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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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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

Political Headlines August 26, 2013: Obama Issues Medal of Honor to Afghan War Veteran

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Issues Medal of Honor to Afghan War Veteran

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama on Monday bestowed the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, praising his courageous actions during one of the most intense battles in Afghanistan and crediting him with speaking openly about the invisible wounds of war….READ MORE

Political Headlines February 11, 2013: President Barack Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Former Army Sergeant Clinton Romesha

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Former Army Sergeant

Source: NYT, 2-11-13

President Obama gave Clinton Romesha, a retired Army staff sergeant, the Medal of Honor in the East Room of the White House on Monday.

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

President Obama gave Clinton Romesha, a retired Army staff sergeant, the Medal of Honor in the East Room of the White House on Monday.

President Obama bestowed the nation’s highest military honor on Clinton Romesha for defending a remote American outpost in Afghanistan from a Taliban attack in 2009….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency February 11, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech in Presentation of the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha

POLITICAL BUZZ


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Presentation of the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha

Source: WH, 2-11-13 

East Room

1:40 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  And on behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House.

Every day at the White House we receive thousands of letters from folks all across America.  And at night, upstairs in my study, I read a few.  About three years ago, I received a letter from a mom in West Virginia.  Her son, Stephan, a Specialist in the Army, just 21 years old, had given his life in Afghanistan.  She had received the condolence letter that I’d sent to her family, as I send to every family of the fallen.  And she wrote me back.  “Mr. President,” she said, “you wrote me a letter telling me that my son was a hero.  I just wanted you to know what kind of hero he was.”

“My son was a great soldier,” she wrote.  “As far back as I can remember, Stephan wanted to serve his country.”  She spoke of how he “loved his brothers in B Troop.”  How he “would do anything for them.”  And of the brave actions that would cost Stephan his life, she wrote, “His sacrifice was driven by pure love.”

Today, we are honored to be joined by Stephan’s mother Vanessa and his father Larry.  Please stand, Vanessa and Larry. (Applause.)  We’re joined by the families of the seven other patriots who also gave their lives that day.  Can we please have them stand so we can acknowledge them as well.  (Applause.)  We’re joined by members of Bravo Troop whose courage that day was driven by pure love.  And we gather to present the Medal of Honor to one of these soldiers — Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha.

Clint, this is our nation’s highest military decoration.  It reflects the gratitude of our entire country.  So we’re joined by members of Congress; leaders from across our Armed Forces, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marty Dempsey, Army Secretary John McHugh, and Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno.  We are especially honored to be joined by Clint’s 4th Infantry Division — “Iron Horse” — soldiers, and members of the Medal of Honor Society, who today welcome you into their ranks.

Now, despite all this attention, you may already have a sense that Clint is a pretty humble guy.  We just spent some time together in the Oval Office.  He grew up in Lake City, California — population less than a hundred.  We welcome his family, including mom and dad, Tish and Gary.  Clint — I hope he doesn’t mind if I share that Clint was actually born at home. These days, Clint works in the oilfields of North Dakota.  He is a man of faith, and after more than a decade in uniform, he says the thing he looks forward to the most is just being a husband and a father.

In fact, this is not even the biggest event for Clint this week, because tomorrow, he and his wife Tammy will celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary.  Clint and Tammy, this is probably not the kind of intimate anniversary you planned.  (Laughter.)  But we’re so glad that you’re here, along with your three beautiful children — Dessi, Gwen and Colin.  Colin is not as shy as Clint.  (Laughter.)  He was in the Oval Office, and he was racing around pretty good.  (Laughter.)  And sampled a number of the apples before he found the one that was just right.  (Laughter.)

Now, to truly understand the extraordinary actions for which Clint is being honored, you need to understand the almost unbelievable conditions under which he and B Troop served.  This was a time, in 2009, when many of our troops still served in small, rugged outposts, even as our commanders were shifting their focus to larger towns and cities.

So Combat Outpost Keating was a collection of buildings of concrete and plywood with trenches and sandbags.  Of all the outposts in Afghanistan, Keating was among the most remote.  It sat at the bottom of a steep valley, surrounded by mountains — terrain that a later investigation said gave “ideal” cover for insurgents to attack.  COP Keating, the investigation found, was “tactically indefensible.”  But that’s what these soldiers were asked to do — defend the indefensible.

The attack came in the morning, just as the sun rose.  Some of our guys were standing guard; most, like Clint, were still sleeping.  The explosions shook them out of their beds and sent them rushing for their weapons.  And soon, the awful odds became clear:  These 53 Americans were surrounded by more than 300 Taliban fighters.

What happened next has been described as one of the most intense battles of the entire war in Afghanistan.  The attackers had the advantage — the high ground, the mountains above.  And they were unleashing everything they had — rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, mortars; snipers taking aim.  To those Americans down below, the fire was coming in from every single direction.  They’d never seen anything like it.

With gunfire impacting all around him, Clint raced to one of the barracks and grabbed a machine gun.  He took aim at one of the enemy machine teams and took it out.  A rocket-propelled grenade exploded, sending shrapnel into his hip, his arm, and his neck.  But he kept fighting, disregarding his own wounds, and tending to an injured comrade instead.

Then, over the radio, came words no soldier ever wants to hear — “enemy in the wire.”  The Taliban had penetrated the camp.  They were taking over buildings.  The combat was close; at times, as close as 10 feet.  When Clint took aim at three of them, they never took another step.

But still, the enemy advanced.  So the Americans pulled back, to buildings that were easier to defend, to make one last stand.  One of them was later compared to the Alamo — one of them later compared it to the Alamo.  Keating, it seemed, was going to be overrun.  And that’s when Clint Romesha decided to retake that camp.

Clint gathered up his guys, and they began to fight their way back.  Storming one building, then another.  Pushing the enemy back.  Having to actually shoot up — at the enemy in the mountains above.  By now, most of the camp was on fire.  Amid the flames and smoke, Clint stood in a doorway, calling in airstrikes that shook the earth all around them.

Over the radio, they heard comrades who were pinned down in a Humvee.  So Clint and his team unloaded everything they had into the enemy positions.  And with that cover, three wounded Americans made their escape — including a grievously injured Stephan Mace.

But more Americans, their bodies, were still out there.  And Clint Romesha lives the Soldier’s Creed — “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”  So he and his team started charging, as enemy fire poured down.  And they kept charging — 50 meters; 80 meters — ultimately, a 100-meter run through a hail of bullets.  They reached their fallen friends and they brought them home.

Throughout history, the question has often been asked, why? Why do those in uniform take such extraordinary risks?  And what compels them to such courage? You ask Clint and any of these soldiers who are here today, and they’ll tell you.  Yes, they fight for their country, and they fight for our freedom.  Yes, they fight to come home to their families.  But most of all, they fight for each other, to keep each other safe and to have each other’s backs.

When I called Clint to tell him that he would receive this medal, he said he was honored, but he also said, it wasn’t just me out there, it was a team effort.  And so today we also honor this American team, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice — Private First Class Kevin Thomson, who would have turned 26 years old today; Sergeant Michael Scusa; Sergeant Joshua Kirk; Sergeant Christopher Griffin; Staff Sergeant Justin Gallegos; Staff Sergeant Vernon Martin; Sergeant Joshua Hardt; and Specialist Stephan Mace.

Each of these patriots gave their lives looking out for each other.  In a battle that raged all day, that brand of selflessness was displayed again and again and again — soldiers exposing themselves to enemy fire to pull a comrade to safety, tending to each other’s wounds, performing “buddy transfusions” — giving each other their own blood.

And if you seek a measure of that day, you need to look no further than the medals and ribbons that grace their chests — for their sustained heroism, 37 Army Commendation Medals; for their wounds, 27 Purple Hearts; for their valor, 18 Bronze Stars; for their gallantry, 9 Silver Stars.

These men were outnumbered, outgunned and almost overrun.  Looking back, one of them said, “I’m surprised any of us made it out.”  But they are here today.  And I would ask these soldiers — this band of brothers — to stand and accept the gratitude of our entire nation.  (Applause.)

There were many lessons from COP Keating.  One of them is that our troops should never, ever, be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible.  But that’s what these soldiers did — for each other, in sacrifice driven by pure love.  And because they did, eight grieving families were at least able to welcome their soldiers home one last time.  And more than 40 American soldiers are alive today to carry on, to keep alive the memory of their fallen brothers, to help make sure that this country that we love so much remains strong and free.

What was it that turned the tide that day?  How was it that so few Americans prevailed against so many?  As we prepare for the reading of the citation, I leave you with the words of Clint himself, because they say something about our Army and they say something about America; they say something about our spirit, which will never be broken:  “We weren’t going to be beat that day,” Clint said. “You’re not going to back down in the face of adversity like that.  We were just going to win, plain and simple.”

God bless you, Clint Romesha, and all of your team.  God bless all who serve.  And God bless the United States of America.

With that, I’d like the citation to be read.

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to
Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Section Leader with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3rd, 2009.

On that morning, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his comrades awakened to an attack by an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of the complex, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small-arms fire.  Staff Sergeant Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield and seek reinforcements from the barracks before returning to action with the support of an assistant gunner.

Staff Sergeant Romesha took out an enemy machine gun team, and, while engaging a second, the generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, inflicting him with shrapnel wounds.  Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight, and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers.

Staff Sergeant Romesha then mobilized a five-man team and returned to the fight equipped with a sniper rifle.  With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Romesha continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire, as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets, including three Taliban fighters who had breached the combat outpost’s perimeter.

While orchestrating a successful plan to secure and reinforce key points of the battlefield, Staff Sergeant Romesha maintained radio communication with the tactical operations center.  As the enemy forces attacked with even greater ferocity, unleashing a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifle rounds, Staff Sergeant Romesha identified the point of attack and directed air support to destroy over 30 enemy fighters.

After receiving reports that seriously injured soldiers were at a distant battle position, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his team provided covering fire to allow the injured Soldiers to safely reach the aid station. Upon receipt of orders to proceed to the next objective, his team pushed forward 100 meters under overwhelming enemy fire to recover and prevent the enemy fighters from taking the bodies of their fallen comrades.

Staff Sergeant Romesha’s heroic actions throughout the day-long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers.  His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed the Troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating.

Staff Sergeant Romesha’s discipline and extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor is awarded.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you, everybody.  Most of all, thank you for Clint and the entire team for their extraordinary service and devotion to our country.

We’re going to have an opportunity to celebrate and there’s going to be a wonderful reception — I hear the food around here is pretty good.  (Laughter.)  I know the band is good.  And Colin really needs to get down.  (Laughter.)

So, enjoy, everybody.  Give our newest recipient of the Medal of Honor a big round of applause once again.  (Applause.)

END
2:10 P.M. EST

Political Headlines January 12, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Ending the War in Afghanistan

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Ending the War in Afghanistan

Source: ABC News Radio, 1-12-13

Win McNamee/Getty Images

In his weekly address, President Obama reprises the rosy message he delivered Friday on the war in Afghanistan: that the U.S. is achieving its primary objective and on-track to drawdown forces by the end of 2014.

“Our core objective – the reason we went to war in the first place – is now within reach: ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America,” he says in the address.

“This week, we agreed that this spring, Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role,” the president says. “In the coming months, I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown.  And by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan will be over.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency January 11, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Joint Press Conference President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Hosts President Karzai

Source: WH, 1-11-13

President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan participate in a joint press conference (January 11, 2013)
President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan participate in a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 11, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai today at the White House for talks on the partnership between our two nations and the role of U.S. troops in that country.

And coming out of those talks, President Obama was able to discuss a milestone we’ll reach this year when Afghan forces take full responsibility for their nation’s security and the war draws to a close.

“This progress is only possible because of the incredible sacrifices of our troops and our diplomats, the forces of our many coalition partners, and the Afghan people who’ve endured extraordinary hardship,” he said. “In this war, more than 2,000 of America’s sons and daughters have given their lives. These are patriots that we honor today, tomorrow, and forever.”

In his statement, President Karzai echoed that message.

“During our conversations…I thanked the President for the help that the United States has given to the Afghan people,” he said, “for all that we have gained in the past 10 years, and that those gains will be kept by any standard while we are working for peace and stability in Afghanistan, including the respect for Afghan constitution.”

Read the full transcript of their remarks or watch the video

Joint Press Conference by President Obama and President Karzai

Source: WH, 1-11-13 

East Room

1:40 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Please have a seat.

It is my pleasure to welcome President Karzai back to the White House, as well as his delegation.  We last saw each other during the NATO Summit, in my hometown of Chicago — a city that reflects the friendship between our peoples, including many Afghan-Americans, as well as the Karzai family.  So, Mr. President, welcome.

We meet at a critical moment.  The 33,000 additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan have served with honor.  They’ve completed their mission and, as promised, returned home this past fall.  The transition is well underway, and soon nearly 90 percent of Afghans will live in areas where Afghan forces are in the lead for their own security.

This year, we’ll mark another milestone — Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country.  And by the end of next year, 2014, the transition will be complete –Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war will come to a responsible end.

This progress is only possible because of the incredible sacrifices of our troops and our diplomats, the forces of our many coalition partners, and the Afghan people who’ve endured extraordinary hardship.  In this war, more than 2,000 of America’s sons and daughters have given their lives.  These are patriots that we honor today, tomorrow, and forever.  And as we announced today, next month I will present our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha for his heroic service in Afghanistan.

Today, because of the courage of our citizens, President Karzai and I have been able to review our shared strategy.  With the devastating blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda, our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach:  ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against our country.  At the same time, we pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.  Today, most major cities — and most Afghans — are more secure, and insurgents have continued to lose territory.

Meanwhile, Afghan forces continue to grow stronger.  As planned, some 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police are now in training or on duty.  Most missions are already being led by Afghan forces.  And of all the men and women in uniform in Afghanistan, the vast majority are Afghans who are fighting and dying for their country every day.

We still face significant challenges.  But because of this progress, our transition is on track.  At the NATO Summit last year, we agreed with our coalition partners that Afghan forces will take the lead for security in mid-2013.

President Karzai and his team have been here for several days.  We’ve shared a vision for how we’re going to move ahead.  We’ve consulted with our coalition partners, and we will continue to do so.  And today, we agreed that as Afghan forces take the lead and as President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition forces will move to a support role this spring.  Our troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans, when needed.  But let me say it as plainly as I can:  Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, assisting Afghan forces.  It will be an historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty  — something I know that President Karzai cares deeply about, as do the Afghan people.

This sets the stage for the further reduction of coalition forces.  We’ve already reduced our presence in Afghanistan to roughly 66,000 U.S. troops.  I’ve pledged we’ll continue to bring our forces home at a steady pace, and in the coming months I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown — a responsible drawdown that protects the gains our troops have made.

President Karzai and I also discussed the nature of our security cooperation after 2014.  Our teams continue to work toward a security agreement.  And as they do, they will be guided by our respect for Afghan sovereignty, and by our two long-term tasks, which will be very specific and very narrow — first, training and assisting Afghan forces and, second, targeting counterterrorism missions — targeted counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda and its affiliates.  Our discussions will focus on how best to achieve these two tasks after 2014, and it’s our hope that we can reach an agreement this year.

Ultimately, security gains must be matched by political progress.  So we recommitted our nations to a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban.  President Karzai updated me on the Afghan government’s road map to peace.  And today, we agreed that this process should be advanced by the opening of a Taliban office to facilitate talks.

Reconciliation also requires constructive support from across the region, including Pakistan.  We welcome recent steps that have been taken in that regard, and we’ll look for more tangible steps — because a stable and secure Afghanistan is in the interest not only of the Afghan people and the United States, but of the entire region.

And finally, we reaffirmed the Strategic Partnership that we signed last year in Kabul — an enduring partnership between two sovereign nations.  This includes deepening ties of trade, commerce, strengthening institutions, development, education and opportunities for all Afghans — men and women, boys and girls.  And this sends a clear message to Afghans and to the region, as Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone; the United States, and the world, stands with them.

Now, let me close by saying that this continues to be a very difficult mission.  Our forces continue to serve and make tremendous sacrifices every day.  The Afghan people make significant sacrifices every day.  Afghan forces still need to grow stronger.  We remain vigilant against insider attacks.  Lasting peace and security will require governance and development that delivers for the Afghan people and an end to safe havens for al Qaeda and its ilk.  All this will continue to be our work.

But make no mistake — our path is clear and we are moving forward.  Every day, more Afghans are stepping up and taking responsibility for their own security.  And as they do, our troops will come home.  And next year, this long war will come to a responsible end.

President Karzai, I thank you and your delegation for the progress we’ve made together and for your commitment to the goals that we share — a strong and sovereign Afghanistan where Afghans find security, peace, prosperity and dignity.  And in pursuit of that future, Afghanistan will have a long-term partner in the United States of America.

Mr. President.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Mr. President, for this very gracious and warm welcome to me and the Afghan delegation on this visit to Washington, and for bearing with us, as I mentioned during our talks in the Blair House, with all the crowds that we have there.

The President and I discussed today in great detail all the relevant issues between the two countries.  I was happy to see that we have made progress on some of the important issues for Afghanistan.  Concerning Afghan sovereignty, we agreed on the complete return of detention centers and detainees to Afghan sovereignty, and that this will be implemented soon after my return to Afghanistan.  We also discussed all aspects of transition to Afghan governance and security.

I’m very happy to hear from the President, as we also discussed it earlier, that in spring this year the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection to the Afghan people, and that the international forces, the American forces will be no longer present in Afghan villages, that the task will be that of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection.

We also agreed on the steps that we should be taking in the peace process, which is of highest priority to Afghanistan.  We agreed on allowing a Taliban office in Qatar — in Doha, where the Taliban will engage in direct talks with the representatives of the Afghan High Council for Peace, where we will be seeking the help of relevant regional countries, including Pakistan — where we’ll be trying our best, together with the United States and our other allies, to return peace and stability to Afghanistan as soon as possible, and employing all the means that we have within our power to do that, so the Afghan people can live in security and peace and work for their prosperity and educate their children.

The President and I also discussed the economic transition of Afghanistan and all that entails for Afghanistan.  Once the transition to Afghan forces is completed, once the bulk of the international forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, we hope that the dividends of that transition economically to Afghanistan will be beneficial to the Afghan people, and will not have adverse effects on Afghan economy and the prosperity that we have gained in the past many years.

We also discussed the issue of election in Afghanistan and the importance of election for the Afghan people, with the hope that we’ll be conducting a free and fair election in Afghanistan where our friends in the international community — in particular, the United States — will be assisting in conducting those elections, of course; where Afghanistan will have the right environment for conducting elections without interference and without undue concern in that regard for the Afghan people.

We also discussed in a bit of detail, and in the environment that we have, all aspects of the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, and I informed the President that the Afghan people already in the Loya Jirga that we called for — the Strategic Partnership Agreement between us and the United States — have given their approval to this relationship and the value as one that is good for Afghanistan.  So in that context, the bilateral security agreement is one that the Afghan people approve.  And I’m sure we will conduct it in detail where both the interests of the United States and the interests of Afghanistan will be kept in mind.

We had a number of other issues also to talk about.  During our conversations, and perhaps many times in that conversation, beginning with the conversation, of course, I thanked the President for the help that the United States has given to the Afghan people, for all that we have gained in the past 10 years, and that those gains will be kept by any standard while we are working for peace and stability in Afghanistan, including the respect for Afghan constitution.

I also thanked the President and endorsed with him the sacrifices of American men and women in uniform and those of other countries.  Accordingly, I also informed President Obama of the sacrifices of the Afghan people — of the immense sacrifices of the Afghan people in the past 10 years, both for the servicemen and of the Afghan people.

I’ll be going back to Afghanistan this evening to bring to the Afghan people the news of Afghanistan standing shoulder to shoulder with America as a sovereign, independent country, but in cooperation and in partnership.

Thank you, Mr. President, for the hospitality.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Okay, we’ve got two questions each I think from U.S. and Afghan press.  I will start with Scott Wilson of The Washington Post.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President and President Karzai.

Mr. President, does moving up the deadline for the transition to an Afghan security role lead in the spring mean you’ll be winding down U.S. troops faster than you expected this year?  And as specifically as possible, how many troops do you expect to leave in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for the two missions you outlined?  And would you consider leaving any troops in Afghanistan beyond that date without an immunity agreement for their actions?

And, President Karzai, you’ve spoken often about the threat the American presence in Afghanistan poses to your nation’s sovereignty.  I’m wondering if you will be considering and working on behalf of an immunity agreement to preserve some U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the 2014 date, and how many U.S. troops you would accept after that time.

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Scott, our first task has been to meet the transition plan that we set first in Lisbon, then in Chicago.  And because of the progress that’s been made by our troops, because of the progress that’s been made in terms of Afghan security forces, their capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat.

So let me repeat:  What’s going to happen this spring is that Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country.  That doesn’t mean that coalition forces, including U.S. forces, are no longer fighting.  They will still be fighting alongside Afghan troops.  It does mean, though, that Afghans will have taken the lead, and our presence, the nature of our work will be different. We will be in a training, assisting, advising role.

Obviously, we will still have troops there and that means that our men and women will still be in harm’s way, that there will still be the need for force protection.  The environment is going to still be very dangerous.  But what we’ve seen is, is that Afghan soldiers are stepping up, at great risk to themselves, and that allows us then to make this transition during the spring.

What that translates into precisely in terms of how this drawdown of U.S. troop proceeds is something that isn’t yet fully determined.  I’m going to be over the coming weeks getting recommendations from General Allen and other commanders on the ground.  They will be designing and shaping a responsible plan to make sure that we’re not losing the gains that have already been made, to make sure that we’re in a position to support Afghan units when they’re in theater, and to make sure that our folks are also protected even as we’re drawing down.

So I can’t give you a precise number at this point.  I’ll probably make a separate announcement once I’ve gotten recommendations from troop — from the generals and our commanders in terms of what that drawdown might look like.

With respect to post-2014, we’ve got two goals — and our main conversation today was establishing a meeting of the minds in terms of what those goals would be with a follow-on presence of U.S. troops.  Number one, to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces so that they can maintain their own security; and number two, making sure that we can continue to go after remnants of al Qaeda or other affiliates that might threaten our homeland.

That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint, obviously, that we’ve had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan.

Similar to the issue of drawdown, I’m still getting recommendations from the Pentagon and our commanders on the ground in terms of what that would look like.  And when we have more information about that, I will be describing that to the American people.

I think President Karzai’s primary concern — and obviously you’ll hear directly from him — is making sure that Afghan sovereignty is respected.  And if we have a follow-on force of any sort past 2014, it’s got to be at the invitation of the Afghan government and they have to feel comfortable with it.

I will say — and I’ve said to President Karzai — that we have arrangements like this with countries all around the world, and nowhere do we have any kind of security agreement with a country without immunity for our troops.  That’s how I, as Commander-in-Chief, can make sure that our folks are protected in carrying out very difficult missions.

And so I think President Karzai understands that.  I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves in terms of the negotiations that are still remaining on the bilateral security agreement, but I think it’s fair to say that, from my perspective at least, it will not be possible for us to have any kind of U.S. troop presence post-2014 without assurances that our men and women who are operating there are in some way subject to the jurisdiction of another country.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Well, sir, the bilateral security agreement is in mind for the interests of both countries.  We understand that the issue of immunity is of very specific importance for the United States, as was for us the issue of sovereignty and detentions and the continued presence of international forces in Afghan villages and the very conduct of the war itself.

With those issues resolved, as we did today, part of it — the rest was done earlier — I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised, in a way that the provisions that we arrive at through our talks will give the United States the satisfaction of what it seeks and will also provide the Afghan people the benefits that they are seeking through this partnership and the subsequent agreement.

Q    Do you have any sense of how many troops you would be willing to have?

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  That’s not for us to decide.  It’s an issue for the United States.  Numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan.  It’s the broader relationship that will make a difference to Afghanistan and, beyond, in the region.  The specifics of numbers are issues that the military will decide, and Afghanistan will have no particular concern when we are talking of numbers and how they are deployed.

Any Afghan press?  English-speaking press?

Q    I am Abdul Qadir, Kabul, Afghanistan.  I prefer to ask my question to my own language.

(As interpreted.)  Mr. President, the missions of — combat missions of United States after 2014 — how this mission will be? Will it be resembling the same mission as it was during 11 years, or is there a difference, different kind of mission?  Those who are in Pakistan, particularly the safe havens that are in Pakistan, what kind of policy will you have?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Just to repeat, our main reason should we have troops in Afghanistan post-2014 at the invitation of the Afghan government will be to make sure that we are training, assisting and advising Afghan security forces who have now taken the lead for and are responsible for security throughout Afghanistan, and an interest that the United States has — the very reason that we went to Afghanistan in the first place — and that is to make sure that al Qaeda and its affiliates cannot launch an attack against the United States or other countries from Afghan soil.

We believe that we can achieve that mission in a way that’s very different from the very active presence that we’ve had in Afghanistan over the last 11 years.  President Karzai has emphasized the strains that U.S. troop presences in Afghan villages, for example, have created.  Well, that’s not going to be a strain that exists if there is a follow-up operation because that will not be our responsibility; that will be the responsibility of the Afghan National Security Forces, to maintain peace and order and stability in Afghan villages, in Afghan territory.

So I think, although obviously we’re still two years away, I can say with assurance that this is a very different mission and a very different task and a very different footprint for the U.S. if we are able to come to an appropriate agreement.

And with respect to Pakistan and safe havens there, Afghanistan and the United States and Pakistan all have an interest in reducing the threat of extremism in some of these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And that’s going to require more than simply military actions.  That’s really going to require political and diplomatic work between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And the United States obviously will have an interest in facilitating and participating in cooperation between the two sovereign countries.

But as President Karzai I think has indicated, it’s very hard to imagine stability and peace in the region if Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t come to some basic agreement and understanding about the threat of extremism to both countries and both governments and both capitals.  And I think you’re starting to see a greater awareness of that on the part of the Pakistani government.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (As interpreted.)  The question that you have made about — we talked about this issue in detail today about the prisoners, about the detention centers.  All of these will transfer to the Afghan sovereignty, and the U.S. forces will pull out from villages, will go to their bases, and Afghan sovereignty will be restored.

And after 2014, we are working on this relation.  This relation will have a different nature and will be based on different principles.  It will resemble probably Turkey-United States — Turkey or Germany.  We are studying these relationships and we will do that.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you contemplate the end of this war, can you say as Commander-in-Chief that the huge human and financial costs that this has entailed can be justified, given the fact that the Afghanistan that the world will leave behind is somewhat diminished from the visions of reconstruction and democracy that were kind of prevalent at the beginning of the war?

And, President Karzai, many independent studies have criticized Afghanistan for corruption and poor governance.  Do you stand by your assertion last month that much of this is due to the influence of foreigners?  And are you completely committed to stepping down as President after the elections next year?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I want us to remember why we went to Afghanistan.  We went into Afghanistan because 3,000 Americans were viciously murdered by a terrorist organization that was operating openly and at the invitation of those who were then ruling Afghanistan.

It was absolutely the right thing to do for us to go after that organization; to go after the host government that had aided and abetted, or at least allowed for these attacks to take place. And because of the heroic work of our men and women in uniform, and because of the cooperation and sacrifices of Afghans who had also been brutalized by that then-host government, we achieved our central goal, which is — or have come very close to achieving our central goal — which is to de-capacitate al Qaeda; to dismantle them; to make sure that they can’t attack us again.

And everything that we’ve done over the last 10 years from the perspective of the U.S. national security interests have been focused on that aim.  And at the end of this conflict, we are going to be able to say that the sacrifices that were made by those men and women in uniform has brought about the goal that we sought.

Now, what we also recognized very early on was that it was in our national security interest to have a stable, sovereign Afghanistan that was a responsible international actor, that was in partnership with us, and that that required Afghanistan to have its own security capacity and to be on a path that was more likely to achieve prosperity and peace for its own people.  And I think President Karzai would be the first to acknowledge that Afghanistan still has work to do to accomplish those goals, but there’s no doubt that the possibility of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan today is higher than before we went in.  And that is also in part because of the sacrifices that the American people have made during this long conflict.

So I think that — have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios?  Probably not.  This is a human enterprise and you fall short of the ideal.  Did we achieve our central goal, and have we been able I think to shape a strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is willing to cooperate with us to make sure that it is not a launching pad for future attacks against the United States?  We have achieved that goal.  We are in the process of achieving that goal.  And for that, I think we have to thank our extraordinary military, intelligence, and diplomatic teams, as well as the cooperation of the Afghan government and the Afghan people.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Sir, on the question of corruption, whether it has a foreign element to it, if I have correct understanding of your question, there is corruption in Afghanistan.  There is corruption in the Afghan government that we are fighting against, employing various means and methods.  We have succeeded in certain ways.  But if your question is whether we are satisfied — of course not.

And on the corruption that is foreign in origin but occurring in Afghanistan, I have been very clear and explicit, and I don’t think that Afghanistan can see this corruption unless there is cooperation between us and our international partners on correcting some of the methods or applications of delivery of assistance to Afghanistan — without cooperation and with recognition of the problems.

On elections, for me, the greatest of my achievements, eventually, seen by the Afghan people will be a proper, well-organized, interference-free election in which the Afghan people can elect their next president.  Certainly, I would be a retired President, and very happily, a retired President.

Q    My name is Mujahed Kakar.  My question is to you, Mr. President.  Afghan women fear that they will be the real victim of reconciliation process in Afghanistan.  What assurances you can give them that they will not suffer because of that process?
Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, the United States has been very clear that any peace process, any reconciliation process must be Afghan led.  It is not for the United States to determine what the terms of this peace will be.  But what we have also been very clear about is that, from our perspective, it is not possible to reconcile without the Taliban renouncing terrorism, without them recognizing the Afghan constitution and recognizing that if there are changes that they want to make to how the Afghan government operates, then there is a orderly constitutional process to do that and that you can’t resort to violence.

The Afghan constitution protects the rights of Afghan women. And the United States strongly believes that Afghanistan cannot succeed unless it gives opportunity to its women.  We believe that about every country in the world.

And so we will continue to voice very strongly support for the Afghan constitution, its protection of minorities, its protection of women.  And we think that a failure to provide that protection not only will make reconciliation impossible to achieve, but also would make Afghanistan’s long-term development impossible to achieve.

The single-best indicator, or one of the single-best indicators, of a country’s prosperity around the world is how does it treat its women.  Does it educate that half of the population?  Does it give them opportunity?  When it does, you unleash the power of everyone, not just some.  And I think there was great wisdom in Afghanistan ratifying a constitution that recognized that.  That should be part of the legacy of these last 10 years.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Indeed.  Indeed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

END
2:18 P.M. EST

Political Headlines January 11, 2013: President Barack Obama: US to End Afghan Combat Operations This Spring

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama: US to End Afghan Combat Operations This Spring

Source: WH, 1-11-13


The White House

President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday that most U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would end this spring, signaling a quickening troop drawdown that will bring the decade-long war to a close at the end of 2014.

“Our troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans when needed, but let me say it as plainly as I can: Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, assisting Afghan forces,” Obama announced at an East Room press conference.

“It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty, something I know that President Karzai cares deeply about, as do the Afghan people,” he said….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 1, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address Marks the Anniversary of the End of the Iraq War — Honoring Our Nation’s Service Members and Military Families

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Obama’s Weekly Address: Marking the Anniversary of the End of the Iraq War

Source: ABC News Radio, 9-1-12

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Two years after he ended the combat mission in Iraq, President Obama is touting his plan to bring troops home from Afghanistan, saying it’s time to “do some nation-building here at home.”

In his weekly address, the president congratulated troops for a “job well done” in Iraq but noted “there is still difficult work ahead of us in Afghanistan.”

“We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead.  Next month, the last of the troops I ordered as part of the surge against the Taliban will come home, and by 2014, the transition to Afghan lead will be complete,” he said in remarks taped at Fort Bliss in Texas, where Obama addressed troops Friday….READ MORE

Weekly Address: Honoring Our Nation’s Service Members and Military Families

Source: WH, 9-1-12
President Obama marks the second anniversary of the end of our combat mission in Iraq by thanking our nation’s extraordinary men and women in uniform for their service.

Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

Weekly Address: Honoring Our Nation’s Service Members and Military Families

Hi, everybody.  On Friday, I visited Fort Bliss in Texas, where I met with some of our extraordinary men and women in uniform to mark the second anniversary of the end of major combat in Iraq.

It was a chance to thank our troops for the outstanding work they’ve done over the last decade.  Fort Bliss is home to soldiers who took part in every major phase of the Iraq War – from the initial assault on Baghdad; to the years of fighting block by block; to the partnership with the Iraqi people that helped give them a chance to forge their own destiny.

And while the war itself remains a source of controversy here at home, one thing will never be in doubt – the members of our armed forces are patriots in every sense of the word.  They met every mission and performed every task that was asked of them with precision, commitment and skill.  And now, with no Americans fighting in Iraq, it’s my privilege on behalf of a grateful nation to once again congratulate these men and women on a job well done.

This anniversary is a chance to appreciate how far we’ve come.  But it’s also a reminder that there is still difficult work ahead of us in Afghanistan.  Some of the soldiers I met at Fort Bliss had just come home from the battlefield, and others are getting ready to ship out.

We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead.  Next month, the last of the troops I ordered as part of the surge against the Taliban will come home, and by 2014, the transition to Afghan lead will be complete.

But as long as we have a single American in harm’s way, we will continue to do everything in our power to keep them safe and help them succeed.  That means giving them a clear mission and the equipment they need on the front lines.  But it also means taking care of our veterans and their families.  Because no one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

I also told our soldiers at Bliss that part of honoring their service means strengthening the nation they fought so hard to protect.  As we turn the page on a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building here at home.

My grandfather’s generation came back from World War II and helped form the backbone of the greatest middle-class in history.  They helped this country come back stronger than before.  Today’s veterans have the skills, the discipline, and the leadership skills to do the exact same thing – and it’s our job to give them that chance.

It’s time to build a nation that lives up to the ideals that so many Americans have fought for – a nation where they can realize the dream they sacrificed to protect.  We need to rebuild our roads and runways and ports.  We need to lay broadband lines across this country and put our veterans back to work as cops and firefighters in communities that need them.  And we need to come together to make America a place where hard work is rewarded and anyone willing to put in the effort can make it if they try.

That’s how we can honor our troops.  That’s the welcome home they’ve earned.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Political Buzz June 8, 2012: Congressional Leaders Press for Inquiry to Investigate National Security Leaks Used in New York Times Feature on President Obama’s ‘Kill List”

POLITICAL BUZZ

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University. Ms. Goodman has also contributed the overviews, and chronologies in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, 4th edition, edited by Gil Troy, Fred L. Israel, and Arthur Meier Schlesinger published by Facts on File, Inc. in 2011.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

IN FOCUS: CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS PRESS FOR INQUIRY TO INVESTIGATE NATIONAL SECURITY LEAKS

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Congress Warns Intel Leaks Put ‘Lives at Risk’:
Source: ABC News Radio, 6-7-12
Top Democrats and Republicans Thursday demanded an end to leaks of classified intelligence because, they said, the leaks are putting lives at risk and jeopardizing future operations.
Thursday afternoon, the senior Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees joined together with Republicans to denounce a recent flood of national security leaks about U.S. covert actions in counterterrorism and espionage, and to announce their collective effort to investigate the recurring issue of classified information being disclosed in the media.
Earlier this week, the FBI has opened a leak investigation into the disclosures in the New York Times last week that President Obama ordered the intelligence community to speed up cyber attacks against Iran with the Stuxnet worm, according to federal law enforcement officials. In recent weeks, there have also been stories about the president’s “kill list” of al Qaeda drone targets and another about the double agent who helped the U.S. foil the latest attempted al Qaeda attack on a U.S. airline.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called recent leaks “one of the most serious of breaches” that he has seen in 10 years sitting on the committee…. READ MORE

  • Pressing for Leak Inquiry by a Special Counsel: Calls for a special counsel to investigate leaks of classified information by Obama administration officials gathered momentum on Thursday after the Justice Department’s national security division partly recused itself from the inquiry…. – NYT, 6-7-12
  • Top lawmakers declare war on intelligence leaks: Leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees said Thursday they were drafting legislation to further limit who can access highly classified information and possibly impose new penalties for revealing it…. – AP, 6-7-12
  • Obama administration playing dangerous game with intelligence leaks: Senator McCain and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney traded insults this week over intelligence leaks – McCain called the Obama White House “grossly irresponsible” to leak classified information for political gain, while Carney called McCain…. – Fox News, 6-7-12
  • Intelligence committees vow to stop leaks of secrets: The House and Senate intelligence committees announced plans Wednesday to draft new laws against leaks of classified information, adding to an uproar on Capitol Hill over a series of recent stories that revealed details of terrorism threats and CIA … WaPo, 6-7-12
  • Bipartisan congressional group calls for legislative action on leaks: A bipartisan group of congressional members called for an investigation into the source of security leaks that led to stories published by the New York Times, but stopped short of claiming the leaks were made for political purposes…. – LAT, 6-7-12
  • CIA Declines Lawmakers’ Request for Information on Leaks: The CIA won’t respond to a US House Intelligence Committee request for information about leaks of classified data, said Representative Mike Rogers, the panel’s chairman. The committee had asked about last month’s … BusinessWeek, 6-7-12
  • Calls grow for outside probe of US national security leaks: * McCain accuses White House of leaking for election-year gain * Committee chiefs have called for urgent probe of leaks * Leaks have involved cyber-warfare, drone strikes…. – Reuters, 6-7-12
  • Congressional leaders to meet with intelligence chief on leaks: Congressional leaders on intelligence issues will meet Thursday with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on apparent leaks of classified information involving a cyberwarfare program against Iran…. – CNN, 6-7-12
  • Analysis: Despite outrage, security leaks may go unplugged: Democratic and Republican intelligence experts in Congress are joining forces to condemn a series of jaw-dropping intelligence leaks which some Republicans charge are timed to boost President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign…. – Reuters, 6-6-12
  • Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism ‘Kill List’: Senators John McCain and Saxby Chambliss called for the appointment for a special counsel to investigate leaks in wake of recent articles in The New York Times…. – NYT, 6-5-12
  • FBI Probes Leaks on Iran Cyberattack: The FBI has opened an investigation into who disclosed information about a classified US cyberattack program aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to two people familiar with the probe…. – WSJ, 6-5-12
  • McCain Calls on White House to Plug Intelligence Leaks: Describing the string of recent intelligence leaks to news outlets as “disturbing” and “simply unacceptable,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused the White House of putting the president’s ambitions for another term in the Oval Office ahead of national security.
    “A really disturbing aspect of this is that one could draw the conclusion from reading these articles that it is an attempt to further the president’s political ambitions for the sake of his re-election at the expense of our national security,” McCain said on the Senate floor late Tuesday…. – ABC News Radio, 6-5-12
  • Axelrod Denies Participating in Anti-Terror Discussions: The communications director of President Obama’s reelection campaign today denied a report in the New York Times that he had sat in on weekly White House meetings on terrorism.
    On Tuesday the paper said that after the failed 2009 Christmas Day “underwear bombing,” David Axelrod started attending the discussions with Obama and top national security advisers…. – ABC News Radio, 6-4-12

Full Text Obama Presidency May 21, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at NATO Press Conference — Discusses Afghanistan, Greece & Cory Booker’s Crticism of Campaign Attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital Record

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at NATO Press Conference

South Building
Chicago, Illinois

3:26 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Let me begin by saying thank you to my great friend, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of the city of Chicago and to all my neighbors and friends, the people of the city of Chicago for their extraordinary hospitality and for everything that they’ve done to make this summit such a success.  I could not be prouder to welcome people from around the world to my hometown.

This was a big undertaking, some 60 world leaders not to mention folks who were exercising their freedom of speech and assembly, the very freedoms that our alliance are dedicated to defending.  And so it was a lot to carry for the people of Chicago, but this is a city of big shoulders.  Rahm, his team, Chicagoans proved that this world-class city knows how to put on a world-class event.

And partly, this was a perfect city for this summit because it reflected the bonds between so many of our countries.  For generations, Chicago has welcomed immigrants from around the world, including an awful lot of our NATO allies.  And I’d just add that I have lost track of the number of world leaders and their delegations who came up to me over the last day and a half and remarked on what an extraordinarily beautiful city Chicago is.  And I could not agree more.

I am especially pleased that I had a chance to show them Soldier Field.  I regret that I was not able to take in one of the Crosstown Classics, although I will note that my teams did okay.  (Laughter.)  Now — White Sox fan in the back.  (Laughter.)  Right on.

Now, as I said yesterday, NATO has been the bedrock of common security, freedom and prosperity for nearly 65 years.  It hasn’t just endured.  It has thrived, because our nations are stronger when we stand together.  We saw that, of course, most recently in Libya, where NATO afforded capabilities that no one else in the world could match.

As President, one of my top foreign policy priorities has been to strengthen our alliances, including NATO, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.  Two years ago in Lisbon, we took action in several areas that are critical to the future of our alliance and we pledged that in Chicago we would do more.  Over the last two days, we have delivered.

First, we reached agreement on a series of steps to strengthen the alliance’s defense capabilities over the next decade.  In keeping with the strategic concept we agreed to in Lisbon and in order to fulfill our Article Five commitment to our collective security, we agreed to acquire a fleet of remotely piloted aircraft, drones, to strengthen intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.  We agreed to continue air patrols over our Baltic allies, which reflects our unwavering commitment to collective defense.  We also agreed on a mix of conventional nuclear missile and missile defense forces that we need, and importantly, we agreed on how to pay for them and that includes pooling our resources in these difficult economic times.

We’re moving forward with missile defense, and agreed that NATO is declaring an interim capability for the system.  America’s contribution to this effort will be a phased adaptive approach that we’re pursuing on European missile defense.  And I want to commend our allies who are stepping up and playing a leadership role in missile defense, as well.  Our defense radar in Turkey will be placed under NATO control.  Spain, Romania and Poland have agreed to host key U.S. assets.  The Netherlands will be upgrading radars, and we look forward to contributions from other allies.  Since this system is neither aimed at nor undermines Russia’s strategic deterrent, I continue to believe that missile defense can be an area of cooperation with Russia.

Second, we’re now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan, a plan that trains Afghan security forces, transitions to the Afghans and builds a partnership that can endure after our combat mission in Afghanistan ends.  Since last year, we’ve been transitioning parts of Afghanistan to the Afghan National Security Forces and that has enabled our troops to start coming home.  Indeed, we’re in the process of drawing down 33,000 U.S. troops by the end of this summer.

Here in Chicago, we reached agreement on the next milestone in that transition.  At the ISAF meeting this morning, we agreed that Afghan forces will take the lead for combat operations next year in mid-2013.  At that time, ISAF forces will have shifted from combat to a support role in all parts of the country.  And this will mark a major step toward the goal we agreed to in Lisbon, completing the transition to Afghan lead for security by the end of 2014, so that Afghans can take responsibility for their own country and so our troops can come home.

This will not mark the end of Afghanistan’s challenges, obviously, or our partnership with that important country.  But we are making substantial progress against our core objective of defeating al Qaeda and denying it safe haven, while helping the Afghans to stand on their own.  And we leave Chicago with a clear roadmap.  Our coalition is committed to this plan to bring our war in Afghanistan to a responsible end.

We also agreed on what NATO’s relationship with Afghanistan will look like after 2014.  NATO will continue to train, advise and assist, and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger.  And while this summit has not been a pledging conference, it’s been encouraging to see a number of countries making significant financial commitments to sustain Afghanistan’s progress in the years ahead.  Today the international community also expressed its strong support for efforts to bring peace and stability to South Asia, including Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Finally, NATO agreed to deepen its cooperation with partners that have been critical to alliance operations, as in Afghanistan and Libya.  Today’s meeting was unprecedented, Our 28 allies, joined by 13 nations from around the world — Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.  Each of these countries has contributed to NATO operations in different ways — military, political, financial — and each wants to see us do more together.  To see the breadth of those countries represented in that room is to see how NATO has truly become a hub of global security.

So again I want to thank all my fellow leaders.  I think the bottom line is that we are leaving Chicago with a NATO alliance that is stronger, more capable and more ready for the future.  As a result, each of our nations — the United States included — is more secure, and we’re in a stronger position to advance the security and prosperity and freedom that we seek around the world.

So with that, I’m going to take a couple of questions, and I’m going to start with Julie Pace of AP.  Where’s Julie?  There she is.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You have said that the U.S. can’t deal with Afghanistan without also talking about Pakistan.  And yet, there has been little public discussion at this summit about Pakistan’s role in ending the war.  In your talks with President Zardari today, did you make any progress in reopening the supply lines?  And if the larger tensions with Pakistan can’t be resolved, does that put the NATO coalition’s gains in Afghanistan at risk?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind my discussion with President Zardari was very brief, as we were walking into the summit and I emphasized to him what we have emphasized publicly as well as privately.  We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan, that it is in our national interest to see a Pakistan that is democratic, that is prosperous and that is stable, that we share a common enemy in the extremists that are found not only in Afghanistan, but also within Pakistan and that we need to work through some of the tensions that have inevitably arisen after 10 years of our military presence in that region.

President Zardari shared with me his belief that these issues can get worked through.  We didn’t anticipate that the supply line issue was going to be resolved by this summit.  We knew that before we arrived in Chicago.  But we’re actually making diligent progress on it.

And I think ultimately everybody in the alliance, all of ISAF, and most importantly the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan understand that neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability, and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues and join in common purpose with the international community in making sure that these regions are not harboring extremists.  So I don’t want to paper over real challenges there.  There is no doubt that there have been tensions between ISAF and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan over the last several months.  I think they are being worked through both military and diplomatic channels.

But ultimately, it is in our interest to see a successful, stable Pakistan and it is in Pakistan’s interest to work with us and the world community to ensure that they themselves are not consumed by extremism that is in their midst.  And so we’re going to keep on going at this.  And I think every NATO member, every ISAF member is committed to that.

Hans Nichols.  Where is Hans?

Q    Yes, thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday, your friend and ally, Cory Booker said that an ad that you released, that your campaign released was nauseating.  And it alleged that Romney at Bain Capital was “responsible for job losses at a Kansas City steel mill.”  Is that your view that Romney is personally responsible for those job losses?  Will comments from Booker and your former auto czar Steve Rattner that have criticized some of these advertisements call on you to pull back a little bit?  And, generally, can you give us your sense — three part, Mr. President.  Could you give us your sense of just what private equity’s role is in stemming job losses as they seek a return on investment for their investors?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think Cory Booker is an outstanding mayor.  He is doing great work in Newark and obviously helping to turn that city around.  And I think it’s important to recognize that this issue is not a “distraction.”  This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success and if they’re working hard and they’re acting responsibly, that they’re able to live out the American Dream.

Now, I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits.  And that’s a healthy part of the free market.  That’s part of the role of a lot of business people.  That’s not unique to private equity.  And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly, and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area.  And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries, but understand that their priority is to maximize profits.  And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.

And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be President is his business expertise.  He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts.  He is saying, I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.

And when you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits.  Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.  Your job is to think about those workers who got laid off and how are we paying for their retraining.  Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses.  Your job as President is to think about how do we set up a equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us then to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which are going to help us grow.

And so, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about.  It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as President.  My job is to take into account everybody, not just some.  My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.

So to repeat, this is not a distraction.  This is what this campaign is going to be about — is what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed?  And that means I’ve got to think about those workers in that video just as much as I’m thinking about folks who have been much more successful.

Q    Just for — is Romney personally responsible for those 750 job losses?

THE PRESIDENT:  What I would say is that Mr. Romney is responsible for the proposals he is putting forward for how he says he is going to fix the economy.  And if the main basis for him suggesting he can do a better job is his track record as the head of a private equity firm, then both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining.

Hold on a second — Alister Bull.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’d like to take you back to not this summit, but the one you hosted at Camp David a couple of days ago and whether you feel that you can assure investors there are contingency plans in place to cope if Greece leaves the euro to prevent a Lehman-like shock to the U.S. and the global economy?

THE PRESIDENT:  We had an extensive discussion of the situation in the eurozone and obviously everybody is keenly interested in getting that issue resolved.

I’m not going to speculate on what happens if the Greek choose to exit because they’ve got an election and this is going to be an important debate inside of Greece.  Everybody who was involved in the G8 summit indicated their desire to see Greece stay in the eurozone in a way that’s consistent with the commitments that it’s already — that have already been made.  And I think it’s important for Greece, which is a democracy, to work through what their options are at time of great difficulty.

I think we all understand, though, what’s at stake.  What happens in Greece has an impact here in the United States.  Businesses are more hesitant to invest if they see a lot of uncertainty looming across the Atlantic because they’re not sure whether that’s going to mean a further global slowdown.  And we’re already seeing very slow growth rates and in fact contraction in a lot of countries in Europe.  So we had an extensive discussion about how do we strengthen the European project generally in a way that does not harm world economic growth, but instead moves it forward.

And I’ve been clear I think in — not just this week, but over the last two years about what I think needs to be done.  We’ve got to put in place firewalls that ensure that countries outside of Greece that are doing the right thing aren’t harmed just because markets are skittish and nervous.

We’ve got to make sure that banks are recapitalized in Europe so that investors have confidence.  And we’ve got to make sure that there is a growth strategy to go alongside the need for fiscal discipline, as well as a monetary policy that is promoting the capacity of countries like a Spain or an Italy that have put in place some very tough targets and some very tough policies, to also offer their constituencies a prospect for the economy improving, job growth increasing, incomes expanding even if it may take a little bit of time.

And the good news was you saw a consensus across the board from newly elected President Hollande to Chancellor Merkel to other members of the European community that that balanced approach is what’s needed right now.  They’re going to be meeting this week to try to advance those discussions further.  We’ve offered to be there for consultation to provide any technical assistance and work through some of these ideas in terms of how we can stabilize the markets there.

Ultimately, what I think is most important is that Europe recognizes this euro project involves more than just a currency, it means that there’s got to be some more effective coordination on the fiscal and the monetary side and on the growth agenda.  And I think that there was strong intent there to move in that direction.  Of course, they’ve got 17 countries that have to agree to every step they take.  So I think about my one Congress, then I start thinking about 17 congresses and I start getting a little bit of a headache.  It’s going to be challenging for them.

The last point I’ll make is I do sense greater urgency now than perhaps existed two years ago or two and a half years ago.  And keep in mind just for folks here in the States, when we look backwards at our response in 2008 and 2009, there was some criticism because we had to make a bunch of tough political decisions.

In fact, there’s still criticism about some of the decisions we made.  But one of the things we were able to do was to act forcefully to solve a lot of these problems early, which is why credit markets that were locked up started loosening up again.  That’s why businesses started investing again.  That’s why we’ve seen job growth of over 4 million jobs over the last two years.  That’s why corporations are making money and that’s why we’ve seen strong economic growth for a long time.

And so, acting forcefully rather than in small, bite-sized pieces and increments, I think, ends up being a better approach, even though obviously we’re still going through challenges ourselves.  I mean, some of these issues are ones that built up over decades.

All right?  Stephen Collinson.  Where’s Stephen?

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you at this summit try to continue the work of stopping Afghanistan from reverting to its former role as a terrorist haven, terrorists today in Yemen massacred a hundred soldiers.  Are you concerned that despite U.S. efforts, Yemen seems to be slipping further into anarchy?  And what more can the U.S. do to slow that process?

THE PRESIDENT:  We are very concerned about al Qaeda activity and extremist activity in Yemen.  A positive development has been a relatively peaceful political transition in Yemen and we participated diplomatically along with Yemen’s neighbors in helping to lead to a political transition, but the work is not yet done.

We have established a strong counterterrorism partnership with the Yemeni government, but there’s no doubt that in a country that is still poor, that is still unstable, it is attracting a lot of folks that previously might have been in the FATA before we started putting pressure on them there.  And we’re going to continue to work with the Yemeni government to try to identify AQAP leadership and operations and try to thwart them.  That’s important for U.S. safety.  It’s also important for the stability of Yemen and for the region.

But I think one of the things that we’ve learned from the Afghanistan experience is for us to stay focused on the counterterrorism issue, to work with the government, to not overextend ourselves, to operate smartly in dealing with these issues.  And it’s not unique to Yemen, by the way.  I mean we’ve got similar problems in Somalia, what’s happening now in Mali and the Sahel.  And so this is part of the reason why not only is NATO important, but these partnerships that we’re establishing is important because there are going to be times where these partners have more effective intelligence operations, more diplomatic contacts, et cetera in some of these parts of the world where the state is a little wobbly and you may see terrorists attempting to infiltrate or set up bases.

Yes, I’m going to call on Jake Tapper because, Jake, Jay Carney told me that you’ve been talking to some of our troops in Afghanistan.  And since so much of the topic of this summit has been on Afghanistan, obviously none of this would be working were it not for the extraordinary sacrifices that they’re making, so –

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  I appreciate it.  Yes, I put out an invitation for some troops and their families that I know and I’ll just give you two or three of them.  Mr. President, if this handoff and withdrawal prove premature, what plans are in place for dealing with an Afghanistan that’s falling apart or is possibly again under Taliban rule?  And I’ll just do one more, do you feel that the reporting you receive from the Pentagon fully represents what the on-ground commanders assess?  Is there any disconnect between what leaders feel the public and President want to hear versus what is actually occurring on the ground?  These are from troops I’ve met who served in Nuristan Province.

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me take the second question first.  I mean, I think that one of the things that I emphasize whenever I’m talking to John Allen or the Joint Chiefs or any of the officers who are in Afghanistan is — I can’t afford a white wash.  I can’t afford not getting the very best information in order to make good decisions.  I should add, by the way, that the danger a lot of times is not that anybody is purposely trying to downplay challenges in Afghanistan.  A lot of times it’s just the military culture is we can get it done.  And so, their thinking is, how are we going to solve this problem, not boy, why is this such a disaster?  That’s part of the reason why we admire our military so much and we love our troops, because they’ve got that can-do spirit.

But I think that we have set up a structure that really tries to guard against that, because even in my White House for example, I’ve got former officers who have been in Afghanistan who I will send out there as part of the national security team of the White House, not simply the Pentagon, to interact and to listen and to go in and talk to the captains and the majors and the corporals and the privates, to try to get a sense of what’s going on.

And I think the reports we get are relatively accurate in the sense that there is real improvement.  In those areas where we’ve had a significant presence, you can see the Taliban not having a foothold, that there is genuine improvement in the performance of Afghan national security forces.

But the Taliban is still a robust enemy.  And the gains are still fragile, which leads me then to the second point that you’ve made in terms of a premature withdrawal.  I don’t think that there is ever going to be an optimal point where we say, this is all done, this is perfect, this is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home.  This is a process and it’s sometimes a messy process, just as it was in Iraq.

But think about it.  We’ve been there now 10 years.  We are now committing to a transition process that takes place next year, but the full transition to Afghan responsibility is almost two years away.  And the Afghan Security Forces themselves will not ever be prepared if they don’t start taking that responsibility.

And, frankly, the large footprint that we have in Afghanistan over time can be counterproductive.  We’ve been there 10 years, and I think no matter how much good we’re doing and how outstanding our troops and our civilians and diplomats are doing on the ground, 10 years in a country that’s very different, that’s a strain not only on our folks but also on that country, which at a point is going to be very sensitive about its own sovereignty.

So I think that the timetable that we’ve established is a sound one, it is a responsible one.  Are there risks involved in it?  Absolutely.  Can I anticipate that over the next two years there are going to be some bad moments along with some good ones?  Absolutely.

But I think it is the appropriate strategy whereby we can achieve a stable Afghanistan that won’t be perfect, we can pull back our troops in a responsible way and we can start rebuilding America and making some of the massive investments we’ve been making in Afghanistan here back home, putting people back to work, retraining workers, rebuilding our schools, investing in science and technology, developing our business climate.

But there are going to be challenges.  The one thing that I’m never doubtful about is just the amazing capacity of our troops and their morale.  When I was in Bagram just a couple of weeks ago, the fact that you still have so much determination and stick-to-it-ness and professionalism, not just from our troops but from all our coalition allies, all of ISAF, is a testament to them.  It’s extraordinary.  And we’ve very proud of them.

All right, since I am in Chicago, even though my Press Secretary told me not to do this, I am going to call on a Chicagoan to ask a Chicago question.

Jay.

Q    Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good to see you.  How you been?

Q    Good to see you, too, Mr. President, and good to see you in Chicago.  Chicagoans look at you standing there with Chicago, Chicago, Chicago on the wall behind you.  There is an undeniable sense of pride.  In your view, how did reality match up to fantasy in welcoming the world leaders to Chicago?  And did the demonstrators in any way on the streets undermine your efforts, Mayor Emanuel’s efforts, to project the image of Chicago you would have liked to have seen?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have to tell you, I think Chicago performed magnificently.  Those of us who were in the summit had a great experience.  If you talk to leaders from around the world, they love the city.  Michelle took some of the spouses down to the South Side to see the Comer Center where wonderful stuff is being done with early education.  They saw the Art Institute.

I was just talking to David Cameron.  I think he’s sneaking off and doing a little sight-seeing before he heads home.  I encouraged everybody to shop.  I want to boost the hometown economy.  We gave each leader a Bean, a small model, for them to remember, as well as a football from Soldier Field.  Many of them did not know what to do with it.  (Laughter.)  So people had a wonderful time and I think the Chicagoans that they interacted with couldn’t have been more gracious and more hospitable.  So I could not have been prouder.

Now, I think with respect to the protesters, as I said, this is part of what NATO defends, is free speech and the freedom of assembly.  And, frankly, to my Chicago press, outside of Chicago, folks really weren’t all that stressed about the possibility about having some protesters here, because that’s what — part of what America is about.  And obviously, Rahm was stressed, but he performed wonderfully and the Chicago police, Chicago’s finest, did a great job under some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny.

The only other thing I’ll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation.  Obviously, Chicago residents who had difficulties getting home or getting to work or what have you — that’s what can I tell you, that’s part of the price of being a world city.  But this was a great showcase.  And if it makes those folks feel any better, despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home.  I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight.  They said I would cause even worse traffic.  So I ended up staying in a hotel, which contributes to the Chicago economy.  (Laughter.)

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END                          4:10 P.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 20, 21, 2012: President Barack Obama NATO / North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit Speeches in Chicago Roundup

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

President Obama Attends NATO Summit in Chicago

Source: WH, 5-20-21-12
President Obama was in Chicago today for the first day of the NATO summit, a gathering of leaders from the 28 member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In the morning, he held a bilateral meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to discuss implementation of the Strategic Forces Agreement. The agreement, which the two leaders signed in Kabul earlier this month, lays out the future relationship between the United States and Afghanistan.

In the afternoon, President Obama met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to discuss goals of the NATO Summit in Chicago.

Later in the day, President Obama spoke at the opening session of the North Atlantic Council, and participated in a working dinner with NATO leaders.


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