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

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 May 31, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on the Release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Source: WH, 5-31-14

Rose Garden

6:16 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  This morning, I called Bob and Jani Bergdahl and told them that after nearly five years in captivity, their son, Bowe, is coming home.

Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays and the simple moments with family and friends, which all of us take for granted.  But while Bowe was gone he was never forgotten.  His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day, as did his sister, Sky, who prayed for his safe return.

He wasn’t forgotten by his community in Idaho, or the military, which rallied to support the Bergdahls through thick and thin.  And he wasn’t forgotten by his country, because the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.

As Commander-in-Chief, I am proud of the servicemembers who recovered Sergeant Bergdahl and brought him safely out of harm’s way.  As usual, they performed with extraordinary courage and professionalism, and they have made their nation proud.

Right now, our top priority is making sure that Bowe gets the care and support that he needs and that he can be reunited with his family as soon as possible.

I’m also grateful for the tireless work of our diplomats, and for the cooperation of the government of Qatar in helping to secure Bowe’s release.  We’ve worked for several years to achieve this goal, and earlier this week I was able to personally thank the Emir of Qatar for his leadership in helping us get it done.  As part of this effort, the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar.  The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security.

I also want to express gratitude to the Afghan government, which has always supported our efforts to secure Bowe’s release. Going forward, the United States will continue to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, which could help secure a hard-earned peace within a sovereign and unified Afghanistan.

As I said earlier this week, we’re committed to winding down the war in Afghanistan, and we are committed to closing Gitmo.  But we also made an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home.  That’s who we are as Americans.  It’s a profound obligation within our military, and today, at least in this instance, it’s a promise we’ve been able to keep.

I am mindful, though, that there are many troops who remain missing in the past.  That’s why we’re never going to forget; we’re never going to give up our search for servicemembers who remain unaccounted for.  We also remain deeply committed to securing the release of American citizens who are unjustly detained abroad and deserve to be reunited with their families, just like the Bergdahls soon will be.

Bob and Jani, today families across America share in the joy that I know you feel.  As a parent, I can’t imagine the hardship that you guys have gone through.  As President, I know that I speak for all Americans when I say we cannot wait for the moment when you are reunited and your son, Bowe, is back in your arms.

So, with that, I’d like Bob to have an opportunity to say something, and Jani, if she’d like as well.  Please.

MRS. BERGDAHL:  I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported Bowe.  He’s had a wonderful team everywhere.  We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers.  Thank you.

MR. BERGDAHL:  I’d like to say to Bowe right now, who is having trouble speaking English — (speaks in Pashto) — I’m your father, Bowe.

To the people of Afghanistan, the same — (speaks in Pashto) — the complicated nature of this recovery was — will never really be comprehended.  To each and every single one who effected this, in this country, in the service branches, at the State Department, throughout the whole of American government, and around the world, international governments around the world, thank you so much.  We just can’t communicate the words this morning when we heard from the President.

So we look forward to continuing the recovery of our son, which is going to be a considerable task for our family.  And we hope that the media will understand that that will keep us very preoccupied in the coming days and weeks as he gets back home to the United States.

Thank you all for being here very much.

END
6:23 P.M. EDT

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

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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 21, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Department of Veterans Affairs Scandal

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Veterans Health Care

Source: WH, 5-21-14 

Watch the Video

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

10:58 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I just met with Secretary Shinseki and Rob Nabors, who I’ve temporarily assigned to work with Secretary Shinseki and the VA.  We focused on two issues:  the allegations of misconduct at Veterans Affairs facilities, and our broader mission of caring for our veterans and their families.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have the honor of standing with our men and women in uniform at every step of their service: from the moment they take their oath, to when our troops prepare to deploy, to Afghanistan — where they put their lives on the line for our security, to their bedside, as our wounded warriors fight to recover from terrible injuries.  The most searing moments of my presidency have been going to Walter Reed, or Bethesda, or Bagram and meeting troops who have left a part of themselves on the battlefield.  And their spirit and their determination to recover and often to serve again is an inspiration.

So these men and women and their families are the best that our country has to offer.  They’ve done their duty, and they ask nothing more than that this country does ours — that we uphold our sacred trust to all who have served.

So when I hear allegations of misconduct — any misconduct — whether it’s allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it.  Not as Commander-in-Chief, but also not as an American.  None of us should.  So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it — period.

Here’s what I discussed with Secretary Shinseki this morning.  First, anybody found to have manipulated or falsified records at VA facilities has to be held accountable.  The inspector general at the VA has launched investigations into the Phoenix VA and other facilities.  And some individuals have already been put on administrative leave.  I know that people are angry and want a swift reckoning.  I sympathize with that.  But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened.  Our veterans deserve to know the facts.  Their families deserve to know the facts.  And once we know the facts, I assure you — if there is misconduct, it will be punished.

Second, I want to know the full scope of this problem.  And that’s why I ordered Secretary Shinseki to investigate.  Today, he updated me on his review, which is looking not just at the Phoenix facility, but also VA facilities across the nation.  And I expect preliminary results from that review next week.

Third, I’ve directed Rob Nabors to conduct a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration — the part of the VA that delivers health care to our veterans.  And Rob is going to Phoenix today.  Keep in mind, though, even if we had not heard reports out of this Phoenix facility or other facilities, we all know that it often takes too long for veterans to get the care that they need.  That’s not a new development.  It’s been a problem for decades and it’s been compounded by more than a decade of war.

That’s why, when I came into office, I said we would systematically work to fix these problems, and we have been working really hard to address them.  My attitude is, for folks who have been fighting on the battlefield, they should not have to fight a bureaucracy at home to get the care that they’ve earned.

So the presumption has always been we’ve got to do better.  And Rob’s review will be a comprehensive look at the Veterans Health Administration’s approach currently to access to care.  I want to know what’s working.  I want to know what is not working.  And I want specific recommendations on how VA can up their game.  And I expect that full report from Rob next month.

Number four — I said that I expect everyone involved to work with Congress, which has an important oversight role to play.  And I welcome Congress as a partner in our efforts not just to address the current controversies, but to make sure we’re doing right by our veterans across the board.  I served on the Veterans Affairs Committee when I was in the Senate, and it was one of the proudest pieces of business that I did in the legislature.  And I know the folks over there care deeply about our veterans.

It is important that our veterans don’t become another political football, especially when so many of them are receiving care right now.  This is an area where Democrats and Republicans should always be working together.

Which brings me to my final point.  Even as we get to the bottom of what happened at Phoenix and other facilities, all of us, whether here in Washington or all across the country, have to stay focused on the larger mission, which is upholding our sacred trust to all of our veterans, bringing the VA system into the 21st century — which is not an easy task.

We have made progress over the last five years.  We’ve made historic investments in our veterans.  We’ve boosted VA funding to record levels.  And we created consistency through advanced appropriations so that veterans organizations knew their money would be there regardless of political wrangling in Washington.

We made VA benefits available to more than 2 million veterans who did not have it before — delivering disability pay to more Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange; making it easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress and mental health issues and traumatic brain injury to get treatment; and improving care for women veterans.

Because of these steps and the influx of new veterans requiring services added in many cases to wait times, we launched an all-out war on the disability claims backlog.  And in just the past year alone, we’ve slashed that backlog by half.

Of course, we’re not going to let up, because it’s still too high.  We’re going to keep at it until we eliminate the backlog once and for all.  Meanwhile, we’re also reducing homelessness among our veterans.  We’re helping veterans and their families — more than a million so far — pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  We’re stepping up our efforts to help our newest veterans get the skills and training to find jobs when they come home.  And along with Michelle and Jill Biden and Joining Forces, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of veterans find a job.  More veterans are finding work and veterans unemployment, although still way too high, is coming down.

The point is, caring for our veterans is not an issue that popped up in recent weeks.  Some of the problems with respect to how veterans are able to access the benefits that they’ve earned, that’s not a new issue.  That’s an issue that I was working on when I was running for the United States Senate.  Taking care of our veterans and their families has been one of the causes of my presidency, and it is something that all of us have to be involved with and have to be paying attention to.

We ended the war in Iraq.  And as our war in Afghanistan ends, and as our newest veterans are coming home, the demands on the VA are going to grow.  So we’re going to have to redouble our efforts to get it right as a nation.  And we have to be honest that there are and will continue to be areas where we’ve got to do a lot better.

So today, I want every veteran to know we are going to fix whatever is wrong.  And so long as I have the privilege of serving as Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to keep on fighting to deliver the care and the benefits and the opportunities that your families deserve, now and for decades to come.  That is a commitment to which I feel a sacred duty to maintain.

So with that, I’m going to take two questions.  I’m going to take Jim Kuhnhenn at AP, first of all.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you said, this is a cause of your presidency.  You ran on this issue — you mentioned it.  Why was it allowed to get to this stage where you actually had potentially 40 veterans who died while waiting for treatment?  That’s an extreme circumstance.  Why did it get to that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we have to find out, first of all, what exactly happened.  And I don’t want to get ahead of the IG report or the other investigations that are being done.  And I think it is important to recognize that the wait times generally — what the IG indicated so far at least — is the wait times were for folks who may have had chronic conditions, were seeking their next appointment but may have already received service.  It was not necessarily a situation where they were calling for emergency services.  And the IG indicated that he did not see a link between the wait and them actually dying.

That does not excuse the fact that the wait times in general are too long in some facilities.  And so what we have to do is find out what exactly happened.  We have to find out how can we realistically cut some of these wait times.  There has been a large influx of new veterans coming in.  We’ve got a population of veterans that is also aging as part of the baby boom population.  And we’ve got to make sure that the scheduling system, the access to the system, that all those things are in sync.  There are parts of the VA health care system that have performed well.

And what we’ve seen is, for example, satisfaction rates in many facilities with respect to many providers has been high.  But what we’re seeing is that, in terms of how folks get scheduled, how they get in the system, there are still too many problems.  I’m going to get a complete report from it.  It is not, as a consequence, people not caring about the problem, but there are 85 million appointments scheduled among veterans during the course of a year.  That’s a lot of appointments.  And that means that we’ve got to have a system that is built in order to be able to take those folks in in a smooth fashion, that they know what to expect, that it’s reliable, and it means that the VA has got to set standards that it can meet.  And if it can’t meet them right now, then it’s going to have to set realistic goals about how they improve the system overall.

Q    Does the responsibility ultimately rest with General Shinseki?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, the responsibility for things always rests ultimately with me, as the President and Commander-in-Chief.  Ric Shinseki has been a great soldier.  He himself is a disabled veteran.  And nobody cares more about our veterans than Ric Shinseki.  So if you ask me how do I think Ric Shinseki has performed overall, I would say that on homelessness, on the 9/11 GI Bill, on working with us to reduce the backlog, across the board he has put his heart and soul into this thing and he has taken it very seriously.

But I have said to Ric — and I said it to him today — I want to see what the results of these reports are and there is going to be accountability.  And I’m going to expect even before the reports are done that we are seeing significant improvement in terms of how the admissions process takes place in all of our VA health care facilities.  So I know he cares about it deeply and he has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America.  We’re going to work with him to solve the problem, but I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report.

Steve Holland from Reuters.

Q    Thank you, sir.  Has Secretary Shinseki offered to resign?  And if he’s not to blame, then who is?  And were you caught by surprise by these allegations?

THE PRESIDENT:  Ric Shinseki I think serves this country because he cares deeply about veterans and he cares deeply about the mission.  And I know that Ric’s attitude is if he does not think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he has let our veterans down, then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve.  At this stage, Ric is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it.  And I am going to do everything in my power, using the resources of the White House, to help that process of getting to the bottom of what happened and fixing it.

But I’m also going to be waiting to see what the results of all this review process yields.  I don’t yet know how systemic this is.  I don’t yet know are there a lot of other facilities that have been cooking the books, or is this just an episodic problem.  We know that, essentially, the wait times have been a problem for decades in all kinds of circumstances with respect to the VA — getting benefits, getting health care, et cetera.  Some facilities do better than others.  A couple of years ago, the Veterans Affairs set a goal of 14 days for wait times.  What’s not yet clear to me is whether enough tools were given to make sure that those goals were actually met.

And I won’t know until the full report is put forward as to whether there was enough management follow-up to ensure that those folks on the front lines who were doing scheduling had the capacity to meet those goals; if they were being evaluated for meeting goals that were unrealistic and they couldn’t meet, because either there weren’t enough doctors or the systems weren’t in place or what have you.  We need to find out who was responsible for setting up those guidelines.  So there are going to be a lot of questions that we have to answer.

In the meantime, what I said to Ric today is let’s not wait for the report retrospectively to reach out immediately to veterans who are currently waiting for appointments, to make sure that they are getting better service.  That’s something that we can initiate right now.  We don’t have to wait to find out if there was misconduct to dig in and make sure that we’re upping our game in all of our various facilities.

I do think it is important not just with respect to Ric Shinseki, but with respect to the VA generally, to say that every single day there are people working in the VA who do outstanding work and put everything they’ve got into making sure that our veterans get the care, benefits and services that they need.  And so I do want to close by sending a message out there that there are millions of veterans who are getting really good service from the VA, who are getting really good treatment from the VA.  I know because I get letters from veterans sometimes asking me to write letters of commendation or praise to a doctor or a nurse or a facility that couldn’t have given them better treatment.

And so this is a big system with a lot of really good people in it who care about our veterans deeply.  We have seen the improvements on a whole range of issues like homelessness, like starting to clear the backlog up, like making sure that folks who previously weren’t even eligible for disability because it was a mental health issue or because it was an Agent Orange issue are finally able to get those services.  I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of folks in the VA who are doing a really good job and working really hard at it.  That does not, on the other hand, excuse the possibility that, number one, we weren’t just — we were not doing a good enough job in terms of providing access to folks who need an appointment for chronic conditions.  Number two, it never excuses the possibility that somebody was trying to manipulate the data in order to look better or make their facility look better.

It is critical to make sure that we have good information in order to make good decisions.  I want people on the front lines, if there’s a problem, to tell me or tell Ric Shinseki, or tell whoever is their superior, that this is a problem.  Don’t cover up a problem.  Do not pretend the problem doesn’t exist.  If you can’t get wait times down to 14 days right now, I want you to let folks up the chain know so that we can solve the problem.  Do we need more doctors?  Do we need a new system in order to make sure that the scheduling and coordination is more effective and more smooth?  Is there more follow-up?

And that’s the thing that right now most disturbs me about the report — the possibility that folks intentionally withheld information that would have helped us fix a problem, because there’s not a problem out there that’s not fixable.  It can’t always be fixed as quickly as everybody would like, but typically we can chip away at these problems.  We’ve seen this with the backlog.  We’ve seen it with veterans homelessness.  We’ve seen it with the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Initially, there were problems with it.  They got fixed and now it’s operating fairly smoothly.  So problems can be fixed, but folks have to let the people that they’re reporting to know that there is a problem in order for us to fix it.

Q    What about bonuses for those implicated in mismanagement, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re going to find out.  My attitude is –

Q    Does that upset you?

THE PRESIDENT:  Listen, if somebody has mismanaged or engaged in misconduct, not only do I not want them getting bonuses, I want them punished.  So that’s what we’re going to hopefully find out from the IG report, as well as the audits that are taking place.

END
11:18 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency April 9, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Fort Hood Memorial Service

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Fort Hood Memorial Service

Source: WH, 4-9-14

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama depart after the President placed a coin on each of the three boxes for those who died, during a memorial service for the victims of the Fort Hood shootings.President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pay their respects during a memorial service for the victims of the Fort Hood shootings, at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, April 9, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Fort Hood Killeen, Texas

2:06 P.M. CDT THE PRESIDENT:  In our lives — in our joys and in our sorrows — we’ve learned that there is “a time for every matter under heaven.”  We laugh and we weep.  We celebrate and we mourn.  We serve in war and we pray for peace.  But Scripture also teaches that, alongside the temporal, one thing is eternal. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” Deputy Secretary Fox; General Dempsey; Secretary McHugh; Generals Odierno and Milley; and most of all, the families of the soldiers who have been taken from us; the wounded — those who have returned to duty and those still recovering; and the entire community of Fort Hood, this “Great Place”:  It is love, tested by tragedy, that brings us together again. It was love for country that inspired these three Americans to put on the uniform and join the greatest Army that the world has ever known.  Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson.  Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez.  Sergeant Timothy Owens. And Danny and Carlos joined two decades ago, in a time of peace, and stayed as the nation went to war.  Timothy joined after 9/11, knowing he could be sent into harm’s way.  Between them, they deployed nine times.  Each served in Iraq.  Danny came home from Afghanistan just last year.  They lived those shining values — loyalty, duty, honor — that keep us strong and free. It was love for the Army that made them the soldiers they were.  For Danny, said his fiancée, being in the Army “was his life.”  Carlos, said a friend, was “the epitome of what you would want a leader to be in the Army.”  Timothy helped counsel his fellow soldiers.  Said a friend, “He was always the person you could go talk to.” And it was love for their comrades, for all of you, that defined their last moments.  As we’ve heard, when the gunman tried to push his way into that room, Danny held the door shut, saving the lives of others while sacrificing his own.  And it’s said that Timothy — the counselor, even then — gave his life, walking toward the gunman, trying to calm him down. For you, their families, no words are equal to your loss.  We are here on behalf of the American people to honor your loved ones and to offer whatever comfort we can.  But know this:  We also draw strength from you.  For even in your grief, even as your heart breaks, we see in you that eternal truth: “Love never ends.” To the parents of these men — as a father, I cannot begin to fathom your anguish.  But I know that you poured your love and your hopes into your sons.  I know that the men and soldiers they became — their sense of service and their patriotism — so much of that came from you.  You gave your sons to America, and just as you will honor them always, so, too, will the nation that they served. To the loves of their lives — Timothy’s wife Billy and Danny’s fiancée Kristen — these soldiers cherished the Army, but their hearts belonged to you.  And that’s a bond that no earthly power can ever break.  They have slipped from your embrace, but know that you will never be alone.  Because this Army and this nation stands with you for all the days to come. To their children — we live in a dangerous world, and your fathers served to keep you safe and us safe.  They knew you have so much to give our country; that you’d make them proud.  Timothy’s daughter Lori already has.  Last Wednesday night, she posted this message online: “I just want everyone to think for a moment.”  Love your family, she said, “because you never know when [they’re] gonna be taken from you.  I love you, daddy.” And to the men and women of Fort Hood — as has already been mentioned, part of what makes this so painful is that we have been here before.  This tragedy tears at wounds still raw from five years ago.  Once more, soldiers who survived foreign warzones were struck down here at home, where they’re supposed to be safe.  We still do not yet know exactly why, but we do know this:  We must honor their lives, not “in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.” We must honor these men with a renewed commitment to keep our troops safe, not just in battle but on the home front, as well.  In our open society, and at vast bases like this, we can never eliminate every risk.  But as a nation, we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are having such deep difficulties.  As a military, we must continue to do everything in our power to secure our facilities and spare others this pain. We must honor these men by doing more to care for our fellow Americans living with mental illness, civilian and military.  Today, four American soldiers are gone.  Four Army families are devastated.  As Commander-in-Chief, I’m determined that we will continue to step up our efforts — to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting, to deliver to them the care that they need, and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help. And finally, we must honor these men by recognizing that they were members of a generation that has borne the burden of our security in more than a decade of war.  Now our troops are coming home, and by the end of this year our war in Afghanistan will finally be over. In an era when fewer Americans know someone in uniform, every American must see these men and these women — our 9/11 Generation — as the extraordinary citizens that they are.  They love their families.  They excel at their jobs.  They serve their communities.  They are leaders.  And when we truly welcome our veterans home, when we show them that we need them — not just to fight in other countries, but to build up our own — then our schools and our businesses, our communities and our nation will be more successful, and America will be stronger and more united for decades to come. Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson.  Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez.  Sergeant Timothy Owens.  Like the 576 Fort Hood soldiers who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were taken from us much too soon.  Like the 13 Americans we lost five years ago, their passing shakes our soul.  And in moments such as this, we summon once more what we’ve learned in these hard years of war.  We reach within our wounded hearts.  We lean on each other.  We hold each other up.  We carry on.  And with God’s amazing grace, we somehow bear what seems unbearable. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  May God watch over these American soldiers, may He keep strong their families whose love endures, and may God continue to bless the United States of America with patriots such as these. END 2:18 P.M. CDT

Political Musings February 24, 2014: Bush highlights Military Service Initiative helping veterans reintegrate

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Former President George W. Bush appeared on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday Feb. 23, 2014 speaking to Martha Raddatz about the Military Service Initiative at the Bush Institute geared especially towards veterans were served in the…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 25, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: The President and First Lady Wish Everyone a Happy Holiday Season

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPT

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: The President and First Lady Wish Everyone a Happy Holiday Season

Source: WH, 12-25-13

WASHINGTON, DC—In this week’s address, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wished everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  They also thanked our brave troops and their families for their service and sacrifice, and reminded everyone to visit JoiningForces.gov to find ways to give back to our military families this year.  Both the President and First Lady said that during this holiday season, we should all come together to find ways to support our communities, continue caring for each other and keep working to be the best parents, children, friends, neighbors, and citizens we can be.

The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, Wednesday, December 25, 2013.

Remarks of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 25, 2013

THE PRESIDENTHello everybody, and happy holidays.

THE FIRST LADY: We know how busy this time of year is for everyone, so we’re not going to take much of your time.

But we did want to take a moment to wish you all a Merry Christmas, from our family to yours.

THE PRESIDENT:  This is a season for millions of Americans to be together with family, to continue long-held holiday traditions, and to show our gratitude to those we love.  And along the way, some of us might even watch a little basketball or eat some Christmas cookies, too.

THE FIRST LADY: Here at the White House, over the past few weeks, we’ve had about 70,000 people from all across the country come visit us and look at our holiday decorations.

This year’s theme was “Gather Around: Stories of the Season.”

And in every room of the house, we tried to tell a story about who we are as Americans and how we celebrate the holidays together.

And we made certain to highlight some of the most powerful stories we know – the stories of our outstanding troops, veterans, and military families and their service and sacrifice for our country.

THE PRESIDENT:  Our extraordinary men and women in uniform are serving so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings we cherish during the holidays.  But that means many of our troops are far from home and far from family.  They’re spending some extra time on the phone with their loved ones back home. Or they’re setting up video chats so they can watch as the presents are opened.  So today, we want all of our troops to know that you’re in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season.

And here’s the good news: For many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years that they’ve been with their families on Christmas.  In fact, with the Iraq war over and the transition in Afghanistan, fewer of our men and women in uniform are deployed in harm’s way than at any time in the last decade.

THE FIRST LADY: And that’s something we all can be thankful for.

And with more and more of our troops back here at home, now it’s our turn to serve – it’s our turn to step up and show our gratitude for the military families who have given us so much.

And that’s why Jill Biden and I started our Joining Forces initiative – to rally all Americans to support our military families in ways large and small.

And again and again, we have been overwhelmed by the response we’ve gotten as folks from across the country have found new ways to give back to these families through their schools, businesses, and houses of worship.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s the same spirit of giving that connects all of us during the holidays.  So many people all across the country are helping out at soup kitchens, buying gifts for children in need, or organizing food or clothing drives for their neighbors.  For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us – to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper.  And for all of us as Americans, regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and friends, better neighbors and better citizens.

THE FIRST LADY: So as we look to the New Year, let’s pledge ourselves to living out those values by reaching out and lifting up those in our communities who could use a hand up.

THE PRESIDENT:  So Merry Christmas, everyone.  And from the two of us, as well as Malia, Sasha, Grandma, Bo…

THE FIRST LADY: And Sunny, the newest Obama.

THE PRESIDENT:  We wish you all a blessed and safe holiday season.

THE FIRST LADY: Happy holidays everybody, and God bless.

Political Headlines September 11, 2013: Congress Halts Syria Vote; Skepticism of Russia Proposal Spreads

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Congress Halts Syria Vote; Skepticism of Russia Proposal Spreads

The U.S. Congress is standing down on votes to authorize military force against Syria while the Obama administration attempts to solidify an international agreement under which the Assad regime would give up its chemical weapons stockpiles. Many members of Congress are skeptical that the potential diplomatic solution will succeed….READ MORE

Political Musings September 11, 2013: President Barack Obama addresses the nation about Syria, selling military and diplomatic plans

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama addresses the nation about Syria, selling military and diplomatic plans (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video

President Barack Obama delivered a rare televised address to the nation from the East Room of the White House about the crisis in Syria on Tuesday evening, Sept. 10, 2013 at 9 p.m. President Obama’s speech made…READ MORE

Political Musings September 11, 2013: New developments shifts US Syria response from military action to diplomacy

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

New developments shifts US Syria response from military action to diplomacy (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video
There have been major shifts in the Syria crisis in the last 24 hours from Monday morning, Sept. 9, 2013 until President Barack Obama delivered his address to the nation on Syria, Tuesday evening, Sept, 10, 2013. These developments shifted…READ MORE

Political Headlines September 10, 2013: President Barack Obama Pleads His Case on Syria in Address to Nation: ‘I Believe We Should Act’

POLITICAL HEADLINES

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Pleads His Case on Syria: ‘I Believe We Should Act’

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Stymied by lagging public opinion and an 11th-hour diplomatic curveball, President Obama Tuesday night argued that he still needs congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria even though its possible he may not have to use it.

“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act,” Obama said during a rare primetime televised address to the nation….READ MORE

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