Full Text Obama Presidency August 7, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech Announcing Targeted Airstrikes and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

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.

END

Full Text Obama Presidency August 7, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Signing of the VA Bill, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Signing of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act

Source:  WH, 8-7-14

Wallace Theater
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.)

END
12:18 P.M. EDT

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