OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
OP-EDS & ARTICLES
- August 20, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 20, 2014
Source: WH, 8-18-14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:27 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Earlier today I received an update from my team on two separate issues that I’ve been following closely — our ongoing operation in Iraq and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.
With respect to Iraq, we continue to see important progress across different parts of our strategy to support the Iraqi government and combat the threat from the terrorist group, ISIL. First, our military operations are effectively protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq. Over the last 11 days, American airstrikes have stopped the ISIL advance around the city of Erbil and pushed back the terrorists. Meanwhile, we have urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines.
Today, with our support, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq near the city of Mosul. The Mosul Dam fell under terrorist control earlier this month and is directly tied to our objective of protecting Americans in Iraq. If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic, with floods that would have threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endangered our embassy compound in Baghdad. Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead on the ground and performed with courage and determination. So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together in taking the fight to ISIL. If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.
Second, we’re building an international coalition to address the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq. Even as we’ve worked to help many thousands of Yazidis escape the siege of Mount Sinjar, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by ISIL’s violence and many more are still at risk. Going forward, the United States will work with the Iraqi government, as well as partners like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia, to get food and water to people in need and to bring long-term relief to people who have been driven from their homes.
Third, we will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region and beyond. Over the last week, we saw historic progress as Iraqis named a new Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi, and Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Maliki agreed to step down. This peaceful transition of power will mark a major milestone in Iraq’s political development, but as I think we’re all aware, the work is not yet done.
Over the next few weeks, Dr. Abadi needs to complete the work of forming a new, broad-based, inclusive Iraqi government, one that develops a national program to address the interests of all Iraqis. Without that progress, extremists like ISIL can continue to prey upon Iraq’s divisions. With that new government in place, Iraqis will be able to unite the country against the threat from ISIL, and they will be able to look forward to increased support not just from the United States but from other countries in the region and around the world.
Let’s remember ISIL poses a threat to all Iraqis and to the entire region. They claim to represent Sunni grievances, but they slaughter Sunni men, women and children. They claim to oppose foreign forces, but they actively recruit foreign fighters to advance their hateful ideology.
So the Iraqi people need to reject them and unite to begin to push them out of the lands that they’ve occupied, as we’re seeing at Mosul Dam. And this is going to take time. There are going to be many challenges ahead. But meanwhile, there should be no doubt that the United States military will continue to carry out the limited missions that I’ve authorized — protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq in both Erbil and Baghdad, and providing humanitarian support, as we did on Mount Sinjar.
My administration has consulted closely with Congress about our strategy in Iraq and we are going to continue to do so in the weeks to come, because when it comes to the security of our people and our efforts against a terror group like ISIL, we need to be united in our resolve.
I also want to address the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Governor Nixon, as well as Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill. I also met with Attorney General Eric Holder. The Justice Department has opened an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown. They are on the ground and, along with the FBI, they are devoting substantial resources to that investigation. The Attorney General himself will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation, and he will receive an update from them on their progress. He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson.
Ronald Davis, the Director of the DOJ’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services — or COPS — is also traveling to Ferguson tomorrow to work with police officials on the ground. We’ve also had experts from the DOJ’s Community Relations Service working in Ferguson since the days after the shooting to foster conversations among local stakeholders and reduce tensions among the community.
So let me close just saying a few words about the tensions there. We have all seen images of protestors and law enforcement in the streets. It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting. What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not. While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice.
Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these. There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully. Ours is a nation of laws for the citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them.
So to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other. Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other. As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment — the potential of a young man and the sorrows of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.
I’ve said this before — in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear. Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality. And already we’re making some significant progress as people of goodwill of all races are ready to chip in. But that requires that we build and not tear down. And that requires we listen and not just shout. That’s how we’re going to move forward together, by trying to unite each other and understand each other, and not simply divide ourselves from one another. We’re going to have to hold tight to those values in the days ahead. That’s how we bring about justice, and that’s how we bring about peace.
So with that, I’ve got a few questions I’m going to take. I’m going to start with Jim Kuhnhenn of AP.
Q Right here, Mr. President. The incident in Ferguson has led to a discussion about whether it’s proper to militarize the nation’s city police forces, and I’m wondering whether you wonder or do you think that — you see that as a factor regarding the police response in Ferguson. And also, do you agree with the decision by the Governor to send in the National Guard?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement. That helps preserve our civil liberties. That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction. And that has to be preserved.
After 9/11, I think understandably, a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack, and I think people in Congress, people of goodwill decided we’ve got to make sure that they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities. And some of that has been useful. I mean, some law enforcement didn’t have radios that they could operate effectively in the midst of a disaster. Some communities needed to be prepared if, in fact, there was a chemical attack and they didn’t have HAZMAT suits.
Having said that, I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions. And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.
With respect to the National Guard, I think it’s important just to remember this was a state activated National Guard and so it’s under the charge of the Governor. This is not something that we initiated at the federal level. I spoke to Jay Nixon about this, expressed an interest in making sure that if, in fact, a National Guard is used it is used in a limited and appropriate way. He described the support role that they’re going to be providing to local law enforcement, and I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson.
Steve Holland, Reuters.
Q Thank you. How do you avoid mission creep in Iraq? And how long do you think it will take to contain ISIL?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I have been firm from the start that we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat. We’re not the Iraqi military. We’re not even the Iraqi air force. I am the Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces, and Iraq is going to have to ultimately provide for its own security.
On the other hand, we’ve got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them — that a group like that is contained, because ultimately they can pose a threat to us.
So my goal is, number one, to make sure we’ve got a viable partner. And that’s why we have so consistently emphasized the need for a government formation process that is inclusive, that is credible, that is legitimate, and that can appeal to Sunnis as well as Shias and Kurds. We’ve made significant progress on that front, but we’re not there yet. And I told my national security team today and I will say publicly that we want to continue to communicate to politicians of all stripes in Iraq, don’t think that because we have engaged in airstrikes to protect our people that now is the time to let the foot off the gas and return to the same kind of dysfunction that has so weakened the country generally.
Dr. Abadi has said the right things. I was impressed in my conversation with him about his vision for an inclusive government. But they’ve got to get this done, because the wolf is at the door and in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people they’re going to have to put behind some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government.
When we see a credible Iraqi government, we are then in a position to engage when planning not just with the Iraqi government but also with regional actors and folks beyond the Middle East so that we can craft the kind of joint strategy — joint counterterrorism strategy that I discussed at West Point and I discussed several years ago to the National Defense College University**. Our goal is to have effective partners on the ground. And if we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely.
Typically what happens with mission creep is when we start deciding that we’re the ones who have to do it all ourselves. And because of the excellence of our military, that can work for a time — we learned that in Iraq — but it’s not sustainable. It’s not lasting. And so I’ve been very firm about this precisely because our goal here has to be to be able to build up a structure not just in Iraq, but regionally, that can be maintained, and that is not involving us effectively trying to govern or impose our military will on a country that is hostile to us.
Q How long to contain ISIL then? It sounds like a long-term project.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t think, Steve, at this point I’m prepared to provide a blanket answer to that. A lot of it depends on how effectively the Iraqi government comes together. I think that you will see if, in fact, that government formation process moves rapidly and credibly that there will be a lot of actors in the region and around the world that are prepared to help and to step up assistance — many of whom may have been reticent over the last several years because the perception was, at least, that Baghdad was not being inclusive and that it was going to be self-defeating to put more resources into it.
I think you’ll see a lot of folks step up; suddenly now Iraq will have a variety of partners. And with more folks unified around the effort, I think it’s something that can be accomplished. It also means that there’s the prospect of Sunni tribes who are the primary residents of areas that ISIL now controls saying, we’ve got a viable option and we would rather work with a central government that appears to understand our grievances and is prepared to meet them rather than to deal with individuals who don’t seem to have any values beyond death and destruction.
I’m going to take the last question from somebody, who after 41 years, I understand has decided to retire — Ann Compton, everybody here knows is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know. I was proud to be able to hug her grandbaby recently. And I suspect that may have something to do with her decision. But I just want to say publicly, Ann, we’re going to miss you, and we’re very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you’ve done, and we hope you’re not a stranger around here. (Applause.)
Q Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Ann Compton. I suspect you may get some cake at some point. (Laughter.)
Q Let me ask you, this is an interesting time in your presidency. And one of the things that you have so emphasized in the last few months, the last year or so, is this reach out to brothers — My Brother’s Keeper and to a generation that doesn’t feel that it has much chance. Sending the Attorney General to Ferguson is a step. Has anyone there — have you considered going yourself? Is there more that you personally could do not just for Ferguson but for communities that might also feel that kind of tension and see it erupt in the way it has in Ferguson?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Ann, obviously, we’ve seen events in which there’s a big gulf between community perceptions and law enforcement perceptions around the country. This is not something new. It’s always tragic when it involves the death of someone so young.
I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed because, although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me and when they’re conducting an investigation I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other. So it’s hard for me to address a specific case beyond making sure that it’s conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process, hoping that as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.
But as I think I’ve said in some past occasions, part of the ongoing challenge of perfecting our union has involved dealing with communities that feel left behind, who, as a consequence of tragic histories, often find themselves isolated, often find themselves without hope, without economic prospects. You have young men of color in many communities who are more likely to end up in jail or in the criminal justice system than they are in a good job or in college. And part of my job that I can do I think without any potential conflicts is to get at those root causes.
Now, that’s a big project. It’s one that we’ve been trying to carry out now for a couple of centuries. And we’ve made extraordinary progress, but we have not made enough progress. And so the idea behind something like My Brother’s Keeper is can we work with cities and communities and clergy and parents and young people themselves all across the country, school superintendents, businesses, corporations, and can we find models that work that move these young men on a better track?
Now, part of that process is also looking at our criminal justice system to make sure that it is upholding the basic principle of everybody is equal before the law.
And one of the things that we’ve looked at during the course of where we can — during the course of investigating where we can make a difference is that there are patterns that start early. Young African American and Hispanic boys tend to get suspended from school at much higher rates than other kids, even when they’re in elementary school. They tend to have much more frequent interactions with the criminal justice system at an earlier age. Sentencing may be different. How trials are conducted may be different. And so one of the things that we’ve done is to include the Department of Justice in this conversation under the banner of My Brother’s Keeper to see where can we start working with local communities to inculcate more trust, more confidence in the criminal justice system.
And I want to be clear about this, because sometimes I think there’s confusion around these issues and this dates back for decades. There are young black men that commit crime. And we can argue about why that happened — because of the poverty they were born into and the lack of opportunity, or the schools systems that failed them, or what have you. But if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted because every community has an interest in public safety. And if you go into the African American community or the Latino community, some of the folks who are most intent on making sure that criminals are dealt with are people who have been preyed upon by them.
So this is not an argument that there isn’t real crime out there, and that law enforcement doesn’t have a difficult job and that they have to be honored and respected for the danger and difficulty of law enforcement. But what is also true is that given the history of this country, where we can make progress in building up more confidence, more trust, making sure that our criminal justice system is acutely aware of the possibilities of disparities in treatment, there are safeguards in place to avoid those disparities, where training and assistance is provided to local law enforcement who may just need more information in order to avoid potential disparity — all those things can make a difference.
One of the things I was most proud of when I was in the state legislature, way back when I had no gray hair and none of you could pronounce my name, was I passed legislation requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions and I passed legislation dealing with racial profiling in Illinois. And in both cases, we worked with local law enforcement. And the argument was that you can do a better job as a law enforcement official if you have built up credibility and trust. And there are some basic things that can be done to promote that kind of trust. And in some cases, there’s just a lack of information, and we want to make sure that we get that information to law enforcement.
So there are things that can be done to improve the situation. But short term, obviously, right now what we have to do is to make sure that the cause of justice and fair administration of the law is being brought to bear in Ferguson. In order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances and maybe longstanding grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior — and tossing Molotov cocktails, or looting stores. And that is a small minority of folks and may not even be residents of Ferguson, but they are damaging the cause; they’re not advancing it.
All right? Thank you very much, everybody.
4:54 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 18, 2014
Source: WH, 8-16-14
Video Remarks of President Barack Obama
The White House
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Hi, everybody. Over the next couple weeks, schools all across the country will be opening their doors. Students will suit up for fall sports, marching band, and the school play; moms and dads will snap those first-day-of-school pictures — and that includes me and Michelle.
And so today, I want to talk directly with students and parents about one of the most important things any of you can do this year — and that’s to begin preparing yourself for an education beyond high school.
We know that in today’s economy, whether you go to a four-year college, a community college, or a professional training program, some higher education is the surest ticket to the middle class. The typical American with a bachelor’s degree or higher earns over $28,000 more per year than someone with just a high school diploma. And they’re also much more likely to have a job in the first place – the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree is less than one-third of the rate for those without a high school diploma.
But for too many families across the country, paying for higher education is a constant struggle. Earlier this year, a young woman named Elizabeth Cooper wrote to tell me how hard it is for middle-class families like hers to afford college. As she said, she feels “not significant enough to be addressed, not poor enough for people to worry [about], and not rich enough to be cared about.”
Michelle and I know the feeling – we only finished paying off our student loans ten years ago. And so as President, I’m working to make sure young people like Elizabeth can go to college without racking up mountains of debt. We reformed a student loan system so that more money goes to students instead of big banks. We expanded grants and college tax credits for students and families. We took action to offer millions of students a chance to cap their student loan payments at 10% of their income. And Congress should pass a bill to let students refinance their loans at today’s lower interest rates, just like their parents can refinance their mortgage.
But as long as college costs keep rising, we can’t just keep throwing money at the problem — colleges have to do their part to bring down costs as well. That’s why we proposed a plan to tie federal financial aid to a college’s performance, and create a new college scorecard so that students and parents can see which schools provide the biggest bang for your buck. We launched a new $75 million challenge to inspire colleges to reduce costs and raise graduation rates. And in January, more than 100 college presidents and nonprofit leaders came to the White House and made commitments to increase opportunities for underserved students.
Since then, we’ve met with even more leaders who want to create new community-based partnerships and support school counselors. And this week, my Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced a series of commitments to support students who need a little extra academic help getting through college.
This is a challenge I take personally. And to all you young people, now that you’re heading back to school, your education is something you have to take personally, also. It’s up to you to push yourself; to take hard classes and read challenging books. Science shows that when you struggle to solve a problem or make a new argument, you’re actually forming new connections in your brain. So when you’re thinking hard, you’re getting smarter. Which means this year, challenge yourself to reach higher. And set your sights on college in the years ahead. Your country is counting on you.
And don’t forget to have some fun along the way, too.
Thanks everybody. Good luck on the year ahead.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 16, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 15, 2014
Source: WH, 8-14-14
12:49 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. This sound system is really powerful. Today, I’d like to update the American people on two issues that I’ve been monitoring closely these last several days.
First of all, we continue to make progress in carrying out our targeted military operations in Iraq. Last week, I authorized two limited missions: protecting our people and facilities inside of Iraq, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded on a mountain.
A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yezidi men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter. We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving Yezidi civilians in their custody, and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice — starve on the mountain, or be slaughtered on the ground. That’s when America came to help.
Over the last week, the U.S. military conducted humanitarian air drops every night –- delivering more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water. We were joined in that effort by the United Kingdom, and other allies pledged support. Our military was able to successfully strike ISIL targets around the mountain, which improved conditions for civilians to evacuate the mountain safely.
Yesterday, a small team of Americans -– military and civilian -– completed their review of the conditions on the mountain. They found that food and water have been reaching those in need, and that thousands of people have been evacuating safely each and every night. The civilians who remain continue to leave, aided by Kurdish forces and Yezidis who are helping to facilitate the safe passage of their families. So the bottom line is, is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts.
Because of the skill and professionalism of our military –- and the generosity of our people –- we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives. Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain. The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Iraq in the coming days. And I just want to say that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the men and women of our military who carried out this humanitarian operation almost flawlessly. I’m very grateful to them and I know that those who were trapped on that mountain are extraordinarily grateful as well.
Now, the situation remains dire for Iraqis subjected to ISIL’s terror throughout the country, and this includes minorities like Yezidis and Iraqi Christians; it also includes Sunnis, Shia and Kurds. We’re going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in northern Iraq wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground.
We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well. We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq. We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines.
And, perhaps most importantly, we are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against ISIL –- above all, by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new, inclusive government under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Abadi. I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister-designate Abadi a few days ago, and he spoke about the need for the kind of inclusive government — a government that speaks to all the people of Iraq — that is needed right now. He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.
Now, second, I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days and that’s the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country, as police have clashed with people protesting. Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.
This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team. I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground.
The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation. I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.
I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri. I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward. He is going to be traveling to Ferguson. He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.
Of course, it’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again. And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.
There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. And here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.
I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.
So now is the time for healing. Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done. And I’ve asked that the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward. They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.
Thanks very much, everybody.
12:58 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 14, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 12, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 10, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 9, 2014
Source: WH, 8-9-14
10:30 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Over the past two days, American pilots and crews have served with courage and skill in the skies over Iraq.
First, American forces have conducted targeted airstrikes against terrorist forces outside the city of Erbil to prevent them from advancing on the city and to protect our American diplomats and military personnel. So far, these strikes have successfully destroyed arms and equipment that ISIL terrorists could have used against Erbil. Meanwhile, Kurdish forces on the ground continue to defend the city, and the United States and the Iraqi government have stepped up our military assistance to Kurdish forces as they wage their fight.
Second, our humanitarian effort continues to help the men, women and children stranded on Mount Sinjar. American forces have so far conducted two successful airdrops — delivering thousands of meals and gallons of water to these desperate men, women and children. And American aircraft are positioned to strike ISIL terrorists around the mountain to help forces in Iraq break the siege and rescue those who are trapped there.
Now, even as we deal with these immediate situations, we continue to pursue a broader strategy in Iraq. We will protect our American citizens in Iraq, whether they’re diplomats, civilians or military. If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people.
We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.
We will continue to work with the international community to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Even as our attention is focused on preventing an act of genocide and helping the men and women and children on the mountain, countless Iraqis have been driven or fled from their homes, including many Christians.
This morning, I spoke with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom and President Hollande of France. I’m pleased that both leaders expressed their strong support for our actions and have agreed to join us in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi civilians who are suffering so much. Once again, America is proud to act alongside our closest friends and allies.
More broadly, the United Nations in Iraq is working urgently to help respond to the needs of those Iraqis fleeing from areas under threat. The U.N. Security Council has called on the international community to do everything it can to provide food, water and shelter. And in my calls with allies and partners around the world, I’ll continue to urge them to join us in this humanitarian effort.
Finally, we continue to call on Iraqis to come together and form the inclusive government that Iraq needs right now. Vice President Biden has been speaking to Iraqi leaders, and our team in Baghdad is in close touch with the Iraqi government. All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists and all Iraqi communities need to unite to defend their country.
Just as we are focused on the situation in the north affecting Kurds and Iraqi minorities, Sunnis and Shia in different parts of Iraq have suffered mightily at the hands of ISIL. Once an inclusive government is in place, I’m confident it will be easier to mobilize all Iraqis against ISIL, and to mobilize greater support from our friends and allies. Ultimately, only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq. The United States can’t do it for them, but we can and will be partners in that effort.
One final thing — as we go forward, we’ll continue to consult with Congress and coordinate closely with our allies and partners. And as Americans, we will continue to show gratitude to our men and women in uniform who are conducting our operations there. When called, they were ready — as they always are. When given their mission, they’ve performed with distinction — as they always do. And when we see them serving with such honor and compassion, defending our fellow citizens and saving the lives of people they’ve never met, it makes us proud to be Americans — as we always will be.
So with that, let me take a couple questions.
Q Mr. President, for how long a period of time do you see these airstrikes continuing for? And is your goal there to contain ISIS or to destroy it?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to give a particular timetable, because as I’ve said from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation, my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, to make sure that they are protected. And we’re not moving our embassy anytime soon. We’re not moving our consulate anytime soon. And that means that, given the challenging security environment, we’re going to maintain vigilance and ensure that our people are safe.
Our initial goal is to not only make sure Americans are protected, but also to deal with this humanitarian situation in Sinjar. We feel confident that we can prevent ISIL from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there. But the next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain, and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe. That’s the kind of coordination that we need to do internationally.
I was very pleased to get the cooperation of both Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande in addressing some of the immediate needs in terms of airdrops and some of the assets and logistical support that they’re providing. But there’s a broader set of questions that our experts now are engaged in with the United Nations and our allies and partners, and that is how do we potentially create a safe corridor or some other mechanism so that these people can move. That may take some time — because there are varying estimates of how many people are up there, but they’re in the thousands, and moving them is not simple in this kind of security environment.
Just to give people a sense, though, of a timetable — that the most important timetable that I’m focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalized. Because in the absence of an Iraqi government, it is very hard to get a unified effort by Iraqis against ISIL. We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there’s not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support. And that can’t happen effectively until you have a legitimate Iraqi government.
So right now we have a president, we have a speaker. What we don’t yet have is a prime minister and a cabinet that is formed that can go ahead and move forward, and then start reaching out to all the various groups and factions inside of Iraq, and can give confidence to populations in the Sunni areas that ISIL is not the only game in town. It also then allows us to take those Iraqi security forces that are able and functional, and they understand who they’re reporting to and what they’re fighting for, and what the chain of command is. And it provides a structure in which better cooperation is taking place between the Kurdish region and Baghdad.
So we’re going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together. Until we do that, it is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in some offense.
Q Mr. President, the United States has fought long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with uncertain outcomes. How do you assure the American people that we’re not getting dragged into another war in Iraq? Have you underestimated the power of ISIS? And finally, you said that you involved international partners in humanitarian efforts. Is there any thought to talking to international partners as far as military actions to prevent the spread of ISIS?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, a couple of things I would say. Number one, I’ve been very clear that we’re not going to have U.S. combat troops in Iraq again. And we are going to maintain that, because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq. And that is that our military is so effective that we can keep a lid on problems wherever we are, if we put enough personnel and resources into it. But it can only last if the people in these countries themselves are able to arrive at the kinds of political accommodations and compromise that any civilized society requires.
And so it would be, I think, a big mistake for us to think that we can, on the cheap, simply go in, tamp everything down again, restart without some fundamental shift in attitudes among the various Iraqi factions. That’s why it is so important to have an Iraqi government on the ground that is taking responsibility that we can help, that we can partner with, that has the capacity to get alliances in the region. And once that’s in place, then I think we end up being one of many countries that can work together to deal with the broader crisis that ISIL poses.
What were your other questions? Did we underestimate ISIL? I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq. And part of that is I think not a full appreciation of the degree to which the Iraqi security forces, when they’re far away from Baghdad, did not have the incentive or the capacity to hold ground against an aggressive adversary. And so that’s one more reason why Iraqi government formation is so important — because there has to be a rebuilding and an understanding of who it is that the Iraqi security forces are reporting to, what they are fighting for. And there has to be some investment by Sunnis in pushing back against ISIL.
I think we’re already seeing — and we will see even further — the degree to which those territories under ISIL control alienated populations, because of the barbarity and brutality with which they operate. But in order to ensure that Sunni populations reject outright these kinds of incursions, they’ve got to feel like they’re invested in a broader national government. And right now, they don’t feel that.
So the upshot is that what we’ve seen over the last several months indicates the weaknesses in an Iraqi government. But what we’ve also seen I think is a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognizing that we’re going to have to rethink how we do business if we’re going to hold our country together. And, hopefully, that change in attitude supplemented by improved security efforts in which we can assist and help, that can make a difference.
Q You just expressed confidence that the Iraqi government can eventually prevent a safe haven. But you’ve also just described the complications with the Iraqi government and the sophistication of ISIL. So is it possible that what you’ve described and your ambitions there could take years, not months?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks, if that’s what you mean. I think this is going to take some time. The Iraqi security forces, in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate effectively with the support of populations in Sunni areas, are going to have to revamp, get resupplied — have a clearer strategy. That’s all going to be dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have confidence in. We can help in all those efforts.
I think part of what we’re able to do right now is to preserve a space for them to do the hard work that’s necessary. If they do that, the one thing that I also think has changed is that many of the Sunni countries in the region who have been generally suspicious or wary of the Iraqi government are more likely to join in, in the fight against ISIS, and that can be extremely helpful. But this is going to be a long-term project.
Part of what we’ve seen is that a minority Sunni population in Iraq, as well as a majority Sunni population in Syria, has felt dissatisfied and detached and alienated from their respective governments. And that has been a ripe territory for these jihadists and extremists to operate. And rebuilding governance in those areas, and legitimacy for stable, moderate governing in those areas is going to take time.
Now, there are some immediate concerns that we have to worry about. We have to make sure that ISIL is not engaging in the actions that could cripple a country permanently. There’s key infrastructure inside of Iraq that we have to be concerned about. My team has been vigilant, even before ISIL went into Mosul, about foreign fighters and jihadists gathering in Syria, and now in Iraq, who might potentially launch attacks outside the region against Western targets and U.S. targets. So there’s going to be a counterterrorism element that we are already preparing for and have been working diligently on for a long time now.
There is going to be a military element in protecting our people, but the long-term campaign of changing that environment so that the millions of Sunnis who live in these areas feel connected to and well-served by a national government, that’s a long-term process. And that’s something that the United States cannot do, only the Iraqi people themselves can do. We can help, we can advise, but we can’t do it for them. And the U.S. military cannot do it for them.
And so this goes back to the earlier question about U.S. military involvement. The nature of this problem is not one that a U.S. military can solve. We can assist and our military obviously can play an extraordinarily important role in bolstering efforts of an Iraqi partner as they make the right steps to keep their country together, but we can’t do it for them.
Q America has spent $800 billion in Iraq. Do you anticipate having to ask Congress for additional funds to support this mission?
THE PRESIDENT: Currently, we are operating within the budget constraints that we already have. And we’ll have to evaluate what happens over time. We already have a lot of assets in the region. We anticipate, when we make our preliminary budgets, that there may be things that come up requiring us to engage. And right now, at least, I think we are okay.
If and when we need additional dollars to make sure that American personnel and American facilities are protected, then we will certainly make that request. But right now, that’s not our primary concern.
Q Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about pulling all ground troops out of Iraq? And does it give you pause as the U.S. — is it doing the same thing in Afghanistan?
THE PRESIDENT: What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision. Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system.
And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances. And on that basis, we left. We had offered to leave additional troops. So when you hear people say, do you regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops, that presupposes that I would have overridden this sovereign government that we had turned the keys back over to and said, you know what, you’re democratic, you’re sovereign, except if I decide that it’s good for you to keep 10,000 or 15,000 or 25,000 Marines in your country, you don’t have a choice — which would have kind of run contrary to the entire argument we were making about turning over the country back to Iraqis, an argument not just made by me, but made by the previous administration.
So let’s just be clear: The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were — a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq.
Having said all that, if in fact the Iraqi government behaved the way it did over the last five, six years, where it failed to pass legislation that would reincorporate Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership; if it had targeted certain Sunni leaders and jailed them; if it had alienated some of the Sunni tribes that we had brought back in during the so-called Awakening that helped us turn the tide in 2006 — if they had done all those things and we had had troops there, the country wouldn’t be holding together either. The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable. And however many troops we had, we would have to now be reinforcing, I’d have to be protecting them, and we’d have a much bigger job. And probably, we would end up having to go up again in terms of the number of grounds troops to make sure that those forces were not vulnerable.
So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong. But it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made.
Going forward with respect to Afghanistan, we are leaving the follow-on force there. I think the lesson for Afghanistan is not the fact that we’ve got a follow-on force that will be capable of training and supporting Afghan security efforts. I think the real lesson in Afghanistan is that if factions in a country after a long period of civil war do not find a way to come up with a political accommodation; if they take maximalist positions and their attitude is, I want 100 percent of what I want and the other side gets nothing, then the center doesn’t hold.
And the good news is, is that in part thanks to the excellent work of John Kerry and others, we now are seeing the two candidates in the recent presidential election start coming together and agreeing not only to move forward on the audit to be able to finally certify a winner in the election, but also the kinds of political accommodations that are going to be required to keep democracy moving.
So that’s a real lesson I think for Afghanistan coming out of Iraq is, if you want this thing to work, then whether it’s different ethnicities, different religions, different regions, they’ve got to accommodate each other, otherwise you start tipping back into old patterns of violence. And it doesn’t matter how many U.S. troops are there — if that happens, you end up having a mess.
Thanks a lot, guys.
END 10:54 A.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 9, 2014
Source: WH, 8-7-14
State Dining Room
9:30 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death. Let me explain the actions we’re taking and why.
First, I said in June — as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq — that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it. In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces.
To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city. We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad. We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.
Second, at the request of the Iraqi government — we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain. As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis. And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect. Countless Iraqis have been displaced. And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women.
In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives. And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs. They’re without food, they’re without water. People are starving. And children are dying of thirst. Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide. So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice: descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.
I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world. So let me be clear about why we must act, and act now. When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.
I’ve, therefore, authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there. Already, American aircraft have begun conducting humanitarian airdrops of food and water to help these desperate men, women and children survive. Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, “There is no one coming to help.” Well today, America is coming to help. We’re also consulting with other countries — and the United Nations — who have called for action to address this humanitarian crisis.
I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these. I understand that. I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done. As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. And so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.
However, we can and should support moderate forces who can bring stability to Iraq. So even as we carry out these two missions, we will continue to pursue a broader strategy that empowers Iraqis to confront this crisis. Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and that can fight back against the threats like ISIL. Iraqis have named a new President, a new Speaker of Parliament, and are seeking consensus on a new Prime Minister. This is the progress that needs to continue in order to reverse the momentum of the terrorists who prey on Iraq’s divisions.
Once Iraq has a new government, the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support to deal with this humanitarian crisis and counterterrorism challenge. None of Iraq’s neighbors have an interest in this terrible suffering or instability.
And so we’ll continue to work with our friends and allies to help refugees get the shelter and food and water they so desperately need, and to help Iraqis push back against ISIL. The several hundred American advisors that I ordered to Iraq will continue to assess what more we can do to help train, advise and support Iraqi forces going forward. And just as I consulted Congress on the decisions I made today, we will continue to do so going forward.
My fellow Americans, the world is confronted by many challenges. And while America has never been able to right every wrong, America has made the world a more secure and prosperous place. And our leadership is necessary to underwrite the global security and prosperity that our children and our grandchildren will depend upon. We do so by adhering to a set of core principles. We do whatever is necessary to protect our people. We support our allies when they’re in danger. We lead coalitions of countries to uphold international norms. And we strive to stay true to the fundamental values — the desire to live with basic freedom and dignity — that is common to human beings wherever they are. That’s why people all over the world look to the United States of America to lead. And that’s why we do it.
So let me close by assuring you that there is no decision that I take more seriously than the use of military force. Over the last several years, we have brought the vast majority of our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. And I’ve been careful to resist calls to turn time and again to our military, because America has other tools in our arsenal than our military. We can also lead with the power of our diplomacy, our economy, and our ideals.
But when the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action. That’s my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief. And when many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action. That is our responsibility as Americans. That’s a hallmark of American leadership. That’s who we are.
So tonight, we give thanks to our men and women in uniform -— especially our brave pilots and crews over Iraq who are protecting our fellow Americans and saving the lives of so many men, women and children that they will never meet. They represent American leadership at its best. As a nation, we should be proud of them, and of our country’s enduring commitment to uphold our own security and the dignity of our fellow human beings.
God bless our Armed Forces, and God bless the United States of America.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 7, 2014
Source: WH, 8-7-14
Ft. Belvoir, Virginia
12:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Fort Belvoir! (Applause.) Everybody, have a seat. I think I’m going to take Sergeant Major McGruder on the road. (Laughter.) I’m just going to have him introduce me wherever I go. (Laughter.) He got me excited, and I’m being — I get introduced all the time. So thank you, James, for your incredible service to our country. Give James a big round of applause. (Applause.)
I also want to say a big thanks to America’s new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, who is here. Stand up, Bob. (Applause.) As some of you may know, Bob headed up one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world. But he also was a West Point grad, also a Ranger who served valiantly on behalf of his country. And this a labor of love for him, and he has hit the ground running. He’s heading out to VA hospitals and clinics around the country, starting with Phoenix tomorrow. So thank you, Bob, for accepting this charge and this challenge, and making sure that we’re doing right by our veterans. I know you’re going to do a great job. Really proud of him. (Applause.)
I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here today, and I especially want to thank those who led the fight to give Bob and the VA more of the resources and flexibility that they need to make sure every veteran has access to the care and benefits that they have earned. Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Richard Burr, Representative Mike Michaud, Representative Jeff Miller — give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you. That’s for the good work. (Applause.)
And we are all grateful to our outstanding veterans service organizations for all the work that they do on behalf of our veterans and their families. So thank you very much to all the veterans service organizations. Most of all, I want to thank General Buchanan and Sergeant Major Turnbull, and all of you who serve here at Fort Belvoir.
For nearly a century, this base has helped keep America strong and secure. Seventy years ago, troops from here –- the 29th Infantry Division, the Blue and Gray -– were some of the first to storm Omaha Beach. And in recent years, many of you have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And you’ve risked your lives on multiple tours to defend our nation. And as a country, we have a sacred obligation to serve you as well as you’ve served us -– an obligation that doesn’t end with your tour of duty.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants at the VA help us honor that commitment. At VA hospitals across America, you’ve got doctors and nurses who are delivering world-class care to America’s veterans. You’ve got millions of veterans and their families who are profoundly grateful for the good work that is done at the VA. And as Commander-in-Chief, I’m grateful, too.
But over the last few months, we’ve discovered some inexcusable misconduct at some VA health care facilities — stories of our veterans denied the care they needed, long wait times being covered up, cooking the books. This is wrong. It was outrageous. And working together, we set out to fix it and do right by our veterans across the board, no matter how long it took.
And we’ve already taken the first steps to change the way the VA does business. We’ve held people accountable for misconduct. Some have already been relieved of their duties, and investigations are ongoing. We’ve reached out to more than 215,000 veterans so far to make sure that we’re getting them off wait lists and into clinics both inside and outside the VA system.
We’re moving ahead with urgent reforms, including stronger management and leadership and oversight. And we’re instituting a critical culture of accountability — rebuilding our leadership team, starting at the top with Secretary McDonald. And one of his first acts is that he’s directed all VA health care facilities to hold town halls to hear directly from the veterans that they serve to make sure that we’re hearing honest assessments about what’s going on.
Now, in a few minutes, we’ll take another step forward when I sign into law the VA reform bill that was passed overwhelmingly, with bipartisan majorities — and that doesn’t happen often in Congress. It’s a good deal. (Laughter and applause.)
This bill covers a lot of ground — from expanding survivor benefits and educational opportunities, to improving care for veterans struggling with traumatic brain injury and for victims of sexual assault. But today, I want to focus on the ways this bill will help us ensure that veterans have access to the care that they’ve earned.
First of all, this will give the VA more of the resources that it needs. It will help the VA hire more doctors and more nurses and staff more clinics. As a new generation of veterans returns home from war and transitions into civilian life, we have to make sure the VA system can keep pace with that new demand. Keep in mind that I have increased funding for the VA since I came into office by extraordinary amounts. But we also have extraordinary numbers of veterans coming home. And so the demand, even though we’ve increased the VA budget, is still higher than the resources that we’ve got. This bill helps to address that.
Second, for veterans who can’t get timely care through the VA, this bill will help them get the care they need someplace else. And this is particularly important for veterans who are in more remote areas, in rural areas. If you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or if VA doctors can’t see you within a reasonable amount of time, you’ll have the chance to see a doctor outside the VA system.
Now finally, we’re giving the VA Secretary more authority to hold people accountable. We’ve got to give Bob the authority so that he can move quickly to remove senior executives who fail to meet the standards of conduct and competence that the American people demand. If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period. It shouldn’t be that difficult. (Applause.) And if you blow the whistle on an unethical practice, or bring a problem to the attention of higher-ups, you should be thanked. You should be protected for doing the right thing. (Applause.) You shouldn’t be ignored, and you certainly shouldn’t be punished.
“To care for him [or her] who shall have borne the battle.” That’s the heart of the VA’s motto. That’s what the bill I’m about to sign will help us achieve. But I want to be clear about something: This will not and cannot be the end of our effort. Implementing this law will take time. It’s going to require focus on the part of all of us. And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our servicemembers and our veterans.
The good news is, we’ve cut the disability claims backlog by more than half. But let’s now eliminate the backlog. Let’s get rid of it. (Applause.) The good news is, we’ve poured major resources into improving mental health care. But now, let’s make sure our veterans actually get the care they need when they need it. The good news is, we’ve helped to get thousands of homeless veterans off the street, made an unprecedented effort to end veterans’ homelessness. We should have zero tolerance for that. But we’ve got to — still more work to do in cities and towns across America to get more veterans into the homes they deserve.
We’ve helped more than a million veterans and their spouses and children go to college through the post-9/11 GI bill. (Applause.) But now, we’ve got to help even more of them earn their educations, and make sure that they’re getting a good bargain in the schools they enroll in.
We’ve rallied companies to hire hundreds of thousands of veterans and their spouses. That’s the good news. With the help of Jill Biden and Michelle Obama — two pretty capable women. (Laughter.) They know what they’re doing, and nobody says no to them, including me. (Laughter.) But now, we’ve got to help more of our highly skilled veterans find careers in this new economy.
So America has to do right by all who serve under our proud flag. And Congress needs to do more, also. I urge the Senate, once again, to finally confirm my nominee for Assistant Secretary for Policy at the VA, Linda Schwartz; my nominee to lead the Board of Veterans Appeals, Constance Tobias; my nominee for CFO, Helen Tierney. Each of them have been waiting for months for a yes-or-no vote — in Constance’s case for more than a year.
They’re ready to serve. They’re ready to get to work. It’s not that hard. It didn’t used to be this hard to just go ahead and get somebody confirmed who is well qualified. Nobody says they’re not. It’s just the Senate doesn’t seem to move very fast. As soon as the Senate gets back in September, they should act to put these outstanding public servants in place. Our veterans don’t have time for politics. They need these public servants on the job right now. (Applause.)
So let me wrap up by saying two months ago, I had the chance to spend some time with some of America’s oldest veterans at Omaha Beach. Some of you may have seen on television the celebration, the commemoration of those incredible days, the 70th anniversary of D-Day. And this is my second visit to democracy’s beachhead. It’s the second time I’ve gone as President. And it’s a place where it’s impossible not to be moved by the courage and the sacrifice of free men and women who volunteer to lay down their lives for people they’ve never met, ideals that they can’t live without. That’s why they’re willing to do these things.
And some of these folks that you met, they were 18 at the time. Some of them were lying about their age. They were 16, landing either at the beach or sometimes behind the lines. The casualty rates were unbelievable. Being there brought back memories of my own grandfather, who marched in Patton’s Army, and then came home. And like so many veterans of his generation, they went to school and got married and raised families. And he eventually helped to raise me.
And on that visit to Normandy, I brought some of today’s servicemembers with me because I wanted to introduce them to the veterans of D-Day and to show the veterans of D-Day that their legacy is in good hands, that there’s a direct line between the sacrifices then and the sacrifices that folks have made in remote places today. Because in more than a decade of war, today’s men and women in uniform — all of you — you’ve met every mission we’ve asked of you.
Today, our troops continue to serve and risk their lives in Afghanistan. It continues to be a difficult and dangerous mission, as we were tragically reminded again this week in the attack that injured a number of our coalition troops and took the life of a dedicated American soldier, Major General Harold Greene. Our prayers are with the Greene family, as they are with all the Gold Star families and those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.
Four months from now, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be complete. Our longest war will come to an honorable end. In the years to come, many from this generation will step out of uniform, and their legacy will be secure. But whether or not this country properly repays their heroism, properly repays their patriotism, their service and their sacrifice, that’s in our hands.
I’m committed to seeing that we fulfill that commitment. Because the men and women of this generation, this 9/11 Generation of servicemembers, are the leaders we need for our time — as community leaders and business leaders, I hope maybe some leaders in our politics, as well.
From the Greatest Generation to the 9/11 Generation, America’s heroes have answered the call to serve. I have no greater honor than serving as your President and Commander-in-Chief. And I have no greater privilege than the chance to help make sure that our country keeps the promises that we’ve made to everybody who signs up to serve. And as long as I hold this office, we’re going to spend each and every day working to do right by you and your families. I’m grateful to you.
God bless you. God bless America. With that, I am going to sign this bill. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)
12:18 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 7, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 6, 2014
Source: WH, 8-6-14
6:14 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: As I think everyone knows by now, this first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit has been the largest gathering we’ve ever hosted with African heads of state and government — and that includes about 50 motorcades. So I want to begin by thanking the people of Washington, D.C. for helping us host this historic event — and especially for their patience with the traffic.
As I’ve said, this summit reflects the reality that even as Africa continues to face great challenges we’re also seeing the emergence of a new, more prosperous Africa. Africa’s progress is being led by Africans, including leaders here today. I want to take this opportunity again to thank my fellow leaders for being here. Rather than a lot of prepared speeches, our sessions today were genuine discussions — a chance to truly listen and to try to come together around some pragmatic steps that we can take together. And that’s what we’ve done this week.
First, we made important progress in expanding our trade. The $33 billion in new trade and investments that I announced yesterday will help spur African development and support tens of thousands of American jobs. With major new commitments to our Power Africa initiative, we’ve tripled our goal and now aim to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses. And today I reiterated that we’ll continue to work with Congress to achieve a seamless and long-term renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
We agreed that Africa’s growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa, by Africans. The leaders here pledged to step up efforts to pursue reforms that attract investment, reduce barriers that stifle trade — especially between African countries — and to promote regional integration. And as I announced yesterday, the United States will increase our support to help build Africa’s capacity to trade with itself and with the world.
Ultimately, Africa’s prosperity depends on Africa’s greatest resource — its people. And I’ve been very encouraged by the desire of leaders here to partner with us in supporting young entrepreneurs, including through our Young African Leaders Initiative. I think there’s an increasing recognition that if countries are going to reach their full economic potential, then they have to invest in women — their education, their skills, and protect them from gender-based violence. And that was a topic of conversation this afternoon. And this week the United States announced a range of initiatives to help empower women across Africa.
Our New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition continues to grow, aiming to lift 50 million Africans from poverty. In our fight against HIV/AIDS, we’ll work with 10 African countries to help them double the number of their children on lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs. And even as the United States is deploying some of our medical first responders to West Africa to help control the Ebola outbreak, we’re also working to strengthen public health systems, including joining with the African Union to pursue the creation of an African Centers for Disease Control.
I also want to note that the American people are renewing their commitment to Africa. Today, InterAction — the leading alliance of American NGOs — is announcing that over the next three years its members will invest $4 billion to promote maternal health, children’s health, and the delivery of vaccines and drugs. So this is not just a government effort, it is also an effort that’s spurred on by the private sector. Combined with the investments we announced yesterday — and the commitments made today at the symposium hosted by our spouses — that means this summit has helped to mobilize some $37 billion for Africa’s progress on top of, obviously, the substantial efforts that have been made in the past.
Second, we addressed good governance, which is a foundation of economic growth and free societies. Some African nations are making impressive progress. But we see troubling restrictions on universal rights. So today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies, and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities. And I made the point during our discussion that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.
In particular, we agreed to step up our collective efforts against the corruption that costs African economies tens of billions of dollars every year — money that ought to be invested in the people of Africa. Several leaders raised the idea of a new partnership to combat illicit finance, and there was widespread agreement. So we decided to convene our experts and develop an action plan to promote the transparency that is essential to economic growth.
Third, we’re deepening our security cooperation to meet common threats, from terrorism to human trafficking. We’re launching a new Security Governance Initiative to help our African countries continue to build strong, professional security forces to provide for their own security. And we’re starting with Kenya, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Tunisia.
During our discussions, our West African partners made it clear that they want to increase their capacity to respond to crises. So the United States will launch a new effort to bolster the regions early warning and response network and increase their ability to share information about emerging crises.
We also agreed to make significant new investments in African peacekeeping. The United States will provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic. We will support the African Union’s efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions. And most importantly, we’re launching a new African peacekeeping rapid response partnership with the goal of quickly deploying African peacekeepers in support of U.N. or AU missions. And we’ll join with six countries that in recent years have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers — Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda. And we’re going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort, because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa.
In closing, I just want to say that this has been an extraordinary event, an extraordinary summit. Given the success that we’ve had this week, we agreed that summits like this can be a critical part of our work together going forward, a forcing mechanism for decisions and action. So we agreed that the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will be a recurring event to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments and to sustain our momentum. And I’ll strongly encourage my successor to carry on this work, because Africa must know that they will always have a strong and reliable partner in the United States of America.
So with that, I’m going to take a couple of questions. I’m going to start with Julie Pace of Associated Press. Where’s Julie? There she is.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding this summit about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And there’s an untested and unapproved drug in the U.S. that appears to be helping some of the Americans who are infected. Is your administration considering at all sending supplies of this drug if it becomes available to some of these countries in West Africa? And could you discuss a bit the ethics of either providing an untested drug to a foreign country, or providing it only to Americans and not to other countries that are harder hit if it could possibly save lives?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we’ve got to let the science guide us. And I don’t think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful. What we do know is that the Ebola virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place.
And the countries that have been affected are the first to admit that what’s happened here is, is that their public health systems have been overwhelmed. They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough. You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and public health workers. As a consequence, it spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic Ebola outbreaks that have occurred previously.
But despite obviously the extraordinary pain and hardship of the families and persons who’ve been affected, and despite the fact that we have to take this very seriously, it is important to remind ourselves this is not an airborne disease; this is one that can be controlled and contained very effectively if we use the right protocols.
So what we’ve done is to make sure that we’re surging not just U.S. resources, but we’ve reached out to European partners and partners from other countries, working with the WHO. Let’s get all the health workers that we need on the ground. Let’s help to bolster the systems that they already have in place. Let’s nip as early as possible any additional outbreaks of the disease. And then during the course of that process, I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to see if there are additional drugs or medical treatments that can improve the survivability of what is a very deadly and obviously brutal disease.
So we’re going to — we’re focusing on the public health approach right now because we know how to do that. But I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning with respect to these drugs going forward.
Q If this drug proves to be effective, would you support fast-tracking its approval in the United States?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it’s premature for me to say that because I don’t have enough information. I don’t have enough data right now to offer an opinion on that.
Jon Karl, ABC News.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. When you were running for President, you said, “The biggest problems we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse.” So my question to you — has Congress’s inability to do anything significant given you a green light to push the limits of executive power, even a duty to do so? Or put another way — does it bother you more to be accused of being an imperial President, pushing those limits, or to be accused of being a do-nothing President who couldn’t get anything done because he faced a dysfunctional Congress?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think that I never have a green light. I’m bound by the Constitution; I’m bound by separation of powers. There are some things we can’t do.
Congress has the power of the purse, for example. I would love to fund a large infrastructure proposal right now that would put millions of people to work and boost our GDP. We know we’ve got roads and bridges and airports and electrical grids that need to be rebuilt. But without the cooperation of Congress, what I can do is speed up the permitting process, for example. I can make sure that we’re working with the private sector to see if we can channel investment into much-needed projects. But ultimately, Congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending. So I don’t have a green light.
What I am consistently going to do is, wherever I have the legal authorities to make progress on behalf of middle-class Americans and folks working to get into the middle class, whether it’s by making sure that federal contractors are paying a fair wage to their workers, making sure that women have the opportunity to make sure that they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job, where I have the capacity to expand some of the student loan programs that we’ve already put in place so that repayments are a little more affordable for college graduates — I’m going to seize those opportunities. And that’s what I think the American people expect me to do.
My preference in all these instances is to work with Congress, because not only can Congress do more, but it’s going to be longer-lasting. And when you look at, for example, congressional inaction, and in particular, the inaction on the part of House Republicans, when it comes to immigration reform, here’s an area where, as I’ve said before, not only the American people want to see action, not only is there 80 percent overlap between what Republicans say they want and Democrats say they want, we actually passed a bill out of the Senate that was bipartisan.
And in those circumstances, what the American people expect is that, despite the differences between the parties, there should at least be the capacity to move forward on things we agree on. And that’s not what we’re seeing right now. So in the face of that kind of dysfunction, what I can do is scour our authorities to try to make progress.
And we’re going to make sure that every time we take one of these steps that we are working within the confines of my executive power. But I promise you the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done. Even as we take these executive actions, I’m going to continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans — to the Speaker, to the leadership on both sides and in both chambers — to try to come up with formulas where we can make progress, even if it’s incremental.
Q Do you believe you have the power to grant work permits to those who are here illegally, as some of your supporters have suggested?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I certainly recognize with respect to immigration reform — and I’ve said this in the past — is that we have a broken system; it’s under-resourced; and we’ve got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources.
So if I’m going to, for example, send more immigration judges down to the border to process some of these unaccompanied children that have arrived at the border, then that’s coming from someplace else, and we’re going to have to prioritize. That’s well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion.
My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law. And we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems. Until that happens, I’m going to have to make choice. That’s what I was elected to do.
Margaret Talev, Bloomberg.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Along the lines of executive authority, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has previously said that the executive branch of government doesn’t have the authority to slow or stop corporate inversions, the practice that you have called distasteful, unpatriotic, et cetera. But now he is reviewing options to do so. And this is an issue that a lot of business, probably including some of the ones who were paying a lot of attention to this summit, are interested in. So what I wanted to ask you was, what prompted this apparent reversal? What actions are now under consideration? Will you consider an executive order that would limit or ban such companies from getting federal contracts? And how soon would you like to see Treasury act, given Congress’s schedule?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Just to review why we’re concerned here. You have accountants going to some big corporations — multinational corporations but that are clearly U.S.-based and have the bulk of their operations in the United States — and these accountants are saying, you know what, we found a great loophole — if you just flip your citizenship to another country, even though it’s just a paper transaction, we think we can get you out of paying a whole bunch of taxes.
Well, it’s not fair. It’s not right. The lost revenue to Treasury means it’s got to be made up somewhere, and that typically is going to be a bunch of hardworking Americans who either pay through higher taxes themselves or through reduced services. And in the meantime, the company is still using all the services and all the benefits of effectively being a U.S. corporation; they just decided that they’d go through this paper exercise.
So there is legislation working its way through Congress that would eliminate some of these tax loopholes entirely. And it’s true what Treasury Secretary Lew previously said, that we can’t solve the entire problem administratively. But what we are doing is examining are there elements to how existing statutes are interpreted by rule or by regulation or tradition or practice that can at least discourage some of the folks who may be trying to take advantage of this loophole.
And I think it’s something that would really bother the average American, the idea that somebody renounces their citizenship but continues to entirely benefit from operating in the United States of America just to avoid paying a whole bunch of taxes.
We’re reviewing all of our options. As usual, and related to the answer I gave Jonathan about executive actions, my preference would always be for us to go ahead and get something done in Congress. And keep in mind it’s still a small number of companies that are resorting to this, because I think most American companies are proud to be American, recognize the benefits of being American, and are responsible actors and willing to pay their fair share of taxes to support all the benefits that they receive from being here.
But we don’t want to see this trend grow. We don’t want companies who have up until now been playing by the rules suddenly looking over their shoulder and saying, you know what, some of our competitors are gaming the system and we need to do it, too. That kind of herd mentality I think is something we want to avoid. So we want to move quickly — as quickly as possible.
Q Just to clarify, the federal contracting seems like an area that you’ve liked. It’s worked well for you on issues like promoting gay rights, or contraception policy. Is it fair to assume that that would — attaching this to federal contractors would be the first thing you would think of?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Margaret, I’m not going to announce specifics in dribs and drabs. When we’ve done a thorough evaluation and we understand what our authorities are, I’ll let you know.
Chris Jansing, NBC News.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Russia said today that it is going to ban food and agricultural product imports. That was about $1.3 billion last year. At the same time, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the massing of troops along the border of Ukraine increases the likelihood of an invasion. Are sanctions not working?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we don’t know yet whether sanctions are working. Sanctions are working as intended in putting enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy. That’s not my estimation; if you look at the markets and you look at estimates in terms of capital flight, if you look at projections for Russian growth, what you’re seeing is that the economy has ground to a halt. Somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion of capital flight has taken place. You’re not seeing a lot of investors coming in new to start businesses inside of Russia.
And it has presented the choice to President Putin as to whether he is going to try to resolve the issues in eastern Ukraine through diplomacy and peaceful means, recognizing that Ukraine is a sovereign country, and that it is up ultimately to the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own lives; or, alternatively, continue on the course that he’s on, in which case he’s going to be hurting his economy, and hurting his own people over the long term.
And in that sense, we are doing exactly what we should be doing. And we’re very pleased that our European allies and partners joined us in this process, as well as a number of countries around the world.
Having said all that, the issue is not resolved yet. You still have fighting in eastern Ukraine. Civilians are still dying. We’ve already seen some of the consequences of this conflict in the loss of the Malaysian Airlines airliner — or jetliner.
And the sooner that we can get back on a track in which there are serious discussions taking place to ensure that all Ukrainians are heard, that they can work through the political process, that they’re represented, that the reforms that have already been offered by the government in Kyiv are implemented to protect Russian speakers, to assure decentralization of power — the sooner that we move on those, and the sooner that President Putin recognizes that Ukraine is an independent country, it’s only at that point where we can say that the problem has truly been solved. But in the meantime, sanctions are working the way they’re supposed to.
Q The troops that are massing on the border are more highly trained. They seem to have more sophisticated weaponry, according to intelligence. Does that make you reconsider — as a few Democrats have suggested — providing lethal aid to Ukraine, given those troop movements?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that the Russian army is a lot bigger than the Ukrainian army. So the issue here is not whether the Ukrainian army has some additional weaponry. At least up until this point, they’ve been fighting a group of separatists who have engaged in some terrible violence but who can’t match the Ukrainian army.
Now, if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions. We’re not there yet. What we have been doing is providing a whole host of assistance packages to the Ukrainian government and to their military, and we will continue to work with them to evaluate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis what exactly they need in order to be able to defend their country and to deal with the separatist elements that currently are being armed by Russia.
But the best thing we can do for Ukraine is to try to get back on a political track.
David Ohito, The Standard.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You have been hosting African kings, prime ministers and presidents for the last three days. But back home in Africa, media freedom is under threat. The work of journalists is becoming increasingly difficult. In Egypt, our Al Jazeera colleagues are in jail. In Ethiopia, dozens of journalists are in prison. In Kenya, they have passed very bad laws targeting the media. What can the international community do to ensure that we have a strong media in Africa and, more importantly, to secure the release of the journalists who are behind bars?
And, two, so many countries in Africa are facing threats of terror. I’m glad you’ve mentioned a few measures you’re going to take. But what can the international community do also to neutralize terror threats in Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya? Could that be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry, what was the last part of the question?
Q Could the terror threats be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Well, first of all, with respect to journalists in the media, the last session that we had on good governance emphasized that good governance means everybody has a voice, that government is transparent and, thereby, accountable. And even though leaders don’t always like it, the media plays a crucial role in assuring people that they have the proper information to evaluate the policies that their leaders are pursuing.
And so we have been very consistent in pushing governments not just in Africa, but around the world, to respect the right of journalists to practice their trade as a critical part of civil society and a critical part of any democratic norm. The specific issue of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, we’ve been clear both publicly and privately that they should be released. And we have been troubled by some of the laws that have been passed around the world that seem to restrict the ability of journalists to pursue stories or write stories. We’ve also been disturbed by efforts to control the Internet. Part of what’s happened over the last decade or two is that new media, new technology allow people to get information that previously would have never been accessible, or only to a few specialists. And now people can punch something up on the Internet and pull up information that’s relevant to their own lives and their own societies and communities. So we’re going to continue to push back against these efforts.
As is true on a whole range of issues — and I’ve said this in the past — many times we will work with countries even though they’re not perfect on every issue. And we find that in some cases engaging a country that generally is a good partner but is not performing optimally when it comes to all of the various categories of human rights, that we can be effective by working with them on certain areas, and criticizing them and trying to elicit improvements in other areas. And even among countries that generally have strong human rights records, there are areas where there are problems. That’s true of the United States, by the way.
And so the good news — and we heard this in the summit — is that more and more countries are recognizing that in the absence of good governance, in the absence of accountability and transparency, that’s not only going to have an effect domestically on the legitimacy of a government, it’s going to have an effect on economic development and growth. Because ultimately, in an information age, open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term. I believe that.
Now, with respect to terrorism, I think there’s uniform concern of terrorist infiltration in many countries throughout Africa. Obviously, this is a concern that we have globally. A lot of the initiatives that we put forward were designed to partner so that countries, first and foremost, can deal with these problems within their own borders or regionally. And the United States doesn’t have a desire to expand and create a big footprint inside of Africa. What we do want to make sure we can do is partner with the African Union, with ECOWAS, with individual countries to build up their capacity.
And one of the encouraging things in the sessions was a recognition that fighting terrorism also requires security forces that are professional, that are disciplined, that themselves are not engaging in human rights violations; that part of the lesson that we’ve all learned about terrorism is that it is possible in reaction to terrorism to actually accelerate the disease if the response is one that alienates populations or particular ethnic groups or particular religions. And so the work that we’re doing, including the security initiatives that I announced today, I think can make a big difference in that direction.
It’s not just a matter of us providing better equipment or better training. That’s a part of it, but part of it is also making sure that these security forces and the intelligence operations are coordinated and professional, and they’re not alienating populations. The more we do that, the more effective we can be.
Last point I’ll make is, on good governance, one of the best inoculators against terrorist infiltration is a society in which everybody feels as if they have a stake in the existing order, and they feel that their grievances can be resolved through political means rather than through violence. And so that’s just one more reason why good governance has to be part of the recipe that we use for a strong, stable and prosperous Africa.
Last question, Jérôme Cartillier.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today, the Israeli Prime Minister described the Gaza operation as “justified and proportionate.” Do you agree with these two words? And Israel and Hamas seems to be at odds over prolonging the cease-fire. Are you hopeful the cease-fire — a true cease-fire can be achieved? And what exact role can the U.S. play in the current talks going on in Cairo?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities. And as a consequence, I have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself, and that includes doing what it needs to do to prevent rockets from landing on population centers and, more recently, as we learned, preventing tunnels from being dug under their territory that can be used to launch terrorist attacks. I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately siting rocket launchers in population centers, putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy.
Now, having said all that, I’ve also expressed my distress at what’s happened to innocent civilians, including women and children, during the course of this process. And I’m very glad that we have at least temporarily achieved a cease-fire. The question is now how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way.
We intend to support the process that’s taking place in Egypt. I think the short-term goal has to be to make sure that rocket launches do not resume, that the work that the Israeli government did in closing off these tunnels has been completed, and that we are now in the process of helping to rebuild a Gaza that’s been really badly damaged as a consequence of this conflict. Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world and incapable of providing some opportunity — jobs, economic growth — for the population that lives there, particularly given how dense that population is, how young that population is.
We’re going to have to see a shift in opportunity for the people of Gaza. I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza. And the question then becomes, can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks, perhaps more dangerous attacks as technology develops into their country. But at the same time, ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off and incapable of pursuing basic prosperity.
I think there are formulas that are available, but they’re going to require risks on the part of political leaders. They’re going to require a slow rebuilding of trust, which is obviously very difficult in the aftermath of the kind of violence that we’ve seen. So I don’t think we get there right away, but the U.S. goal right now would be to make sure that the cease-fire holds, that Gaza can begin the process of rebuilding, and that some measures are taken so that the people of Gaza feel some sense of hope, and the people of Israel feel confident that they’re not going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen over the last several weeks.
And Secretary Kerry has been in consistent contact with all the parties involved. We expect we will continue to be trying to work as diligently as we can to move the process forward.
It is also going to need to involve the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for some of the work that has been done in cooperation with Israel and the international community by the Palestinian Authority. And they’ve shown themselves to be responsible. They have recognized Israel. They are prepared to move forward to arrive at a two-state solution.
I think Abu Mazen is sincere in his desire for peace. But they have also been weakened, I think, during this process. The populations in the West Bank may have also lost confidence or lost a sense of hope in terms of how to move forward. We have to rebuild that, as well. And they are the delegation that’s leading the Palestinian negotiators. And my hope is, is that we’ll be engaging with them to try to move what has been a very tragic situation over the last several weeks into a more constructive path.
Thank you very much, everybody. And thank you all who participated in the Africa Summit. It was an outstanding piece of work. And I want to remind folks, in case they’ve forgotten, of the incredible young people who participated in our fellows program. We’re very proud of you, and we’re looking forward to seeing all the great things that you do when you go back home.
6:54 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 6, 2014
Source: WH, 8-5-14
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
3:20 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you. Please be seated. Well, good afternoon, everybody. To Mayor Bloomberg, thank you — not only for the kind introduction, but to Bloomberg Philanthropies as our co-host, and for the great work that you’re doing across Africa to help create jobs, and promote public health, encourage entrepreneurship, especially women. So thank you very much, Michael, for your leadership. I want to thank our other co-host — my great friend and tireless Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker. (Applause.)
I want to welcome all of our partners who are joining us from across Africa — heads of state and government, and let me welcome the delegations from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with whom we are working so urgently to control the Ebola outbreak and whose citizens are in our thoughts and prayers today. I also want to welcome Madame Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma of the African Union Commission; President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka; as well as the President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim. Please give them all a round of applause. (Applause.)
And I want to acknowledge members of Congress who are here and who are such great champions of Africa’s engagement with — America’s engagement with Africa. In a city that does not always agree on much these days, there is broad bipartisan agreement that a secure, prosperous and self-reliant Africa is in the national interest of the United States.
And most of all, I want to thank all of you — the business leaders, the entrepreneurs both from the United States and from across Africa who are creating jobs and opportunity for our people every day. And I want to acknowledge leaders from across my administration who, like Penny, are your partners, including our U.S. Trade Representative, Mike Froman; USAID Administrator Raj Shah; and our new head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Dana Hyde; President of the Export-Import Bank, Fred Hochberg; Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Lee Zak; and our President and CEO of OPIC, Elizabeth Littlefield.
So we are here, of course, as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit — the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government. And this summit reflects a perspective that has guided my approach to Africa as President. Even as Africa continues to face enormous challenges, even as too many Africans still endure poverty and conflict, hunger and disease, even as we work together to meet those challenges, we cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging.
We all know what makes Africa such an extraordinary opportunity. Some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. A growing middle class. Expanding sectors like manufacturing and retail. One of the fastest-growing telecommunications markets in the world. More governments are reforming, attracting a record level of foreign investment. It is the youngest and fastest-growing continent, with young people that are full of dreams and ambition.
Last year in South Africa, in Soweto, I held a town hall with young men and women from across the continent, including some who joined us by video from Uganda. And one young Ugandan woman spoke for many Africans when she said to me, “We are looking to the world for equal business partners and commitments, and not necessarily aid. We want to do [business] at home and be the ones to own our own markets.” That’s a sentiment we hear over and over again. When I was traveling throughout Africa last year, what I heard was the desire of Africans not just for aid, but for trade and development that actually helps nations grow and empowers Africans for the long term.
As President, I’ve made it clear that the United States is determined to be a partner in Africa’s success — a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term. (Applause.) We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources; we recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talents and their potential. (Applause.) We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth; we want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth. That’s the kind of partnership America offers.
And since I took office, we’ve stepped up our efforts across the board. More investments in Africa; more trade missions, like the one Penny led this year; and more support for U.S. exports. And I’m proud — I’m proud that American exports to Africa have grown to record levels, supporting jobs in Africa and the United States, including a quarter of a million good American jobs.
But here’s the thing: Our entire trade with all of Africa is still only about equal to our trade with Brazil — one country. Of all the goods we export to the world, only about one percent goes to Sub-Saharan Africa. So we’ve got a lot of work to do. We have to do better — much better. I want Africans buying more American products. I want Americans buying more African products. I know you do, too. And that’s what you’re doing today. (Applause.)
So I’m pleased that in conjunction with this forum, American companies are announcing major new deals in Africa. Blackstone will invest in African energy projects. Coca-Cola will partner with Africa to bring clean water to its communities. GE will help build African infrastructure. Marriott will build more hotels. All told, American companies — many with our trade assistance — are announcing new deals in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction worth more than $14 billion, spurring development across Africa and selling more goods stamped with that proud label, “Made in America.”
And I don’t want to just sustain this momentum, I want to up it. I want to up our game. So today I’m announcing a series of steps to take our trade with Africa to the next level.
First, we’re going to keep working to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act — and enhance it. (Applause.) We still do the vast majority of our trade with just three countries — South Africa, Nigeria and Angola. It’s still heavily weighted towards the energy sector. We need more Africans, including women and small- and medium-sized businesses, getting their goods to market. And leaders in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — have said they want to move forward. So I’m optimistic we can work with Congress to renew and modernize AGOA before it expires, renew it for the long term. We need to get that done. (Applause.)
Second, as part of our “Doing Business in Africa” campaign, we’re going to do even more to help American companies compete. We’ll put even more of our teams on the ground, advocating on behalf of your companies. We’re going to send even more trade missions. Today, we’re announcing $7 billion in new financing to promote American exports to Africa. Earlier today, I signed an executive order to create a new President’s advisory council of business leaders to help make sure we’re doing everything we can to help you do business in Africa. (Applause.)
And I would be remiss if I did not add that House Republicans can help by reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. That is the right thing to do. (Applause.) I was trying to explain to somebody that if I’ve got a Ford dealership and the Toyota dealership is providing financing to anybody who walks in the dealership and I’m not, I’m going to lose business. It’s pretty straightforward. We need to get that reauthorized. (Applause.) And you business leaders can help make clear that it is critical to U.S. business.
Number three, we want to partner with Africa to build the infrastructure that economies need to flourish. And that starts with electricity, which most Africans still lack. That’s why last year while traveling throughout the continent, I announced a bold initiative, Power Africa, to double access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and help bring electricity to more than 20 million African homes and businesses.
Now, we’ve joined with African governments, the African Development Bank, and the private sector — and I will tell you, the response has exceeded our projections. It has been overwhelming. Already, projects and negotiations are underway that, when completed, will put us nearly 80 percent of the way toward our goal. On top of the significant resources we’ve already committed, I’m announcing that the United States will increase our pledge to $300 million a year for this effort.
And as of today — including an additional $12 billion in new commitments being announced this week by our private sector partners and the World Bank and the government of Sweden — we’ve now mobilized a total of more than $26 billion to Power Africa just since we announced it — $26 billion. (Applause.) So today we’re raising the bar. We decided we’re meeting our goal too easily, Zuma, so we’ve got to go up. So we’re tripling our goal, aiming to bring electricity to more than 60 million African homes and businesses that can spark growth for decades to come. (Applause.)
Fourth, we’ll do more to help Africans trade with each other, because the markets with the greatest potential are often the countries right next door. And it should not be harder to export your goods to your neighbor than it is to export those goods to Los Angeles or to Amsterdam. (Applause.) So through our Trade Africa initiative, we’ll increase our investments to help our African partners build their own capacity to trade, to strengthen regional markets, make borders more efficient, modernize the customs system. We want to get African goods moving faster within Africa, as well as outside of Africa.
And finally, we’re doing more to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs and business leaders — it’s young men and women, like our extraordinary Mandela Washington Fellows that I met with last week. And I have to say to the heads of state and government, you would have been extraordinarily proud to meet these young people who exhibit so much talent and so much energy and so much drive.
With new Regional Leadership Centers and online courses, we’re going to offer training and networking for tens of thousands of young entrepreneurs across Africa. New grants will help them access the capital they need to grow. Our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit this year will be held in Morocco. Next year, it will be held for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa — because we want to make sure that all that talent is tapped and they have access to the capital and the networks and the markets that they need to succeed. Because if they succeed, then the countries in which they live will succeed. They’ll create jobs. They’ll create growth. They’ll create opportunity.
So the bottom line is the United States is making a major and long-term investment in Africa’s progress. And taken together, the new commitments I’ve described today — across our government and by our many partners — total some $33 billion. And that will support development across Africa and jobs here in the United States. Up to tens of thousands of American jobs are supported every time we expand trade with Africa.
As critical as all these investments are, the key to unlocking the next era of African growth is not going to be here in the United States, it’s going to be in Africa. And so, during this week’s summit, we’ll be discussing a whole range of areas where we’re going to have to work together — areas that are important in their own right, but which are also essential to Africa’s growth.
Capital is one thing. Development programs and projects are one thing. But rule of law, regulatory reform, good governance — those things matter even more, because people should be able to start a business and ship their goods without having to pay a bribe or hire somebody’s cousin.
Agricultural development is critical because it’s the best way to boost incomes for the majority of Africans who are farmers, especially as they deal with the impacts of climate change.
Rebuilding a strong health infrastructure, especially for mothers and children, is critical because no country can prosper unless its citizens are healthy and strong, and children are starting off with the advantages they need to grow to their full potential.
And we’re going to have to talk about security and peace, because the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy. And it’s very hard to attract business investment, and it’s very hard to build infrastructure, and it’s very hard to sustain entrepreneurship in the midst of conflict.
So I just want to close with one example of what trade can help us build together. Kusum Kavia was born in Kenya; her family was originally from India. Eventually, she emigrated to the United States and along with her husband started a small business in California. It started off as a small engineering firm. Then it started manufacturing small power generators. With the help of the Export-Import Bank — including seminars and a line of credit and risk insurance — they started exporting power generators to West Africa. In Benin, they helped build a new electric power plant.
And it’s ended up being a win-win for everybody. It’s been a win for their company, Combustion Associates, because exports to Africa have boosted their sales, which means they’ve been able to hire more workers here in the United States. They partner with GE; GE is doing well. Most of their revenues are from exports to Africa. It’s been a win for their suppliers in Texas and Ohio and New York. It’s been a win for Benin and its people, because more electricity for families and businesses, jobs for Africans at the power plant because the company hires locally and trains those workers. And they hope to keep expanding as part of our Power Africa initiative.
So this is an example of just one small business. Imagine if we can replicate that success across our countries.
Kusum says, “When our customers see the label, ‘Made in America,’ when they see our flag, it puts us above all the competition.” And her vision for their company is the same vision that brings us all here today. She says, “We really want to have a long-term partnership with Africa.” So Kusum is here. I had a chance to meet her backstage. Where is she? Right there. Stand up, Kusum. So she’s doing great work. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
But she’s an example of what’s possible — a long-term partnership with Africa. And that’s what America offers. That’s what we’re building. That’s the difference we can make when Africans and Americans work together. So let’s follow Kusum’s lead. Let’s do even more business together. Let’s tear down barriers that slow us down and get in the way of trade. Let’s build up the infrastructure — the roads, the bridges, the ports, the electricity — that connect our countries. Let’s create more and sell more and buy more from each other. I’m confident that we can. And when we do, we won’t just propel the next era of African growth, we’ll create more jobs and opportunity for everybody — for people here in the United States and for people around the world.
So thank you very much, everybody, for what so far has been an outstanding session. And I’ve got the opportunity to speak to this young man. (Applause.)
Q So thank you very much, Mr. President for this opportunity. I’ll start by wishing you a belated Happy Birthday.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Have you introduced yourself to everybody?
Q I wanted to really jump into the issues. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, go ahead and introduce yourself.
Q All right. I’m Takunda Chingonzo. I’m a young entrepreneur. I’m 21. I’m from Zimbabwe. And I’m working in the wireless technology space. We’re essentially liberating the Internet for Zimbabweans. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: And let me just — this is an example of our young African leaders; in fact, the youngest young African leader. But one thing I will say, though, if you’re going to promote your business, you’ve got to make sure to let people know who you are. (Laughter.)
Q Definitely, definitely.
THE PRESIDENT: Just a little tip.
THE PRESIDENT: You can’t be shy, man. (Laughter.) Please, go ahead.
Q That’s correct, Mr. President. So I was really going to start by delving into a personal experience. I was going to get to my business and how I got to where we are.
So as I was saying, we’re working in the technology space. I’m working on my third startup — it’s called Saisai. We’re creating Zimbabwe’s first free Internet-access network, hence liberating the Internet. So in our working, we came to a point in time where we needed to import a bit of technology from the United States, and so we were engaging in conversation with these U.S.-based businesses. And the response that we got time and time again was that unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe. And I was shocked — this doesn’t make sense.
And so this is the exact same experience that other entrepreneurs that are in Zimbabwe have gone through, even through the meetings that I’ve had here. You know, you sit down with potential investors, you talk about the project, the outlook, the opportunity, the growth and all that — and they’re excited, you can see. All systems are firing, right? And then I say I’m from Zimbabwe and they look at me and they say, young man, this is a good project, very good, very good, but unfortunately we cannot engage in business with you.
And I understand that the sanctions that we have — that are imposed on entities in Zimbabwe, these are targeted sanctions, right? But then we have come to a point in time where we as young Africans are failing to properly engage in business with U.S.-based entities because there hasn’t been that clarity. These entities believe that Zimbabwe is under sanctions. So what really can we do to do try and clarify this to make sure that we as the young entrepreneurs can effectively develop Africa and engage in business?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, the situation in Zimbabwe is somewhat unique. The challenge for us in the United States has been how do we balance our desire to help the people of Zimbabwe with what has, frankly, been a repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights inside of Zimbabwe.
And we think it is very important to send clear signals about how we expect elections to be conducted, governments to be conducted — because if we don’t, then all too often, with impunity, the people of those countries can suffer. But you’re absolutely right that it also has to be balanced with making sure that whatever structures that we put in place with respect to sanctions don’t end up punishing the very people inside those countries.
My immediate suggestion — and this is a broader point to all the African businesses who are here, as well as the U.S. businesses — is to make sure that we’re using the Department of Commerce and the other U.S. agencies where we can gather groups of entrepreneurs and find out exactly what can be done, what can’t be done, what resources are available. It may be that you and a group of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe are able to meet with us and propose certain projects that allow us to say this is something that will advance as opposed to retard the progress for the Zimbabwean people.
So what I’d suggest would be that we set up a meeting and we find out what kinds of things that the young entrepreneurs of Zimbabwe want to do, and see if there are ways that we can work with you consistent with the strong message that we send about good governance in Zimbabwe.
Q I see. Because really — the point of emphasis really is that as young Africans we want to converse with other business entities here in the U.S., and if these sanctions are really targeted, then in honest truth, they aren’t supposed to hamper the business that we’re trying to engage in, the development that we’re talking about.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let’s see if we can refine them further based on some of the things you’re talking about.
Q That’s all right. Now, there have been a good number of investments that have been announced here — multibillion-dollar investments in Africa — and we’re really excited. And there’s been a lot of talk about how the public and private partnerships are the vehicle through which this investment will come into Africa, but I really want to bring it to a point of clarity. I believe that the private sector is stratified in itself. We have the existing indigenous businesses in these countries that you’re hoping to invest in, and this is where usually the funding comes through — the partnerships and all that. That is well and fine.
But then, underneath that, we have these young, upcoming entrepreneurs — the innovators, those that come up with products and services that disrupt the industry. And this is the innovation that we want in Africa, to build products by Africans for Africans. But in most cases, in what we have seen over the past years, is that, indeed, this investment comes through but it never cascades down to these young entrepreneurs, the emerging businesses. And so the existing businesses then form a sort of ceiling which we cannot break through.
When it comes to investment, when you’re talking about solving unemployment, I believe that it’s more realistic to assume and understand that the probability of 10 startups employing 10 people in a given time period, it’s more realistic than one indigenous company employing 100 people.
So what really has been — or rather, has there been any consideration in these deals that have been structured in the investments that you announced to cater for the young entrepreneur who is trying to innovate to solve the problems in society?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think for the business leaders who are here, both African and U.S., it’s hard being a startup everywhere.
Q That’s true.
THE PRESIDENT: Part of what you’re describing is typical of business around the world: Folks who are already in, they don’t necessarily want to share. They don’t want to be disrupted. If there’s a good opportunity, they’d rather do it themselves. If they see a small up-and-coming hotshot who might disrupt their business, they may initially try to block you or they may try to buy you out. And getting financing for a startup is always going to be difficult. You hear that from entrepreneurs here in the U.S. as well.
Having said that, what is absolutely true is that as we think about the billions of dollars that we’re mobilizing, we want to make sure that small businesses, medium-size businesses, women-owned businesses — that they have opportunity. And so my instructions to all of our agencies and hopefully the work that we’re doing with all of our partners is how can we identify, target financing for the startup; how can we identify and link up U.S. companies with small and medium-size businesses and not just the large businesses? And I think you are absolutely right that by us trying to spread investment, not narrowly through one or two companies but more broadly, that the opportunities for success in those countries are higher, and it also creates a healthy competition.
And that’s true also in terms of how we’re designing – for example, our Feed the Future program, which is working with almost 2 million small farmers inside of Africa. When I was in Senegal, I met with a woman, maybe in her 30s; she had a small plot of land initially. Through the Feed the Future program, she had been able to mechanize, double her productivity. By doubling her productivity and, through a smartphone, getting better prices to the market, she was able to increase her profits. Then she bought a tractor. Then she doubled her productivity again. And suddenly what had started off as just a program to increase her income had become capital for a growing business where she was now hiring people in her area and doing some of the process of the grain that she grew herself, so that she could move up the value chain.
There are entrepreneurs like that all across Africa. Sometimes the capital they need is not very large. Sometimes it’s a fairly modest amount. And so what I want to do is to make sure that we are constantly looking out for opportunities to disburse this capital not just narrowly, but broadly. And one of the things that I hope happens with U.S. companies is that they’re constantly looking for opportunities to partner with young entrepreneurs, startups, and not just always going to the same well-established businesses.
Now, there are going to be some large-capital projects where you’ve got a good, solid, established company. Hopefully they, themselves, have policies with respect to their suppliers that allow them to start encouraging and growing small businesses as well.
Q Exactly. And on that note, I’m glad that you acknowledged that and I hope that even in these deals, in the investments that you’re talking about, that one of the conditions be that those large organizations that are getting investment have policies that cascade down to people at the grassroots.
You spoke about this lady who was using a smartphone to — it is one key issue that is really propelling business and development in Africa, the ability to leverage technology. And really it is all about the Internet of things. And that is why I’m personally working in liberating the Internet to get more people connected.
Now, this is a huge opportunity in Africa as well. Now, there is this troubling issue that has been brought to our attention with entities and organizations that have come up and have said we want to control the Internet, we want to see who gets what traffic and from whom. And policies and activities like that become challenges for startups that are trying to leverage the Internet, for this lady farmer that you talked about who is trying to leverage and get information from the Internet.
So I want to understand what is your stance on net neutrality and its effects on the global development in Africa?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, this is an important issue for all the heads of state and government not just in Africa but around the world. The reason the Internet is so powerful is because it’s open. My daughters, 16 and 13, they can access information from anyplace in the world. They can learn about a particular discipline instantaneously, in ways that when I was their age — first of all, I wasn’t as motivated as they are. I was lazier than them. (Laughter.) They do much better in school than I did. But the world is at their fingertips.
And what facilitates that, and what has facilitated the incredible value that’s been built by companies like Google and Facebook and so many others, all the applications that you find on your smartphone, is that there are not restrictions, there are not barriers to entry for new companies who have a good idea to use this platform that is open to create value. And it is very important I think that we maintain that.
Now, I know that there’s a tension in some countries — their attitude is we don’t necessarily want all this information flowing because it can end up also being used as a tool for political organizing, it can be used as a tool to criticize the government, and so maybe we’d prefer a system that is more closed. I think that is a self-defeating attitude. Over the long term, because of technology, information, knowledge, transparency is inevitable. And that’s true here in the United States; it’s true everywhere.
And so what we should be doing is trying to maintain an open Internet, trying to keep a process whereby any talented person who has an idea can suddenly use the Internet to disperse information. There are going to be occasional tensions involved in terms of us monitoring the use of the Internet for terrorist networks or criminal enterprises or human trafficking. But we can do that in ways that are compatible with maintaining an open Internet.
And this raises the broader question that I mentioned earlier, which is Africa needs capital; in some cases, Africa needs technical assistance; Africa certainly needs access to markets. But perhaps the biggest thing that Africa is going to need to unleash even more the potential that’s already there and the growth that’s already taking place is laws and regulations and structures that empower individuals and are not simply designed to control or empower those at the very top.
And the Internet is one example. You’ve got to have a system and sets of laws that encourage entrepreneurship, but that’s also true when it comes to a whole host of issues. It’s true when it comes to how hard is it to get a business permit when a new startup like yours wants to establish itself.
When it comes to Power Africa, there are billions of dollars floating around the world that are interested in investing in power generation in Africa. And the countries that are going to attract that investment are the ones where the investor knows that if a power plant is built, that there are rules in place that are transparent that ensure that they’re going to get a decent return, and that some of the revenue isn’t siphoned off in certain ways so that the investor has political risks or risks with respect to corruption.
The more that governments set up the right rules, understanding that in the 21st century the power that drives growth and development and the marketplace involves knowledge and that can’t be controlled, the more successful countries are going to be.
Q I see. So just to clarify on the issue of net neutrality, you are advocating for an open and fair Internet –
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q — which would — then it has structure to ensure that the platform itself isn’t abused.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there are two issues — net neutrality — in the United States, one of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That’s the big controversy here. You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster or what have you.
And I personally — the position of my administration, as well as I think a lot of companies here is you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various users. You want to leave it open so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.
There’s another problem, though — there are other countries — and I think this is what you were alluding to — that feel comfortable with the idea of controlling and censoring Internet content in their home countries, and setting up rules and laws about what can or cannot be on the Internet. And I think that that not only is going to inhibit entrepreneurs who are creating value on the Internet; I think it’s also going to inhibit the growth of the country generally, because closed societies that are not open to new ideas, eventually they fall behind. Eventually, they miss out on the future because they’re so locked into trying to maintain the past.
Q I see. Thank you for the clarity. I think we’re out of a bit of time. I’ll ask my final question. When we began this conversation, we were alluding to the fact that — the need to separate the political function and economic function. In other words, politics should not get in the way of business. And I’ve gone to quite a good number of — I know it’s difficult — so I’ve gone to a good number of conferences where the end deliverable of the entire summit, or whatever it is, is that we need to lobby government to create policies that are conducive, and this and that. And that’s usually what you get — either you’re trying to lobby somebody to do something, right? And, in turn, governments come up and say, yes, we promise to come up with this and that, and this and that. And that’s a whole political sphere of things. My question is, apart from that, what can we as business leaders, as the private sector, what can we do sort of independently to — what can we do to create this economic environment that fosters for the growth and development of Africa as a continent?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, although this isn’t always a popular position here in Washington these days, the truth is, is that government really can help set the conditions and the framework for markets to function effectively — in part because governments are able to initiate projects like roads and bridges and airports that any individual business would find cost prohibitive. It wouldn’t make sense to invest in what is a collective good; it’s not going to help your bottom line if everybody else is using it. So that’s part of the function of government.
Part of the function of government is to educate a population so that you got a well-trained workforce. It’s hard for companies to invest in doing that by themselves. There are certain common goods, like maintaining clean air and clean water, and making sure that if you have capital markets, that they’re well-regulated so that they’re trust-worthy, and small investors and large investors know that if they invest in a stock that they’re not being cheated.
So there are a whole host of functions that government has to play. But in the end, what drives innovation typically is not what happens in government, it’s what’s happening in companies. And what we found in the United States is, is that companies, once they’ve got the basic rules and they’ve got the basic platform, they are able to create value and innovation and cultures that encourage growth. And I think that African entrepreneurs are going to be the trendsetters for determining how societies think about themselves and, ultimately, how governments think about these issues.
The truth of the matter is, is that if you have big, successful companies or you’ve got widespread entrepreneurship, and you have a growing middle class and practices have been established in terms of fair dealing, and treating your workers properly, and extending opportunity to smaller contractors, and promoting women and making sure women are paid like men — suddenly, what happens is businesses create new norms and new sensibilities. And governments oftentimes will respond.
And so I think in Africa what I’d like to see more and more of is partnerships between American businesses, between African businesses. Some of the incredible cultures of some of our U.S. businesses that do a really good job promoting people and maintaining a meritocracy, and treating women equally, and treating people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally, and making sure that there are typical norms of how you deal with people in contracts and respect legal constraints — all those things I think can then take root in a country like Zimbabwe or any other country. Hopefully, governments are encouraging that, not inhibiting that. They recognize that that’s how the world as a whole is increasingly moving in that direction. And over time, you will see an Africa that is driven by individual entrepreneurs and private organizations, and governments will be responsive to their demands.
So I think the one thing I want to make sure people understand, though, is it’s not an either/or issue. Government has a critical role to play. The marketplace has a critical role to play. Nonprofit organizations have a critical role to play. But the goal and the orientation constantly should be how do we empower individuals to work together. And if we are empowering young people like you all across Africa, if we’ve got a 21-year-old who has already started three businesses, we’ve got to figure out how to invest in him, how to make it easier for him to succeed. If you succeed, you’re going to then be hiring a whole bunch of people, and they, in turn, will succeed. And that’s been the recipe for growth in the 20th century and the 21st century.
And I’m confident that Africa is well on its way. America just wants to make sure that we’re helpful in that process. And I know that all the U.S. companies who are here, that’s their goal as well. We are interested in Africa, because we know that if Africa thrives and succeeds, and if you’ve got a bunch of entrepreneurs, they’re going to need supplies from us maybe, or they may supply us with outstanding products; they’re going to have a growing middle class that wants to buy iPhones or applications from us. In turn, they may provide us new services and we can be the distributor for something that’s invented in Africa, and all of us grow at the same time.
That’s our goal, and I’m confident that we can make it happen. And this summit has been a great start. So I want to thank you for doing a great job moderating. I want to thank all the leaders here not only of government, but also business for participating. There’s been great energy, great enthusiasm. I know a lot of business has gotten done. If any of you are interested in investing in this young man, let him know. (Laughter.)
All right, thank you, guys.
4:05 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 5, 2014