Once workers are done repairing it, this bridge will be safer, it will be more reliable for commuters and for commerce.  And thanks to a competitive grant program called TIGER — a program, by the way, that was part of the Recovery Act that we initiated when I first came into office and Joe Biden helped to manage — this port is rebuilding a wharf that will finally let Wilmington compete with other ports for the biggest cargo ships.  (Applause.)  For the biggest cargo ships.  So far, TIGER grants have given a boost to 270 infrastructure projects and thousands of jobs all across 50 states.

And that’s what I’m here to talk about today — and I’ve been talking about this all week — creating more good jobs rebuilding America, and the opportunity that we have to seize to rebuild the American middle class.

After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, in part because of the actions we took, primarily because of the strength and determination of the American people, our businesses have now added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months.  (Applause.)  Construction and housing are rebounding.  The auto industry is booming — it was in a tailspin when we came in.  Manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008 — which is one of the fastest one-year drops in nearly 30 years.  (Applause.)

And the decisions we made — not only to rescue our economy, but to start rebuilding it on a firmer foundation — those decisions are starting to pay off.  We are more energy independent.  For the first time in nearly 20 years, we produce more oil here in the United States than we buy from abroad.  First time in 20 years we’re doing that.  (Applause.)
At the same time, we’re actually reducing our carbon pollution, and we’re creating new jobs in clean and renewable energies — three times as much wind power; 10 times as much solar power.

In education, our high school graduation rate is at a record high.  More young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  401(k)s are growing.  Fewer homes are underwater.  Millions more now have the peace of mind of having quality, affordable health care if they need it.  And the deficit is coming down to boot, been cut more than half.  (Applause.)

So by almost every economic measure, we’re doing a whole lot better now than we were when I came into office.  And as I said, most of it is thanks to you, the resilience and the resolve of the American people.  Because of that we’ve recovered faster and come farther than almost any other advanced country on Earth.  And business leaders, for the first time in a decade, around the world are saying that China is not the best place to invest; the United States of America is the most promising place to invest.

So we’ve got this huge opportunity to keep this momentum going, to keep growing the economy, but also to make sure that growth is broadly shared.  We got to make sure we’re creating not just more jobs, but also raising middle-class wages and incomes, and making it easier for folks, if they’re working hard and doing the right thing, to raise a family.

We got to make sure that we’re not just graduating more kids, we’ve got to also train more workers and make college more affordable.  We got to make sure our economy works for every American.  That’s why I ran for President.  That’s what I’m focused on every day.  And this is more than just some fleeting political story or made-up scandal; this is the challenge of our times — making sure that if you work hard and you’re responsible, anybody can get ahead in this country.  That’s what America is about.  And we can achieve that if we just see a few changes in Washington’s priorities.

So, today, I’m here to talk about just one example: creating good jobs of the sort that Jeremie just talked about — good jobs rebuilding America.  We know that in the 21st century economy, businesses are going to set up shop wherever they find the best roads, the best bridges, the fastest Internet connection, the fastest rail lines, the smartest airports, the best power grid.  First-class infrastructure attracts investment and it creates first-class jobs.  Unfortunately, right now, our investment in transportation lags behind a lot of other countries.  China is doing more.  Germany is doing more.  They’re putting money back into building the infrastructure we need to grow over the long term.

And if Washington were working the way it was supposed to, Congress would be creating jobs right now, jobs just like Jeremie talked about — jobs like these guys in the hard hats are doing right now rebuilding bridges and roads and airports and ports all across the country.  (Applause.)  It helps us now and it helps up create jobs tomorrow.  That’s what we should be doing.

But instead of creating jobs rebuilding our infrastructure in a predictable, sustainable way, the debate in Washington lately has been about something called the Highway Trust Fund.  It’s how America is supposed to support states on transportation projects.  Congress has to keep it funded, otherwise states have to put projects on hold, put construction workers back on the unemployment line.

The good news is, Democrats and Republicans are about to pass a short-term fix that will keep funding going for about another nine or ten months.  And I support that.  I mean, the least we can do is just support the jobs that are already there, keep Americans on the job.  But if that’s all Congress does, then we’re going to have the same kind of funding crisis nine months from now.  And that’s not how normally you fund infrastructure, because you got to plan it and you got to think about how are we helping folks and how are we helping states and cities and municipalities create plans for the future and make sure that the funding streams are level.  We don’t need unhelpful and unnecessary deadlines that crunch a few months from now.  And we shouldn’t have been this close to the deadline in the first place.

As your governor has pointed, even smaller transportation projects can take years to design and plan and build.  A few months of funding doesn’t cut it.  And so Jack said, “To call this a Band-Aid is an insult to a Band-Aid.”  That’s a pretty good line.   (Laughter.)  I’m going to have to try that out.  (Applause.)

So Congress shouldn’t be too proud.  It shouldn’t pat itself on the back for kicking the can down the road every few months.  Instead of barely paying our bills in the present, we should be planning and investing in our future.  That’s how the economy grows for everybody.  The American people work hard every single day, and your efforts shouldn’t be threatened every few months by a manufactured crisis in Washington.  Everything doesn’t have to be done at the last minute every time.

So what I’ve done is earlier this year put forward a plan to rebuild our transportation infrastructure in a long-term responsible way, a plan that would support millions of jobs, would give cities and states and private investors the certainty they need to hire more workers faster.  It would help small businesses ship their goods faster.  It would help parents get home from their commute faster so they can see their kids.

And it wouldn’t add to what is already a rapidly shrinking deficit because we pay for it in part by closing loopholes for companies that are shipping profits overseas and are avoiding paying their fair share of taxes.  So that’s what we need, a broad-based plan.  We got $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance in this country in roads and bridges and sewer systems and water mains.  And we could put a lot of people back to work right now getting that done.  And we’re going to have to do it eventually anyway.

But so far, Congress has refused to act on the idea — which is strange because infrastructure should not be a partisan issue.  If you think about it, it was a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, who built the Interstate Highway System.  Lincoln built the Transcontinental Railroad.  Both parties historically have understood that investing in this country for the long run pays off.  When we invest in infrastructure we’re making sure that the economy is growing not just for the next five years, but for another century.  That’s what right now Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on.  But until they do get focused on it, I’m going to do whatever I can to create jobs rebuilding America on my own.  (Applause.)

So today, we’re launching what we call the Build America Investment Initiative.  And as part of it, we’re creating a one-stop shop for cities and states looking to partner with the private sector to fund infrastructure projects.  There are lots of investors who want to back infrastructure projects because, when it’s done right, they then get a steady, long-term investment.  They get a steady return.

And lots of states and local governments would welcome more private investment, but they need a partner in the federal government to help do some matchmaking and work through some of the complexities of private financing of infrastructure.  So my administration is going to help states and cities apply for federal loans, get more public-private partnerships up and running, get more investment flowing into communities like Wilmington.

And this builds on other actions we’ve taken to speed up the permitting process for big projects, and attract new manufacturing jobs to America, and raise more workers’ wages, help women fight for fair pay, ease loan burdens for millions of students.  We’re taking steps on our own, still hoping that Congress at some point actually does something.  (Applause.)

I keep hearing from folks all across the country who tell me if members of Congress have the same priorities that most Americans do, if they felt the same sense of urgency that you feel in your own lives, we could help a lot of families right now.
Instead of playing politics, we should be creating jobs by investing in what makes our economy strong -– infrastructure and manufacturing and energy, and research and development, and education.  All these things lead to new industries.
We should be training our workers to fill new jobs.  We should be preparing our kids to face global competition.  We should be making sure that hard work pays off with a higher minimum wage.

We should be seizing these opportunities.  And there’s a simple principle behind it.  When the middle class does good, and when people have ladders into the middle class if they work hard, everybody does better.  You have more customers for businesses.  Folks at the very top do better.  America grows best from the middle out, not from the top down.  That’s when we succeed.

So I’m going to keep on looking for areas where Republicans and Democrats agree to move this country forward.  But I’m not going to stand by when politics and inaction are holding us back.  (Applause.)
Wherever and whenever I have a chance to help families like yours I’m going to do it.  When I have a chance to help communities like Wilmington, I’m going to do it.  That’s when my administration takes these executive actions, when Congress won’t act.

And so far, the only response we’ve gotten from the Republicans is a lawsuit.  (Laughter.)  They’re suing me for doing my job, instead of going ahead and doing their job.  That’s disappointing.  It’s a political stunt.  And, by the way, they’re using taxpayer money to do it.  It’s your money that they’re wasting on this, which no serious lawyers think makes any sense.  It’s just a political stunt.  We could be spending the time, energy, and effort and money to help your families.

And maybe the folks behind this think it will help them politically.  I guarantee you, it’s not helping you.  We could do so much more if we rally around a sense of patriotism that says we can disagree on issues once in a while, but come on, let’s focus on our country, let’s focus on our people — a sense of common purpose, the understanding we rise or fall as one nation and as one people.  That’s how we built this country together.  And that’s what Washington has to remember.
And the one thing I know for certain — if we work together, if we believe in one another, then we’re going to keep on rebuilding our middle class.  We’re going to restore the American Dream for the next generation.  We will continue to make sure that America is the place where no matter what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started, you can make it if you try.  You’ve shown it here in Delaware.  We can show it all across the country.  We just need a little more focus in Washington.  So keep the pressure on everybody.  (Applause.)

Thank you.  God bless you.  Let’s build some bridges.  Let’s build some roads.  God bless America.

END
2:26 P.M. EDT

International Headlines July 17, 2014: Malaysia Airlines Jet Crashes in Ukraine Shot Down by Russian Buk Missile 295 Dead

INTERNATIONAL HEADLINES

WORLD NEWS & POLITICS

Malaysia Airlines Jet Crashes in Ukraine, May Have Been Shot Down

Source: NYT, 7-17-14

A plane with nearly 300 people aboard crashed in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border on Thursday, and Ukraine’s president did not rule out that it might have been shot down….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 17, 2014: Readout of the President Barack Obama’s Call with President Vladimir Putin of Russia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Readout of the President’s Call with President Putin of Russia

Source: WH, 7-17-14

President Obama spoke with Russian President Putin today about the situation in Ukraine and the additional sanctions on Russian individuals and entities that the United States announced on July 16.  President Obama emphasized that he remains committed to a diplomatic solution and that sanctions were not his preferred course of action.  President Obama noted, however, that in the face of extensive evidence that Russia is significantly increasing the provision of heavy weapons to separatists in Ukraine and Russia’s failure to take other steps set out by the United States and Europe to de-escalate the crisis, it was necessary to impose additional sanctions, consistent with the clear statements from the United States and our allies following the G-7 meeting in Brussels.  President Obama also reiterated his concerns regarding the buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border.  President Obama called on President Putin to take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation, including to press separatists to agree to a cease-fire, support a roadmap for negotiations, halt the flow of fighters and weapons into Ukraine, obtain the release of all hostages still held by the separatists, and work to establish an effective OSCE border-monitoring mechanism.  He noted that Russia would face continued costs and isolation unless it takes these concrete steps.  The President emphasized that Russia and the United States have a shared interest in supporting a stable and prosperous Ukraine.  President Obama and President Putin agreed on the need for a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine crisis achieved through diplomatic means.  During the call, President Putin noted the early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.

Full Text Obama Presidency July 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Froeign Policy Announcing Imposing More Sanctions on Russia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Foreign Policy

Source: WH, 7-16-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

5:44 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I want to briefly discuss the important actions we’re taking today in support of Ukraine.  Before I do, I want to take a few minutes to update the American people on some pressing foreign policy challenges that I reviewed with Secretary Kerry this afternoon.

First of all, I thanked Secretary Kerry and our outstanding civilian and military leaders in Afghanistan for their success in helping to break the impasse over the presidential election there.  Thanks to their efforts and, of course, thanks to the Afghans and the courage of the two candidates, both of whom I spoke to last week, the candidates have agreed to abide by the results of a comprehensive and internationally supervised audit that will review all the ballots, and to form a unity government.  If they keep their commitments, Afghanistan will witness the first democratic transfer of power in the history of that nation.

This progress will honor both candidates who have put the interests of a united Afghanistan first, the millions of Afghans who defied threats in order to vote, and the service of our troops and civilians who have sacrificed so much.  This progress reminds us that even as our combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year, America’s commitment to a sovereign, united, and democratic Afghanistan will endure –- along with our determination that Americans are never again threatened by terrorists inside of Afghanistan.

Second, John updated me on the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.  Over the last six months, Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year — halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material.  Meanwhile, we are working with our P5-plus-1 partners and Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement that assures us that Iran’s program will, in fact, be peaceful and that they won’t obtain a nuclear weapon.

Based on consultations with Secretary Kerry and my national security team, it’s clear to me that we have made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward.  But as we approach a deadline of July 20th under the interim deal, there are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran, and we have more work to do.  So over the next few days, we’ll continue consulting with Congress — and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners –- as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations.

Third, we continue to support diplomatic efforts to end the violence between Israel and Hamas.  As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people.  There is no country on Earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets.  And I’m proud that the Iron Dome system that Americans helped Israel develop and fund has saved many Israeli lives.

But over the past two weeks, we’ve all been heartbroken by the violence, especially the death and injury of so many innocent civilians in Gaza —- men, women and children who were caught in the crossfire.  That’s why we have been working with our partners in the region to pursue a cease-fire — to protect civilians on both sides.  Yesterday, Israel did agree to a cease-fire.  Unfortunately, Hamas continued to fire rockets at civilians, thereby prolonging the conflict.

But the Israeli people and the Palestinian people don’t want to live like this.  They deserve to live in peace and security, free from fear.  And that’s why we are going to continue to encourage diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire, and we support Egypt’s continued efforts to bring this about.  Over the next 24 hours we’ll continue to stay in close contact with our friends and parties in the region, and we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a cease-fire.  In the meantime, we’re going to continue to stress the need to protect civilians — in Gaza and in Israel –- and to avoid further escalation.

Finally, given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia’s largest companies and financial institutions. Along with our allies, with whom I’ve been coordinating closely the last several days and weeks, I’ve repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine; that Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a cease-fire; that Russia needs to pursue internationally-mediated talks and agree to meaningful monitors on the border.  I’ve made this clear directly to Mr. Putin.  Many of our European partners have made this clear directly to Mr. Putin.  We have emphasized our preference to resolve this issue diplomatically but that we have to see concrete actions and not just words that Russia, in fact, is committed to trying to end this conflict along the Russia-Ukraine border.  So far, Russia has failed to take any of the steps that I mentioned.  In fact, Russia’s support for the separatists and violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty has continued.

On top of the sanctions we have already imposed, we are therefore designating selected sectors of the Russian economy as eligible for sanctions.  We are freezing the assets of several Russian defense companies.  And we are blocking new financing of some of Russia’s most important banks and energy companies.  These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted — designed to have the maximum impact on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies.

Now, we are taking these actions in close consultation with our European allies, who are meeting in Brussels to agree on their next steps.  And what we are expecting is that the Russian leadership will see, once again, that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation.

Meanwhile, we’re going to continue to stand with the Ukrainian people as they seek to determine their own future.  Even in the midst of this crisis, they have made remarkable progress these past few months.  They held democratic elections, they elected a new president, they’re pursuing important reforms, and they signed a new association agreement with the European Union.  And the United States will continue to offer our strong support to Ukraine to help stabilize its economy and defend its territorial integrity because — like any people — Ukrainians deserve the right to forge their own destiny.

So in closing, I’ll point out the obvious.  We live in a complex world and at a challenging time.  And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I’m confident that if we stay patient and determined, that we will, in fact, meet these challenges.

Thanks very much.

END
5:53 P.M. EDT

Political Musings June 19, 2014: Obama the lame duck has lost Americans’ confidence to lead in WSJ/NBC News poll

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

Full Text Obama Presidency June 19, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on the Crisis in Iraq and Decision to Send 300 US Troops

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Situation in Iraq

Source: WH, 6-19-14 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:32 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I just met with my national security team to discuss the situation in Iraq.  We’ve been meeting regularly to review the situation since ISIL, a terrorist organization that operates in Iraq and Syria, made advances inside of Iraq.  As I said last week, ISIL poses a threat to the Iraqi people, to the region, and to U.S. interests.  So today I wanted to provide you an update on how we’re responding to the situation.

First, we are working to secure our embassy and personnel operating inside of Iraq.  As President, I have no greater priority than the safety of our men and women serving overseas.  So I’ve taken some steps to relocate some of our embassy personnel, and we’ve sent reinforcements to better secure our facilities.

Second, at my direction, we have significantly increased our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets so that we’ve got a better picture of what’s taking place inside of Iraq.  And this will give us a greater understanding of what ISIL is doing, where it’s located, and how we might support efforts to counter this threat.

Third, the United States will continue to increase our support to Iraqi security forces.  We’re prepared to create joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat of ISIL.  Through our new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, we’re prepared to work with Congress to provide additional equipment.  We have had advisors in Iraq through our embassy, and we’re prepared to send a small number of additional American military advisors — up to 300 — to assess how we can best train, advise, and support Iraqi security forces going forward.

American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.

Fourth, in recent days, we’ve positioned additional U.S. military assets in the region.  Because of our increased intelligence resources, we’re developing more information about potential targets associated with ISIL.  And going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action, if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.  If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region.

I want to emphasize, though, that the best and most effective response to a threat like ISIL will ultimately involve partnerships where local forces, like Iraqis, take the lead.

Finally, the United States will lead a diplomatic effort to work with Iraqi leaders and the countries in the region to support stability in Iraq.  At my direction, Secretary Kerry will depart this weekend for meetings in the Middle East and Europe, where he’ll be able to consult with our allies and partners.  And just as all Iraq’s neighbors must respect Iraq’s territorial integrity, all of Iraq’s neighbors have a vital interest in ensuring that Iraq does not descend into civil war or become a safe haven for terrorists.

Above all, Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq’s future.  Shia, Sunni, Kurds — all Iraqis — must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process rather than through violence.  National unity meetings have to go forward to build consensus across Iraq’s different communities.  Now that the results of Iraq’s recent election has been certified, a new parliament should convene as soon as possible.  The formation of a new government will be an opportunity to begin a genuine dialogue and forge a government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis.

Now, it’s not the place for the United States to choose Iraq’s leaders.  It is clear, though, that only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis.  Meanwhile, the United States will not pursue military options that support one sect inside of Iraq at the expense of another.  There’s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States.  But there is an urgent need for an inclusive political process, a more capable Iraqi security force, and counterterrorism efforts that deny groups like ISIL a safe haven.

In closing, recent days have reminded us of the deep scars left by America’s war in Iraq.  Alongside the loss of nearly 4,500 American patriots, many veterans carry the wounds of that war, and will for the rest of their lives.  Here at home, Iraq sparked vigorous debates and intense emotions in the past, and we’ve seen some of those debates resurface.

But what’s clear from the last decade is the need for the United States to ask hard questions before we take action abroad, particularly military action.  The most important question we should all be asking, the issue that we have to keep front and center — the issue that I keep front and center — is what is in the national security interests of the United States of America.  As Commander-in-Chief, that’s what I stay focused on.  As Americans, that’s what all of us should be focused on.

And going forward, we will continue to consult closely with Congress.  We will keep the American people informed.  We will remain vigilant.  And we will continue to do everything in our power to protect the security of the United States and the safety of the American people.

So with that, I’m going to take a couple of questions.  I’ll start with Colleen McCain Nelson of the Wall Street Journal.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you have any confidence in Prime Minister Maliki at this point?  And can Maliki bring political stability to Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT:  As I said, it’s not our job to choose Iraq’s leaders.  Part of what our patriots fought for during many years in Iraq was the right and the opportunity for Iraqis to determine their own destiny and choose their own leaders.  But I don’t think there’s any secret that right now at least there is deep divisions between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders.  And as long as those deep divisions continue or worsen, it’s going to be very hard for an Iraqi central government to direct an Iraqi military to deal with these threats.

And so we’ve consulted with Prime Minister Maliki, and we’ve said that to him privately.  We’ve said it publicly that whether he is prime minister, or any other leader aspires to lead the country, that it has to be an agenda in which Sunni, Shia and Kurd all feel that they have the opportunity to advance their interests through the political process.  And we’ve seen over the last two years, actually dating back to 2008, 2009 — but I think worse over the last two years — the sense among Sunnis that their interests were not being served, that legislation that had been promised around, for example, De-Ba’athification had been stalled.

I think that you hear similar complaints that the government in Baghdad has not sufficiently reached out to some of the tribes and been able to bring them in to a process that gives them a sense of being part of a unity government or a single nation-state.  And that has to be worked through.

Part of the reason why we saw better-equipped Iraqi security forces with larger numbers not be able to hold contested territory against ISIL probably reflects that lack of a sense of commitment on the part of Sunni communities to work with Baghdad.  And that has to be fixed if we’re going to get through this crisis.

Jim Acosta.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Americans may look at this decision that you’re making today as a sneak preview of coming attractions; that the number of advisors that you’re planning to send in may just be the beginning of a boots-on-the-ground scenario down the road.  Why is Iraq’s civil war in the national security interests of the United States?  And are you concerned about the potential for mission creep?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think we always have to guard against mission creep, so let me repeat what I’ve said in the past:  American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.

We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq.  Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by the Iraqis.

It is in our national security interests not to see an all-out civil war inside of Iraq, not just for humanitarian reasons, but because that ultimately can be destabilizing throughout the region.  And in addition to having strong allies there that we are committed to protecting, obviously issues like energy and global energy markets continues to be important.

We also have an interest in making sure that we don’t have a safe haven that continues to grow for ISIL and other extremist jihadist groups who could use that as a base of operations for planning and targeting ourselves, our personnel overseas, and eventually the homeland.  And if they accumulate more money, they accumulate more ammunition, more military capability, larger numbers, that poses great dangers not just to allies of ours like Jordan, which is very close by, but it also poses a great danger potentially to Europe and ultimately the United States.

We have already seen inside of Syria that — or groups like ISIL that right now are fighting with other extremist groups, or an Assad regime that was non-responsive to a Sunni majority there, that that has attracted more and more jihadists or would-be jihadists, some of them from Europe.  They then start traveling back to Europe, and that, over time, can create a cadre of terrorists that could harm us.

So we have humanitarian interests in preventing bloodshed.  We have strategic interests in stability in the region.  We have counterterrorism interests.  All those have to be addressed.

The initial effort for us to get situational awareness through the reconnaissance and surveillance that we’ve already done, coupled with some of our best people on the ground doing assessments of exactly what the situation is — starting, by the way, with the perimeter around Baghdad and making sure that that’s not overrun — that’s a good investment for us to make.  But that does not foreshadow a larger commitment of troops to actually fight in Iraq.  That would not be effective in meeting the core interests that we have.

Q    Just very quickly, do you wish you had left a residual force in Iraq?  Any regrets about that decision in 2011?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind that wasn’t a decision made by me; that was a decision made by the Iraqi government.  We offered a modest residual force to help continue to train and advise Iraqi security forces.  We had a core requirement which we require in any situation where we have U.S. troops overseas, and that is, is that they’re provided immunity since they’re being invited by the sovereign government there, so that if, for example, they end up acting in self-defense if they are attacked and find themselves in a tough situation, that they’re not somehow hauled before a foreign court.  That’s a core requirement that we have for U.S. troop presence anywhere.

The Iraqi government and Prime Minister Maliki declined to provide us that immunity.  And so I think it is important though to recognize that, despite that decision, that we have continued to provide them with very intensive advice and support and have continued throughout this process over the last five years to not only offer them our assistance militarily, but we’ve also continued to urge the kinds of political compromises that we think are ultimately necessary in order for them to have a functioning, multi-sectarian democracy inside the country.

Juliet Eilperin.

Q    Mr. President, you just mentioned Syria a moment ago.  The United States has been slow to provide significant weapons and training directly to the Syrian opposition.  Has the expansion of the Syria war into Iraq changed your mind about the type of weapons and training we’re now willing to give the opposition there?  Is that what prompted Secretary Kerry to say of Syria, “We are augmenting our assistance in significant ways”?  And can you elaborate on what you are you doing now that you weren’t doing before?

THE PRESIDENT:  That assessment about the dangers of what was happening in Syria have existed since the very beginning of the Syrian civil war.  The question has never been whether we thought this was a serious problem.  The question has always been, is there the capacity of moderate opposition on the ground to absorb and counteract extremists that might have been pouring in, as well as an Assad regime supported by Iran and Russia that outmanned them and was ruthless.

And so we have consistently provided that opposition with support.  Oftentimes, the challenge is if you have former farmers or teachers or pharmacists who now are taking up opposition against a battle-hardened regime, with support from external actors that have a lot at stake, how quickly can you get them trained; how effective are you able to mobilize them.  And that continues to be a challenge.  And even before the situation that we saw with ISIL going into Iraq, we had already tried to maximize what we could do to support a moderate opposition that not only can counteract the brutality of Assad, but also can make sure that in the minds of Sunnis they don’t think that their only alternative is either Mr. Assad or extremist groups like ISIL or al Nusra.

Q    And can you speak to what you might be doing differently, as the Secretary of State alluded to?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think that the key to both Syria and Iraq is going to be a combination of what happens inside the country working with the moderate Syrian opposition, working with an Iraqi government that is inclusive, and us laying down a more effective counterterrorism platform that gets all the countries in the region pulling in the same direction.  And I alluded to this in the West Point speech.  I talked about it today with respect to the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund.

There is going to be a long-term problem in this region in which we have to build and partner with countries that are committed to our interests, our values.  And at the same time, we have immediate problems with terrorist organizations that may be advancing.  And rather than try to play Whac-a-Mole wherever these terrorist organizations may pop up, what we have to do is to be able to build effective partnerships, make sure that they have capacity.  Some of the assets that have been devoted solely to Afghanistan over the last decade we’ve got to shift to make sure that we have coverage in the Middle East and North Africa.

You look at a country like Yemen — a very impoverished country and one that has its own sectarian or ethnic divisions — there, we do have a committed partner in President Hadi and his government.  And we have been able to help to develop their capacities without putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground at the same time as we’ve got enough CT, or counterterrorism capabilities that we’re able to go after folks that might try to hit our embassy or might be trying to export terrorism into Europe or the United States.

And looking at how we can create more of those models is going to be part of the solution in dealing with both Syria and Iraq.  But in order for us to do that, we still need to have actual governments on the ground that we can partner with and that we’ve got some confidence are going to pursue the political policies of inclusiveness.  In Yemen, for example, a wide-ranging national dialogue that took a long time, but helped to give people a sense that there is a legitimate political outlet for grievances that they may have.

Peter Maer.

Q    Thank you, sir.  Going back to where you see Prime Minister al-Maliki playing a role at this point, you said that it’s a time to rise above differences, that there’s a need for more inclusive government.  Is he a unifier?  And how much clout does the United States ultimately have with any of the leadership in Iraq at this point really?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we still provide them significant assistance.  I think they recognize that, unlike some other players in the region, we don’t have territorial ambitions in their country.  We’re not looking to control their assets or their energy.  We want to make sure that we’re vindicating the enormous effort and sacrifice that was made by our troops in giving them an opportunity to build a stable, inclusive society that can prosper and deliver for the basic needs and aspirations of the Iraqi people.

And at the same time, they are a sovereign country.  They have their own politics.  And what we have tried to do is to give them our best advice about how they can solve their political problems.  Now that they are in crisis, we are indicating to them that there is not going to be a simple military solution to this issue.  If you start seeing the various groups inside of Iraq simply go to their respective corners, then it is almost certain that Baghdad and the central government will not be able to control huge chunks of their own country.  The only way they can do that is if there are credible Sunni leaders, both at the national level and at the local level, who have confidence that a Shia majority, that the Kurds, that all those folks are committed to a fair and just governance of the country.

Right now, that doesn’t exist.  There’s too much suspicion, there’s too much mistrust.  And the good news is that an election took place in which despite all this mistrust, despite all this frustration, despite all this anger, you still had millions of Iraqis turn out — in some cases, in very dangerous circumstances.  You now have a court that has certified those elections, and you have a constitutional process to advance government formation.

So far, at least, the one bit of encouraging news that we’ve seen inside of Iraq is that all the parties have said they continue to be committed to choosing a leadership and a government through the existing constitutional order.

So what you’re seeing I think is, as the prospects of civil war heighten, many Iraq leaders stepping back and saying, let’s not plunge back into the abyss; let’s see if we can resolve this politically.  But they don’t have a lot of time.  And you have a group like ISIL that is doing everything that it can to descend the country back into chaos.

And so one of the messages that we had for Prime Minister Maliki but also for the Speaker of the House and the other leadership inside of Iraq is, get going on this government formation.  It’ll make it a lot easier for them to shape a military strategy.  It’ll also make it possible for us to partner much more effectively than we can currently.

Q    Given the Prime Minister’s track record, is he a unifier?  Can he play that role after what we’ve seen play out over the last couple of weeks is brought into play?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think the test is before him and other Iraqi leaders as we speak.  Right now, they can make a series of decisions.  Regardless of what’s happened in the past, right now is a moment where the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance, and the test for all of them is going to be whether they can overcome the mistrust, the deep sectarian divisions, in some cases just political opportunism, and say this is bigger than any one of us and we’ve got to make sure that we do what’s right for the Iraqi people.  And that’s a challenge.

That’s not something that the United States can do for them.  That’s not something, by the way, that the United States Armed Forces can do for them.  We can provide them the space, we can provide them the tools.  But ultimately, they’re going to have to make those decisions.

In the meantime, my job is to make sure that American personnel there are safe; that we are consulting with the Iraqi security forces; that we’re getting a better assessment of what’s on the ground; and that we’re recognizing the dangers of ISIL over the long term, and developing the kinds of comprehensive counterterrorism strategies that we’re going to need to deal with this issue.  And that’s going to involve some short-term responses to make sure that ISIL is not obtaining capacity to endanger us directly or our allies and partners.  But it also is going to require some long-term strategies, as well.

Because part of what we’ve with respect to ISIL is a broader trend that I talked about at West Point — rather than a single network, a discreet network of terrorists, this fluid combination of hardened terrorists, disaffected local leadership.  And where there’s vacuums, they’re filling it and creating the potential for serious danger for all concerned.

Thank you very much.

Q    On Iran, Mr. President, any words on what you’re willing to do, and are you also willing to work with them?

THE PRESIDENT:  Our view is that Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we’re sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if it’s inclusive and that if the interests of Sunni, Shia and Kurd are all respected.  If Iran is coming in solely as an armed force on behalf of the Shia, and if it is framed in that fashion, then that probably worsens the situation and the prospect for government formation that would actually be constructive over the long term.

Q    What’s your sense of that right now?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think that just as Iraq’s leaders have to make decisions, I think Iran has heard from us.  We’ve indicated to them that it is important for them to avoid steps that might encourage the kind of sectarian splits that might lead to civil war.

And the one thing that I think has to be emphasized — we have deep differences with Iran across the board on a whole host of issues.  Obviously, what’s happened in Syria in part is the result of Iran coming in hot and heavy on one side.  And Iran obviously should consider the fact that if its view of the region is solely through sectarian frames, they could find themselves fighting in a whole lot of places.  And that’s probably not good for the Iranian economy or the Iranian people over the long term either.  I suspect there are folks in Iran who recognize that.  A Iraq in chaos on their borders is probably not in their interests.  But old habits die hard, and we’ll have to see whether they can take what I think would be a more promising path over the next several days.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END
2:01 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 13, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Crisis in Iraq — will not send ground troops

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Iraq

Source: WH, 6-13-14 

South Lawn

12:00 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I wanted to take some time to give you a quick update about the situation in Iraq.

Yesterday, I convened a meeting with my National Security Council to discuss the situation there, and this morning I received an update from my team.  Over the last several days, we’ve seen significant gains made by ISIL, a terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and in Syria.  In the face of a terrorist offensive, Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend a number of cities, which has allowed the terrorists to overrun a part of Iraq’s territory.  And this poses a danger to Iraq and its people.  And given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.

Now, this threat is not brand new.  Over the last year, we’ve been steadily ramping up our security assistance to the Iraqi government with increased training, equipping and intelligence.  Now, Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of extremist groups and bolster the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.  We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces, and I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead.

I do want to be clear though, this is not solely or even primarily a military challenge.  Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices to give Iraqis an opportunity to claim their own future.  Unfortunately, Iraq’s leaders have been unable to overcome too often the mistrust and sectarian differences that have long been simmering there, and that’s created vulnerabilities within the Iraqi government as well as their security forces.

So any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences, to promote stability, and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq’s communities, and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force.  We can’t do it for them.  And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won’t succeed.

So this should be a wake-up call.  Iraq’s leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in order to bring the country together.  In that effort, they will have the support of the United States and our friends and our allies.

Now, Iraq’s neighbors also have some responsibilities to support this process.  Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq, and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos.  So the United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately it’s up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems.

Indeed, across the region we have redoubled our efforts to help build more capable counterterrorism forces so that groups like ISIL can’t establish a safe haven.  And we’ll continue that effort through our support of the moderate opposition in Syria, our support for Iraq and its security forces, and our partnership with other countries across the region.

We’re also going to pursue intensive diplomacy throughout this period both inside of Iraq and across the region, because there’s never going to be stability in Iraq or the broader region unless there are political outcomes that allow people to resolve their differences peacefully without resorting to war or relying on the United States military.

We’ll be monitoring the situation in Iraq very carefully over the next several days.  Our top priority will remain being vigilant against any threats to our personnel serving overseas.  We will consult closely with Congress as we make determinations about appropriate action, and we’ll continue to keep the American people fully informed as we make decisions about the way forward.

I’ll take a question.

Q    Mr. President, given the recent U.S. history there, are you reluctant to get involved again in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think that we should look at the situation carefully.  We have an interest in making sure that a group like ISIL, which is a vicious organization and has been able to take advantage of the chaos in Syria, that they don’t get a broader foothold.  I think there are dangers of fierce sectarian fighting if, for example, these terrorist organizations try to overrun sacred Shia sites, which could trigger Shia-Sunni conflicts that could be very hard to stamp out.  So we have enormous interests there.

And obviously, our troops and the American people and the American taxpayers made huge investments and sacrifices in order to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart a better course, a better destiny.  But ultimately, they’re going to have to seize it.  As I said before, we are not going to be able to do it for them.  And given the very difficult history that we’ve seen in Iraq, I think that any objective observer would recognize that in the absence of accommodation among the various factions inside of Iraq, various military actions by the United States, by any outside nation, are not going to solve those problems over the long term and not going to deliver the kind of stability that we need.

Anybody else?

Q    Mr. President, is the Syrian civil war spilling over the Iraq border?  And what can we do to stop it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think that’s been happening for some time.  ISIL has been able to gain a foothold in Syria.  That’s part of the reason why we’ve been so concerned about it.  That’s part of the reason why we’ve been supporting the Syrian opposition there.  But it’s a challenging problem.

In Iraq, the Iraqi government, which was initially resistant to some of our offers of help, has come around now to recognize that cooperation with us on some of these issues can be useful.  Obviously, that’s not the case in Syria where President Assad has no interest in seeing us involved there, and where some of the governments that are supporting Assad have been able to block, for example, U.N. efforts even at humanitarian aid.  But this is a regional problem and it is going to be a long-term problem.

And what we’re going to have to do is combine selective actions by our military to make sure that we’re going after terrorists who could harm our personnel overseas or eventually hit the homeland.  We’re going to have to combine that with what is a very challenging international effort to try to rebuild countries and communities that have been shattered by sectarian war.  And that’s not an easy task.

Q    Mr. President, which foreign countries have you been in touch with?  And what are they willing to do as part of this international effort?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’re in contact with them now.  So we’ll have a better sense by the end of the weekend, after those consultations.  And we will be getting a better sense from them of how they might support an effort to bring about the kind of political unity inside of Iraq that bolsters security forces.

Look, the United States has poured a lot of money into these Iraqi security forces, and we devoted a lot of training to Iraqi security forces.  The fact that they are not willing to stand and fight, and defend their posts against admittedly hardened terrorists but not terrorists who are overwhelming in numbers indicates that there’s a problem with morale, there’s a problem in terms of commitment.  And ultimately, that’s rooted in the political problems that have plagued the country for a very long time.

Last question.  Last one.

Q    Thank you.  Can you talk a little bit about U.S. concern of disruption of oil supplies?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, so far at least we have not seen major disruptions in oil supplies.  Obviously if, in fact, ISIL was able to obtain control over major output, significant refineries, that could be a source of concern.  As you might expect, world oil markets react to any kind of instability in the Middle East.  One of our goals should be to make sure that in cooperation with other countries in the region not only are we creating some sort of backstop in terms of what’s happening inside of Iraq, but if there do end up being disruptions inside of Iraq, that some of the other producers in the Gulf are able to pick up the slack.  So that will be part of the consultations that will be taking place during the course of this week.

Just to give people a sense of timing here, although events on the ground in Iraq have been happening very quickly, our ability to plan, whether it’s military action or work with the Iraqi government on some of these political issues, is going to take several days.  So people should not anticipate that this is something that is going to happen overnight.  We want to make sure that we have good eyes on the situation there.  We want to make sure that we’ve gathered all the intelligence that’s necessary so that if, in fact, I do direct and order any actions there, that they’re targeted, they’re precise and they’re going to have an effect.

And as I indicated before — and I want to make sure that everybody understands this message — the United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together.  We’re not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we’re not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country.

All right, thank you very much, everybody.

END
12:11 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 6, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day — Omaha Beach, Normandy

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day — Omaha Beach, Normandy

Source: WH, 6-6-14

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Omaha Beach
Normandy, France

11:16 A.M. CET

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  President Hollande; to the people of France; friends; the family; our veterans:

If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world.

Captains paced their decks.  Pilots tapped their gauges.  Commanders pored over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong — the winds, the tides, the element of surprise — and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead.

Fresh-faced GIs rubbed trinkets, kissed pictures of sweethearts, checked and re-checked their equipment. “God,” asked one, “give me guts.”  And in the pre-dawn hours, planes rumbled down runways; gliders and paratroopers slipped through the sky; giant screws began to turn on an armada that looked like more ships than sea.  And more than 150,000 souls set off towards this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but rather the course of human history.

President Hollande, distinguished guests, I’m honored to return here today to pay tribute to the men and women of a generation who defied every danger — among them, our veterans of D-Day.  And, gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence here today.  (Applause.)

Just last week, I received a letter from a French citizen.  “Dear Mr. President, and the American people,” he wrote, “[we are] honored to welcome you… to thank you again for all the pain and efforts of [the] American people and others in our common struggle for freedom.”

Today, we say the same to the people of France.  Thank you, especially, for the generosity that you’ve shown the Americans who’ve come here over the generations — to these beaches, and to this sacred place of rest for 9,387 Americans.  At the end of the war, when our ships set off for America, filled with our fallen, tens of thousands of liberated Europeans turned out to say farewell, and they pledged to take care of the more than 60,000 Americans who would remain in cemeteries on this continent.  In the words of one man, we will take care of the fallen “as if their tombs were our children’s.”  And the people of France, you have kept your word like the true friends you are.  We are forever grateful.  (Applause.)

Here, we don’t just commemorate victory, as proud of that victory as we are.  We don’t just honor sacrifice, as grateful as the world is.  We come to remember why America and our allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril.  We come to tell the story of the men and women who did it so that it remains seared into the memory of a future world.

We tell this story for the old soldiers who pull themselves a little straighter today to salute brothers who never made it home.  We tell the story for the daughter who clutches a faded photo of her father, forever young; for the child who runs his fingers over colorful ribbons he knows signify something of great consequence, even if he doesn’t yet fully understand why.  We tell this story to bear what witness we can to what happened when the boys from America reached Omaha Beach.

By daybreak, blood soaked the water, bombs broke the sky.  Thousands of paratroopers had dropped into the wrong landing sites; thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand.  Entire companies’ worth of men fell in minutes.  “Hell’s Beach” had earned its name.

By 8:30 a.m., General Omar Bradley expected our troops to be a mile inland.  “Six hours after the landings,” he wrote, “we held only ten yards of beach.”  In this age of instant commentary, the invasion would have swiftly and roundly been declared, as it was by one officer, “a debacle.”

But such a race to judgment would not have taken into account the courage of free men.  “Success may not come with rushing speed,” President Roosevelt would say that night, “but we shall return again and again.”  And paratroopers fought through the countryside to find one another.  Rangers pulled themselves over those cliffs to silence Nazi guns.  To the west, Americans took Utah Beach with relative ease.  To the east, the British tore through the coast, fueled by the fury of five years of bombs over London and a solemn vow to “fight them on the beaches.”  The Canadians, whose shores had not been touched by war, drove far into France.  And here, at Omaha, troops who finally made it to the seawall used it as shelter — where a general barked, “If you’re Rangers… lead the way!”

By the end of that longest day, this beach had been fought, lost, refought, and won — a piece of Europe once again liberated and free.  Hitler’s Wall was breached, letting loose Patton’s Army to pour into France.  Within a week, the world’s bloodiest beach had become the world’s busiest port.  Within a month, one million Allied troops thundered through Normandy into Europe, and as our armies marched across the continent, one pilot said it looked “as if the very crust of the Earth had shaken loose.”  The Arc de Triomphe lit up for the first time in years, and Paris was punctuated by shouts of “Vive la France!” and “Vive les États-Unis!”  (Applause.)

Of course, even as we gather here at Normandy, we remember that freedom’s victory was also made possible by so many others who wore America’s uniform.  Two years before he commanded armies, Eisenhower’s troops sliced through North Africa.  Three times before D-Day, our GIs stormed the beaches at Sicily, Salerno, Anzio.  Divisions like the Fighting 36th brawled their way through Italy, fighting through the mud for months, marching through towns past waving children before opening the gates to Rome.  As the “dogfaces” marched to victory in Europe, the Devil Dogs — the Marines — clawed their way from island to island in the Pacific, in some of the war’s fiercest fighting.  And back home, an army of women — including my grandmother — rolled up their sleeves to help build a mighty arsenal of democracy.

But it was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom.  What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met?

We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way.  But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it.  And when the war was won, we claimed no spoils of victory — we helped Europe rebuild.  We claimed no land other than the earth where we buried those who gave their lives under our flag and where we station those who still serve under it.  But America’s claim — our commitment — to liberty, our claim to equality, our claim to freedom and to the inherent dignity of every human being — that claim is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity.

Omaha — Normandy — this was democracy’s beachhead.  And our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity.  We worked to turn old adversaries into new allies.  We built new prosperity.  We stood once more with the people of this continent through a long twilight struggle until finally a wall tumbled down, and an Iron Curtain, too.  And from Western Europe to East, from South America to Southeast Asia — 70 years of democratic movement spread.  And nations that once knew only the blinders of fear began to taste the blessings of freedom.

None of that would have happened without the men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they’d never met and ideals they couldn’t live without.

None of it would have happened without the troops President Roosevelt called “the life-blood of America… the hope of the world.”

They left home barely more than boys and returned home heroes.  But to their great credit, that is not how this generation carried itself.  After the war, some put away their medals, were quiet about their service, moved on.  Some, carrying shrapnel and scars, found that moving on was much harder.  Many, like my grandfather, who served in Patton’s Army, lived a quiet life, trading one uniform and set of responsibilities for another — as a teacher, or a salesman, or a doctor, or an engineer, a dad, a grandpa.

Our country made sure millions of them earned a college education, opening up opportunity on an unprecedented scale.  And they married those sweethearts and bought new homes and raised families and built businesses, lifting up the greatest middle class the world has ever known.  And through it all, they were inspired, I suspect, by memories of their fallen brothers — memories that drove them to live their lives each day as best they possibly could.

Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men.  Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men.

Think of Wilson Colwell, who was told he couldn’t pilot a plane without a high school degree, so he decided to jump out of a plane instead.  And he did, here on D-Day, with the 101st Airborne when he was just 16 years old.

Think of Harry Kulkowitz, the Jewish son of Russian immigrants, who fudged his age at enlistment so he could join his friends in the fight.  And don’t worry, Harry, the statute of limitations has expired.  (Laughter.)  Harry came ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day.  And now that he’s come back, we said he could have anything he wants for lunch today — he helped liberate this coast, after all.  But he said a hamburger would do fine.  (Laughter.)  What’s more American than that?

Think of “Rock” Merritt, who saw a recruitment poster asking him if he was man enough to be a paratrooper — so he signed up on the spot.  And that decision landed him here on D-Day with the 508th regiment, a unit that would suffer heavy casualties.  And 70 years later, it’s said that all across Fort Bragg, they know Rock — not just for his exploits on D-Day, or his 35 years in the Army, but because 91-year-old Rock Merritt still spends his time speaking to the young men and women of today’s Army and still bleeds “O.D. Green” for his 82nd Airborne.

Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness is possible — stop and think of these men.

Wilson and Harry and Rock, they are here today, and although I know we already gave them a rousing round of applause, along with all our veterans of D-Day — if you can stand, please stand; if not, please raise your hand.  Let us recognize your service once more.  (Applause.)  These men waged war so that we might know peace.  They sacrificed so that we might be free.  They fought in hopes of a day when we’d no longer need to fight.  We are grateful to them.  (Applause.)

And, gentlemen, I want each of you to know that your legacy is in good hands.  For in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, to slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, a new generation — our men and women of war — have chosen to do their part as well.

Rock, I want you to know that Staff Sergeant Melvin Cedillo-Martin, who’s here today, is following in your footsteps.  He just had to become an American first — because Melvin was born in Honduras, moved to the United States, joined the Army.  After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne.  And Sunday, he’ll parachute into Normandy.  (Applause.)  “I became part of a family of real American heroes,” he said.  “The Paratroopers of the 82nd.”

Wilson, you should know that Specialist Jannise Rodriguez joined the Army not even two years ago, was assigned to the 101st Airborne, and just last month earned the title of the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault Soldier of the Year.  And that’s inspiring but not surprising, when the women of today’s military have taken on responsibilities, including combat, like never before.  (Applause.)

I want each of you to know that their commitment to their fellow servicemembers and veterans endures.  Sergeant First Class Brian Hawthorne’s grandfather served under General Patton and General MacArthur.  Brian himself served two tours in Iraq, earned the Bronze Star in Baghdad for saving the life of his best friend, and today, he and his wife use their experience to help other veterans and military families navigate theirs.  And Brian is here in Normandy to participate in Sunday’s jump, and here, just yesterday, he reenlisted in the Army Reserve.

And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of servicemembers — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.

Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg has served ten.  And I’ve told Cory’s incredible story before, most recently when he sat with my wife, Michelle, at the State of the Union address.  It was here, at Omaha Beach, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, where I first met Cory and his fellow Army Rangers, right after they made their own jump into Normandy.  The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, unable to speak or walk after an IED nearly killed him in Afghanistan.  But over the past five years, Cory has grown stronger, learning to speak again and stand again and walk again.  And earlier this year, he jumped out of a plane again.  The first words Cory said to me after his accident echoed those words first shouted all those years ago on this beach:  “Rangers lead the way.”  (Applause.)

So Cory has come back today, along with Melvin and Jannise and Brian, and many of their fellow active-duty servicemembers.  We thank them for their service.  They are a reminder that the tradition represented by these gentlemen continues.

We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.

And as today’s wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform, and they, too, will build families and lives of their own.  They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in commerce, in industry, and perhaps politics — the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time.  And, God willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped to keep free.  And someday, future generations, whether 70 or 700 years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them and to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.  (Applause.)

May God bless our veterans and all who served with them, including those who rest here in eternal peace.  And may God bless all who serve today for the peace and security of the world.  May God bless the people of France.  And may God bless our United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:43 A.M. CET

Political Musings June 5, 2014: Obama hits new approval ratings poll lows on foreign policy, economy, Benghazi

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

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 gives President Barack Obama the lowest marks of presidency on foreign policy and the handling of the Benghazi Affair. The presidency also keeps getting low approval ratings…Continue

Full Text Obama Presidency June 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 25th Anniversary of Freedom Day — Warsaw, Poland

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at the 25th Anniversary of Freedom Day

Source: WH, 6-4-14 

Castle Square

Warsaw, Poland

12:10 P.M. CET

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Hello, Warsaw!  (Applause.)  Witaj, Polsko!  (Applause.)

Mr. President; Mr. Prime Minister; Madam Mayor; heads of state and government, past and present — including the man who jumped that shipyard wall to lead a strike that became a movement, the prisoner turned president who transformed this nation — thank you, Lech Walesa, for your outstanding leadership.  (Applause.)

Distinguished guests, people of Poland, thank you for your extraordinary welcome and for the privilege of joining you here today.  I bring with me the greetings and friendship of the American people — and of my hometown of Chicago, home to so many proud Polish Americans.  (Applause.)  In Chicago, we think of ourselves as a little piece of Poland.  In some neighborhoods, you only hear Polish.  The faithful come together at churches like Saint Stanislaus Kostka.  We have a parade for Polish Constitution Day.  And every summer, we celebrate the Taste of Polonia, with our kielbasa and pierogies, and we’re all a little bit Polish for that day.  (Applause.)  So being here with you, it feels like home.  (Applause.)

Twenty-five years ago today, we witnessed a scene that had once seemed impossible — an election where, for the first time, the people of this nation had a choice.  The Communist regime thought an election would validate their rule or weaken the opposition.  Instead, Poles turned out in the millions.  And when the votes were counted, it was a landslide victory for freedom.  One woman who voted that day said, “There is a sense that something is beginning to happen in Poland.  We feel the taste of Poland again.”  She was right.  It was the beginning of the end of Communism — not just in this country, but across Europe.

The images of that year are seared in our memory.  Citizens filling the streets of Budapest and Bucharest.  Hungarians and Austrians cutting the barbed wire border.  Protestors joining hands across the Baltics.  Czechs and Slovaks in their Velvet Revolution.  East Berliners climbing atop that wall.  And we have seen the extraordinary progress since that time.  A united Germany.  Nations in Central and Eastern Europe standing tall as proud democracies.  A Europe that is more integrated, more prosperous and more secure.  We must never forget that the spark for so much of this revolutionary change, this blossoming of hope, was lit by you, the people of Poland.  (Applause.)

History was made here.  The victory of 1989 was not inevitable.  It was the culmination of centuries of Polish struggle, at times in this very square.  The generations of Poles who rose up and finally won independence.  The soldiers who resisted invasion, from the east and the west.  The Righteous Among the Nations — among them Jan Karski — who risked all to save the innocent from the Holocaust.  The heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto who refused to go without a fight.  The Free Poles at Normandy and the Poles of the Home Army who — even as this city was reduced to rubble — waged a heroic uprising.

We remember how, when an Iron Curtain descended, you never accepted your fate.  When a son of Poland ascended to the Chair of Saint Peter, he returned home, and here, in Warsaw, he inspired a nation with his words — “there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland.”  (Applause.)  And today we give thanks for the courage of the Catholic Church and the fearless spirit of Saint John Paul II.  (Applause.)

We also recall how you prevailed 25 years ago.  In the face of beatings and bullets, you never wavered from the moral force of nonviolence.  Through the darkness of martial law, Poles lit candles in their windows.  When the regime finally agreed to talk, you embraced dialogue.  When they held those elections — even though not fully free — you participated.  As one Solidarity leader said at the time, “We decided to accept what was possible.”  Poland reminds us that sometimes the smallest steps, however imperfect, can ultimately tear down walls, can ultimately transform the world.  (Applause.)

But of course, your victory that June day was only the beginning.  For democracy is more than just elections.  True democracy, real prosperity, lasting security — these are neither simply given, nor imposed from the outside.  They must be earned and built from within.  And in that age-old contest of ideas — between freedom and authoritarianism, between liberty and oppression, between solidarity and intolerance — Poland’s progress shows the enduring strength of the ideals that we cherish as a free people.

Here we see the strength of democracy:  Citizens raising their voices, free from fear.  Here we see political parties competing in open and honest elections.  Here we see an independent judiciary working to uphold the rule of law.  Here in Poland we see a vibrant press and a growing civil society that holds leaders accountable — because governments exist to lift up their people, not to hold them down.  (Applause.)

Here we see the strength of free markets and the results of hard reforms — gleaming skyscrapers soaring above the city, and superhighways across this country, high-tech hubs and living standards that previous generations of Poles could only imagine. This is the new Poland you have built — an economic “Miracle on the Vistula” — Cud nad Wisłą.  (Applause.)

Here we see the strength of free nations that stand united. Across those centuries of struggle, Poland’s fate too often was dictated by others.  This land was invaded and conquered, carved up and occupied.  But those days are over.  Poland understands as few other nations do that every nation must be free to chart its own course, to forge its own partnerships, to choose its own allies.  (Applause.)

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Poland’s membership in NATO.  We honor Polish service in the Balkans, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And as Americans, we are proud to call Poland one of our strongest and closest allies.  (Applause.)

This is the Poland we celebrate today.  The free and democratic Poland that your forebears and some who are here today dreamed of and fought for and, in some cases, died for.  The growing and secure Poland that you — particularly the young people who are here today — have enjoyed for your entire lives.

It’s a wonderful story, but the story of this nation reminds us that freedom is not guaranteed.  And history cautions us to never take progress for granted.  On the same day 25 years ago that Poles were voting here, tanks were crushing peaceful democracy protests in Tiananmen Square on the other side of the world.  The blessings of liberty must be earned and renewed by every generation — including our own.  This is the work to which we rededicate ourselves today.  (Applause.)

Our democracies must be defined not by what or who we’re against, but by a politics of inclusion and tolerance that welcomes all our citizens.  Our economies must deliver a broader prosperity that creates more opportunity — across Europe and across the world — especially for young people.  Leaders must uphold the public trust and stand against corruption, not steal from the pockets of their own people.  Our societies must embrace a greater justice that recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being.  And as we’ve been reminded by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, our free nations cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we share — a Europe that is whole and free and at peace.  We have to work for that.  We have to stand with those who seek freedom.  (Applause.)

I know that throughout history, the Polish people were abandoned by friends when you needed them most.  So I’ve come to Warsaw today — on behalf of the United States, on behalf of the NATO Alliance — to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Poland’s security.  Article 5 is clear — an attack on one is an attack on all.  And as allies, we have a solemn duty — a binding treaty obligation — to defend your territorial integrity.  And we will.  We stand together — now and forever — for your freedom is ours. (Applause.)  Poland will never stand alone.  (Applause.)  But not just Poland — Estonia will never stand alone.  Latvia will never stand alone.  Lithuania will never stand alone.  Romania will never stand alone.  (Applause.)

These are not just words.  They’re unbreakable commitments backed by the strongest alliance in the world and the armed forces of the United States of America — the most powerful military in history.  (Applause.)  You see our commitment today. In NATO aircraft in the skies of the Baltics.  In allied ships patrolling the Black Sea.  In the stepped-up exercises where our forces train together.  And in our increased and enduring American presence here on Polish soil.  We do these things not to threaten any nation, but to defend the security and territory of ourselves and our friends.

Yesterday, I announced a new initiative to bolster the security of our NATO allies and increase America’s military presence in Europe.  With the support of Congress, this will mean more pre-positioned equipment to respond quickly in a crisis, and exercises and training to keep our forces ready; additional U.S. forces — in the air, and sea, and on land, including here in Poland.  And it will mean increased support to help friends like Ukraine, and Moldova and Georgia provide for their own defense.  (Applause.)

Just as the United States is increasing our commitment, so must others.  Every NATO member is protected by our alliance, and every NATO member must carry its share in our alliance.  This is the responsibility we have to each other.

Finally, as free peoples, we join together, not simply to safeguard our own security but to advance the freedom of others. Today we affirm the principles for which we stand.

We stand together because we believe that people and nations have the right to determine their own destiny.  And that includes the people of Ukraine.  Robbed by a corrupt regime, Ukrainians demanded a government that served them.  Beaten and bloodied, they refused to yield.  Threatened and harassed, they lined up to vote; they elected a new President in a free election — because a leader’s legitimacy can only come from the consent of the people.

Ukrainians have now embarked on the hard road of reform.  I met with President-elect Poroshenko this morning, and I told him that, just as free nations offered support and assistance to Poland in your transition to democracy, we stand with Ukrainians now.  (Applause.)  Ukraine must be free to choose its own future for itself and by itself.  (Applause.)  We reject the zero-sum thinking of the past — a free and independent Ukraine needs strong ties and growing trade with Europe and Russia and the United States and the rest of the world.  Because the people of Ukraine are reaching out for the same freedom and opportunities and progress that we celebrate here today — and they deserve them, too.

We stand together because we believe that upholding peace and security is the responsibility of every nation.  The days of empire and spheres of influence are over.  Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or impose their will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men taking over buildings.  And the stroke of a pen can never legitimize the theft of a neighbor’s land.  So we will not accept Russia’s occupation of Crimea or its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  (Applause.)   Our free nations will stand united so that further Russian provocations will only mean more isolation and costs for Russia. (Applause.)  Because after investing so much blood and treasure to bring Europe together, how can we allow the dark tactics of the 20th century to define this new century?

We stand together because we know that the spirit of Warsaw and Budapest and Prague and Berlin stretches to wherever the longing for freedom stirs in human hearts, whether in Minsk or Caracas, or Damascus or Pyongyang.  Wherever people are willing to do the hard work of building democracy — from Tbilisi to Tunis, from Rangoon to Freetown — they will have a partner in our nations.  For in the struggles of these citizens we recall our own struggles.  In their faces we see our own.  And few see this more clearly than the people of Poland.

The Ukrainians of today are the heirs of Solidarity — men and women like you who dared to challenge a bankrupt regime.  When your peaceful protests were met with an iron fist, Poles placed flowers in the shipyard gate.

Today, Ukrainians honor their fallen with flowers in Independence Square.  We remember the Polish voter who rejoiced to “feel the taste of Poland again.”  Her voice echoes in the young protestor in the Maidan who savored what she called “a taste of real freedom.”  “I love my country,” she said, and we are standing up for “justice and freedom.”  And with gratitude for the strong support of the Polish people, she spoke for many Ukrainians when she said, “Thank you, Poland.  We hear you and we love you.”  (Applause.)

Today we can say the same.  Thank you, Poland — thank you for your courage.  Thank you for reminding the world that no matter how brutal the crackdown, no matter how long the night, the yearning for liberty and dignity does not fade away.  It will never go away.  Thank you, Poland, for your iron will and for showing that, yes, ordinary citizens can grab the reins of history, and that freedom will prevail — because, in the end, tanks and troops are no match for the force of our ideals.

Thank you, Poland — for your triumph — not of arms, but of the human spirit, the truth that carries us forward. There is no change without risk, and no progress without sacrifice, and no freedom without solidarity.  (Applause.)

Dziękuję, Polsko!  God bless Poland.  (Applause.)  God bless America.  God bless our unbreakable alliance.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END             12:28 P.M. CET

Full Text Obama Presidency June 3-6, 2014: President Barack Obama’s 2014 Trip to Europe Schedule

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

The President’s 2014 Trip to Europe

Source: White House

Poland, Belgium, and France

June 3 to June 6

As part of the United States’ ongoing consultations with our allies, President Obama is traveling to Poland, Belgium, and France, June 3-6, 2014. While in Warsaw, the President will hold bilateral meetings and join other world leaders in commemorating the Polish Freedom Day, marking the 25th anniversary of Poland’s emergence from Communism. From Poland, the President will travel to Brussels for the G-7 Leaders’ Summit, and will then continue on to France to participate in commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.


Trip Schedule

Tuesday, June 3

  • President Obama participates in an arrival ceremony at Warsaw Chopin Airport with President Komorowski, after which they meet American and Polish airmen.
  • President Obama and President Komorowski hold a bilateral meeting at Belweder Palace, followed by a press conference.
  • Afterward, President Obama and Prime Minister Tusk have a bilateral meeting at the Polish Chancellery, followed by remarks to the press.
  • In the afternoon, President Obama and President Komorowski co-host a meeting of Central and European Leaders at the Presidential Palace.
  • That evening, President Obama attends an official dinner at the Royal Castle to honor Poland’s Solidarity movement.
    View a wrap-up of the day’s activities

Wednesday, June 4

  • President Obama meets with President-elect Poroshenko of Ukraine.
  • In Brussels, President Obama meets with King Philippe and Prime Minister Di Rupo of Belgium at the Royal Palace.
  • That evening, President Obama attends the G-7 Summit, which begins with a leaders working dinner on foreign policy issues.
    View a wrap-up of the day’s activities

Thursday, June 5

  • President Obama participates in G-7 meetings on economics and energy and climate.
  • President Obama then attends the G-7 leaders working lunch on development.
  • Following the G-7, President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom hold a bilateral meeting.
  • President Obama then departs for Paris.
  • In Paris, President Obama and President Hollande of France have a private dinner.
    View a wrap-up of the day’s activities

Friday, June 6

  • President Obama departs Paris for Normandy, France.
  • President Obama and President Hollande participate in a ceremony at the American cemetery close to Omaha Beach, the site of the American landing in Normandy.
  • President Obama then attends a lunch with leaders, hosted by France.
  • Later that afternoon, President Obama attends the official international 70th D-Day commemoration ceremony at Sword Beach, Normandy, and then departs for the USA.
    View a wrap-up of the day’s activities

Full Text Obama Presidency May 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at West Point Military Academy Commencement Ceremony Outlining Foreign Policy Plan

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony

Source: WH, 5-28-14

 

U.S. Military Academy-West Point
West Point, New York

10:22 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  And thank you, General Caslen, for that introduction.  To General Trainor, General Clarke, the faculty and staff at West Point — you have been outstanding stewards of this proud institution and outstanding mentors for the newest officers in the United States Army.  I’d like to acknowledge the Army’s leadership — General McHugh — Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed, who is here, and a proud graduate of West Point himself.

To the class of 2014, I congratulate you on taking your place on the Long Gray Line.  Among you is the first all-female command team — Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff.  In Calla Glavin, you have a Rhodes Scholar.  And Josh Herbeck proves that West Point accuracy extends beyond the three-point line.  To the entire class, let me reassure you in these final hours at West Point:  As Commander-in-Chief, I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses.  (Laughter and applause.)  Let me just say that nobody ever did that for me when I was in school.  (Laughter.)

I know you join me in extending a word of thanks to your families.  Joe DeMoss, whose son James is graduating, spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote me a letter about the sacrifices you’ve made.  “Deep inside,” he wrote, “we want to explode with pride at what they are committing to do in the service of our country.”  Like several graduates, James is a combat veteran.  And I would ask all of us here today to stand and pay tribute — not only to the veterans among us, but to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families.  (Applause.)

This is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day.  You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq.  We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan.  Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al Qaeda’s core leadership — those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks.  And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed.  We have removed our troops from Iraq.  We are winding down our war in Afghanistan.  Al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more.  (Applause.)  And through it all, we’ve refocused our investments in what has always been a key source of American strength:  a growing economy that can provide opportunity for everybody who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home.

In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.  Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.  Think about it.  Our military has no peer.  The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative.  Each year, we grow more energy independent.  From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations.  America continues to attract striving immigrants.  The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe.  And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.  (Applause.)  So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed.  This presents opportunity, but also new dangers.  We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.  Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors.  From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums.  And even as developing nations embrace democracy and market economies, 24-hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.  The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead — not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

Now, this question isn’t new.  At least since George Washington served as Commander-in-Chief, there have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic wellbeing.  Today, according to self-described realists, conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve.  And not surprisingly, after costly wars and continuing challenges here at home, that view is shared by many Americans.

A different view from interventionists from the left and right says that we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.

And each side can point to history to support its claims. But I believe neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment.  It is absolutely true that in the 21st century American isolationism is not an option.  We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders.  If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American cities.  As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.  Regional aggression that goes unchecked — whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world — will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military.  We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries.

And beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.  I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative, it also helps to keep us safe.

But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.  Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences — without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.  Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.  As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947:  “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”

Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war, and that includes those of you here at West Point.  Four of the servicemembers who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort.  A lot more were wounded.  I believe America’s security demanded those deployments.  But I am haunted by those deaths.  I am haunted by those wounds.  And I would betray my duty to you and to the country we love if I ever sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.

Here’s my bottom line:  America must always lead on the world stage.  If we don’t, no one else will.  The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership.  But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.  And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader — and especially your Commander-in-Chief — to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.

So let me spend the rest of my time describing my vision for how the United States of America and our military should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership.

First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency:  The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger.  In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.  International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life.  (Applause.)

On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake — when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us — then the threshold for military action must be higher.  In such circumstances, we should not go it alone.  Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action.  We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action.  In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.

This leads to my second point:  For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy — drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan — to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.  Instead, it comes from decentralized al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.  And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi.  It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi.

So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat — one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan.

Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al Qaeda core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.  But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job.  And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police.  Earlier this spring, those forces, those Afghan forces, secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history.  And at the end of this year, a new Afghan President will be in office and America’s combat mission will be over.  (Applause.)

Now, that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces.  But as we move to a train-and-advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa.  So, earlier this year, I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.  Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.  And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria.  As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon.  As President, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.  And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.  I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.  And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people.

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism.  The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do — through capture operations like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice; or drone strikes like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.  There are times when those actions are necessary, and we cannot hesitate to protect our people.

But as I said last year, in taking direct action we must uphold standards that reflect our values.  That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is no certainty — there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.  For our actions should meet a simple test:  We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.

I also believe we must be more transparent about both the basis of our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried out.  We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it is drone strikes or training partners.  I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts.  Our intelligence community has done outstanding work, and we have to continue to protect sources and methods.  But when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.

And this issue of transparency is directly relevant to a third aspect of American leadership, and that is our effort to strengthen and enforce international order.

After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress — from NATO and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF.  These institutions are not perfect, but they have been a force multiplier.  They reduce the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint among other nations.

Now, just as the world has changed, this architecture must change as well.  At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon, “a gradual evolution in human institutions.”  And evolving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership.

Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action.  For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness.  I think they’re wrong.  Let me offer just two examples why.

In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe.   But this isn’t the Cold War.  Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.  Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.  And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.

This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions.  Yesterday, I spoke to their next President.  We don’t know how the situation will play out and there will remain grave challenges ahead, but standing with our allies on behalf of international order working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future without us firing a shot.

Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years.  But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government.  And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully.

The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement — one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.  And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.

The point is this is American leadership.  This is American strength.  In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge.  Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent problems from spreading.  For example, NATO is the strongest alliance the world has ever known.  But we’re now working with NATO allies to meet new missions, both within Europe where our Eastern allies must be reassured, but also beyond Europe’s borders where our NATO allies must pull their weight to counterterrorism and respond to failed states and train a network of partners.

Likewise, the U.N. provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict.  Now we need to make sure that those nations who provide peacekeepers have the training and equipment to actually keep the peace, so that we can prevent the type of killing we’ve seen in Congo and Sudan.  We are going to deepen our investment in countries that support these peacekeeping missions, because having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need for us to put our own troops in harm’s way.  It’s a smart investment.  It’s the right way to lead.  (Applause.)

Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict.  We have a serious problem with cyber-attacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens.  In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.  And we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.  That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change — a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters and conflicts over water and food, which is why next year I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.

You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else.  We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it’s taking place.  We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by our United States Senate, despite the fact that our top military leaders say the treaty advances our national security.  That’s not leadership; that’s retreat.  That’s not strength; that’s weakness.  It would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.  But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.  (Applause.)  And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo — because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.  (Applause.)  America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost.  We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere.

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership:  Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.  America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism — it is a matter of national security.  Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war.  Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.  Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.

A new century has brought no end to tyranny.  In capitals around the globe — including, unfortunately, some of America’s partners — there has been a crackdown on civil society.  The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments and their cronies, and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares.  And watching these trends, or the violent upheavals in parts of the Arab World, it’s easy to be cynical.

But remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.  Technology is empowering civil society in ways that no iron fist can control.  New breakthroughs are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.  And even the upheaval of the Arab World reflects the rejection of an authoritarian order that was anything but stable, and now offers the long-term prospect of more responsive and effective governance.

In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests — from peace treaties with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism.  So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.

And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma, which only a few years ago was an intractable dictatorship and hostile to the United States — 40 million people.  Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.  We’re now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment, through coaxing and, at times, public criticism.  And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot.  American leadership.

In each of these cases, we should not expect change to happen overnight.  That’s why we form alliances not just with governments, but also with ordinary people.  For unlike other nations, America is not afraid of individual empowerment, we are strengthened by it.  We’re strengthened by civil society.  We’re strengthened by a free press.  We’re strengthened by striving entrepreneurs and small businesses.  We’re strengthened by educational exchange and opportunity for all people, and women and girls.  That’s who we are.  That’s what we represent.  (Applause.)

I saw that through a trip to Africa last year, where American assistance has made possible the prospect of an AIDS-free generation, while helping Africans care themselves for their sick.  We’re helping farmers get their products to market, to feed populations once endangered by famine.  We aim to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa so people are connected to the promise of the global economy.  And all this creates new partners and shrinks the space for terrorism and conflict.

Now, tragically, no American security operation can eradicate the threat posed by an extremist group like Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped those girls.  And that’s why we have to focus not just on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting Nigerian efforts to educate its youth.  This should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.  They understood that foreign assistance is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security.  It is part of what makes us strong.

Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty.  We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency.  But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be — a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in a direction of justice.  And we cannot do that without you.

Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson.  You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim.  You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces, for in the course of your service you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts.  You’ll get to know allies and train partners.  And you will embody what it means for America to lead the world.

Next week, I will go to Normandy to honor the men who stormed the beaches there.  And while it’s hard for many Americans to comprehend the courage and sense of duty that guided those who boarded small ships, it’s familiar to you.  At West Point, you define what it means to be a patriot.

Three years ago, Gavin White graduated from this academy. He then served in Afghanistan.  Like the soldiers who came before him, Gavin was in a foreign land, helping people he’d never met, putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of his community and his family, of the folks back home.  Gavin lost one of his legs in an attack.  I met him last year at Walter Reed.  He was wounded, but just as determined as the day that he arrived here at West Point — and he developed a simple goal.  Today, his sister Morgan will graduate.  And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her.  (Applause.)

We have been through a long season of war.  We have faced trials that were not foreseen, and we’ve seen divisions about how to move forward.  But there is something in Gavin’s character, there is something in the American character that will always triumph.  Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens.  You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side.  Your charge, now, is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just.   As your Commander-in-Chief, I know you will.

May God bless you.  May God bless our men and women in uniform.  And may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:08 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the War in Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal Plans 9800 soldiers to remain until 2016

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Afghanistan

Source: WH, 5-27-14

Rose Garden

2:46 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  As you know, this weekend, I traveled to Afghanistan to thank our men and women in uniform and our deployed civilians, on behalf of a grateful nation, for the extraordinary sacrifices they make on behalf of our security.  I was also able to meet with our commanding General and Ambassador to review the progress that we’ve made.  And today, I’d like to update the American people on the way forward in Afghanistan and how, this year, we will bring America’s longest war to a responsible end.

The United States did not seek this fight.  We went into Afghanistan out of necessity, after our nation was attacked by al Qaeda on September 11th, 2001.  We went to war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies with the strong support of the American people and their representatives in Congress; with the international community and our NATO allies; and with the Afghan people, who welcomed the opportunity of a life free from the dark tyranny of extremism.

We have now been in Afghanistan longer than many Americans expected.  But make no mistake — thanks to the skill and sacrifice of our troops, diplomats, and intelligence professionals, we have struck significant blows against   al Qaeda’s leadership, we have eliminated Osama bin Laden, and we have prevented Afghanistan from being used to launch attacks against our homeland.  We have also supported the Afghan people as they continue the hard work of building a democracy.  We’ve extended more opportunities to their people, including women and girls.  And we’ve helped train and equip their own security forces.

Now we’re finishing the job we started.  Over the last several years, we’ve worked to transition security responsibilities to the Afghans.  One year ago, Afghan forces assumed the lead for combat operations.  Since then, they’ve continued to grow in size and in strength, while making huge sacrifices for their country.  This transition has allowed us to steadily draw down our own forces — from a peak of 100,000 U.S. troops, to roughly 32,000 today.

2014, therefore, is a pivotal year.  Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed that this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan. This is also a year of political transition in Afghanistan.  Earlier this spring, Afghans turned out in the millions to vote in the first round of their presidential election — defying threats in order to determine their own destiny.  And in just over two weeks, they will vote for their next President, and Afghanistan will see its first democratic transfer of power in history.

In the context of this progress, having consulted with Congress and my national security team, I’ve determined the nature of the commitment that America is prepared to make beyond 2014.  Our objectives are clear:  Disrupting threats posed by   al Qaeda; supporting Afghan security forces; and giving the Afghan people the opportunity to succeed as they stand on their own.

Here’s how we will pursue those objectives.  First, America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country.  American personnel will be in an advisory role.  We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys.  That is a task for the Afghan people.

Second, I’ve made it clear that we’re open to cooperating with Afghans on two narrow missions after 2014:  training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.

Today, I want to be clear about how the United States is prepared to advance those missions.  At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 98,000 U.S. — let me start that over, just because I want to make sure we don’t get this written wrong.  At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9,800 U.S. servicemembers in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half, and we will have consolidated our troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield.  One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we’ve done in Iraq.

Now, even as our troops come home, the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come.  But our relationship will not be defined by war — it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance, as well as our diplomatic support.  Our commitment to Afghanistan is rooted in the strategic partnership that we agreed to in 2012.  And this plan remains consistent with discussions we’ve had with our NATO allies.  Just as our allies have been with us every step of the way in Afghanistan, we expect that our allies will be with us going forward.

Third, we will only sustain this military presence after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the Bilateral Security Agreement that our two governments have already negotiated.  This Agreement is essential to give our troops the authorities they need to fulfill their mission, while respecting Afghan sovereignty.  The two final Afghan candidates in the run-off election for President have each indicated that they would sign this agreement promptly after taking office.  So I’m hopeful that we can get this done.

The bottom line is, it’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in harm’s way.  By the end of this year, we will have less than 10,000.  In addition to bringing our troops home, this new chapter in American foreign policy will allow us to redirect some of the resources saved by ending these wars to respond more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism, while addressing a broader set of priorities around the globe.

I think Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them.  Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century — not through signing ceremonies, but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who take the lead and ultimately full responsibility.  We remain committed to a sovereign, secure, stable, and unified Afghanistan.  And toward that end, we will continue to support Afghan-led efforts to promote peace in their country through reconciliation.  We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one.  The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans.  But what the United States can do — what we will do — is secure our interests and help give the Afghans a chance, an opportunity to seek a long, overdue and hard-earned peace.

America will always keep our commitments to friends and partners who step up, and we will never waver in our determination to deny al Qaeda the safe haven that they had before 9/11.  That commitment is embodied by the men and women in and out of uniform who serve in Afghanistan today and who have served in the past.  In their eyes, I see the character that sustains American security and our leadership abroad.  These are mostly young people who did not hesitate to volunteer in a time of war.  And as many of them begin to transition to civilian life, we will keep the promise we make to them and to all veterans, and make sure they get the care and benefits that they have earned and deserve.

This 9/11 Generation is part of an unbroken line of heroes who give up the comfort of the familiar to serve a half a world away — to protect their families and communities back home, and to give people they never thought they’d meet the chance to live a better life.  It’s an extraordinary sacrifice for them and for their families.  But we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re willing to make it.  That’s who we are as Americans.  That’s what we do.

Tomorrow, I will travel to West Point and speak to America’s newest class of military officers to discuss how Afghanistan fits into our broader strategy going forward.  And I’m confident that if we carry out this approach, we can not only responsibly end our war in Afghanistan and achieve the objectives that took us to war in the first place, we’ll also be able to begin a new chapter in the story of American leadership around the world.

Thanks very much.

END
2:58 P.M. EDT

Political Musings May 27, 2014: Obama overcompensates Memorial Day honors as Veterans Affairs scandal heats up

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 overcompensates Memorial Day honors as Veterans Affairs scandal heats up

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Full Text Obama Presidency May 11, 2014: Weekly Address: First Lady Michelle Obama Marks Mother’s Day and Speaks Out on the Tragic Kidnapping in Nigeria

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: The First Lady Marks Mother’s Day and Speaks Out on the Tragic Kidnapping in Nigeria

Source: WH, 5-10-14

The White House

In this week’s address, First Lady Michelle Obama honored all mothers on this upcoming Mother’s Day and offered her thoughts, prayers and support in the wake of the unconscionable terrorist kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls.

Remarks of First Lady Michelle Obama

Weekly Address

May 10, 2014

Hello everyone, I’m Michelle Obama, and on this Mother’s Day weekend, I want to take a moment to honor all the mothers out there and wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

I also want to speak to you about an issue of great significance to me as a First Lady, and more importantly, as the mother of two young daughters.

Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night.

This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.

And I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home.

In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams – and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.

Many of them may have been hesitant to send their daughters off to school, fearing that harm might come their way.

But they took that risk because they believed in their daughters’ promise and wanted to give them every opportunity to succeed.

The girls themselves also knew full well the dangers they might encounter.

Their school had recently been closed due to terrorist threats…but these girls still insisted on returning to take their exams.

They were so determined to move to the next level of their education…so determined to one day build careers of their own and make their families and communities proud.

And what happened in Nigeria was not an isolated incident…it’s a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions.

It’s the story of girls like Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan.

Malala spoke out for girls’ education in her community…and as a result, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a school bus with her classmates.

But fortunately Malala survived…and when I met her last year, I could feel her passion and determination as she told me that girls’ education is still her life’s mission.

As Malala said in her address to the United Nations, she said “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

The courage and hope embodied by Malala and girls like her around the world should serve as a call to action.

Because right now, more than 65 million girls worldwide are not in school.

Yet, we know that girls who are educated make higher wages, lead healthier lives, and have healthier families.

And when more girls attend secondary school, that boosts their country’s entire economy.

So education is truly a girl’s best chance for a bright future, not just for herself, but for her family and her nation.

And that’s true right here in the U.S. as well…so I hope the story of these Nigerian girls will serve as an inspiration for every girl – and boy – in this country.

I hope that any young people in America who take school for granted – any young people who are slacking off or thinking of dropping out – I hope they will learn the story of these girls and recommit themselves to their education.

These girls embody the best hope for the future of our world…and we are committed to standing up for them not just in times of tragedy or crisis, but for the long haul.

We are committed to giving them the opportunities they deserve to fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential.

So today, let us all pray for their safe return… let us hold their families in our hearts during this very difficult time…and let us show just a fraction of their courage in fighting to give every girl on this planet the education that is her birthright.  Thank you.

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