Full Text Political Transcripts November 16, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey about Paris Terror Attacks Transcript



Press Conference by President Obama — Antalya, Turkey

Source: WH, 11-16-15

Kaya Palazzo Resort
Antalya, Turkey

4:42 P.M. EET

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking President Erdogan and the people of Antalya and Turkey for their outstanding work in hosting this G20 Summit. Antalya is beautiful. The hospitality of the Turkish people is legendary. To our Turkish friends — çok teşekkürler. (Laughter.) I’ve been practicing that.

At the G20, our focus was on how to get the global economy growing faster and creating more jobs for our people. And I’m pleased that we agreed that growth has to be inclusive to address the rising inequality around the world.

Given growing cyber threats, we committed to a set of norms — drafted by the United States — for how governments should conduct themselves in cyberspace, including a commitment not to engage in the cyber theft of intellectual property for commercial gain. And as we head into global climate talks, all G20 countries have submitted our targets, and we’ve pledged to work together for a successful outcome in Paris.

Of course, much of our attention has focused on the heinous attacks that took place in Paris. Across the world, in the United States, American flags are at half-staff in solidarity with our French allies. We’re working closely with our French partners as they pursue their investigations and track down suspects.

France is already a strong counterterrorism partner, and today we’re announcing a new agreement. We’re streamlining the process by which we share intelligence and operational military information with France. This will allow our personnel to pass threat information, including on ISIL, to our French partners even more quickly and more often — because we need to be doing everything we can to protect against more attacks and protect our citizens.

Tragically, Paris is not alone. We’ve seen outrageous attacks by ISIL in Beirut, last month in Ankara, routinely in Iraq. Here at the G20, our nations have sent an unmistakable message that we are united against this threat. ISIL is the face of evil. Our goal, as I’ve said many times, is to degrade and ultimately destroy this barbaric terrorist organization.

As I outlined this fall at the United Nations, we have a comprehensive strategy using all elements of our power — military, intelligence, economic, development, and the strength of our communities. With have always understood that this would be a long-term campaign. There will be setbacks and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were a terrible and sickening setback. Even as we grieve with our French friends, however, we can’t lose sight that there has been progress being made.

On the military front, our coalition is intensifying our airstrikes — more than 8,000 to date. We’re taking out ISIL leaders, commanders, their killers. We’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can and is pushed back. So local forces in Iraq, backed by coalition airpower, recently liberated Sinjar. Iraqi forces are fighting to take back Ramadi. In Syria, ISIL has been pushed back from much of the border region with Turkey. We’ve stepped up our support of opposition forces who are working to cut off supply lines to ISIL’s strongholds in and around Raqqa. So, in short, both in Iraq and Syria, ISIL controls less territory than it did before.

I made the point to my fellow leaders that if we want this progress to be sustained, more nations need to step up with the resources that this fight demands.

Of course, the attacks in Paris remind us that it will not be enough to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq alone. Here in Antalya, our nations, therefore, committed to strengthening border controls, sharing more information, and stepping up our efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. As the United States just showed in Libya, ISIL leaders will have no safe haven anywhere. And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology.

On the humanitarian front, our nations agreed that we have to do even more, individually and collectively, to address the agony of the Syrian people. The United States is already the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people — some $4.5 billion in aid so far. As winter approaches, we’re donating additional supplies, including clothing and generators, through the United Nations. But the U.N. appeal for Syria still has less than half the funds needed. Today, I’m again calling on more nations to contribute the resources that this crisis demands.

In terms of refugees, it’s clear that countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — which are already bearing an extraordinary burden — cannot be expected to do so alone. At the same time, all of our countries have to ensure our security. And as President, my first priority is the safety of the American people. And that’s why, even as we accept more refugees — including Syrians — we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.

We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.

Finally, we’ve begun to see some modest progress on the diplomatic front, which is critical because a political solution is the only way to end the war in Syria and unite the Syrian people and the world against ISIL. The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding. With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward — negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.

These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.

What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, as I said, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions. And I will begin with Jerome Cartillier of AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. One hundred and twenty-nine people were killed in Paris on Friday night. ISIL claimed responsibility for the massacre, sending the message that they could now target civilians all over the world. The equation has clearly changed. Isn’t it time for your strategy to change?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what we have been doing. We have a military strategy that is putting enormous pressure on ISIL through airstrikes; that has put assistance and training on the ground with Iraqi forces; we’re now working with Syrian forces as well to squeeze ISIL, cut off their supply lines. We’ve been coordinating internationally to reduce their financing capabilities, the oil that they’re trying to ship outside. We are taking strikes against high-value targets — including, most recently, against the individual who was on the video executing civilians who had already been captured, as well as the head of ISIL in Libya. So it’s not just in Iraq and Syria.

And so, on the military front, we are continuing to accelerate what we do. As we find additional partners on the ground that are effective, we work with them more closely. I’ve already authorized additional Special Forces on the ground who are going to be able to improve that coordination.

On the counterterrorism front, keep in mind that since I came into office, we have been worried about these kinds of attacks. The vigilance that the United States government maintains and the cooperation that we’re consistently expanding with our European and other partners in going after every single terrorist network is robust and constant. And every few weeks, I meet with my entire national security team and we go over every single threat stream that is presented, and where we have relevant information, we share it immediately with our counterparts around the world, including our European partners.

On aviation security, we have, over the last several years, been working so that at various airports sites — not just in the United States, but overseas — we are strengthening our mechanisms to screen and discover passengers who should not be boarding flights, and improving the matters in which we are screening luggage that is going onboard.

And on the diplomatic front, we’ve been consistently working to try to get all the parties together to recognize that there is a moderate opposition inside of Syria that can form the basis for a transition government, and to reach out not only to our friends but also to the Russians and the Iranians who are on the other side of this equation to explain to them that ultimately an organization like ISIL is the greatest danger to them, as well as to us.

So there will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work. But as I said from the start, it’s going to take time.

And what’s been interesting is, in the aftermath of Paris, as I listen to those who suggest something else needs to be done, typically the things they suggest need to be done are things we are already doing. The one exception is that there have been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.

And keep in mind that we have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world, and I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options, and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisors that that would be a mistake — not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is, if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface — unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.

And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?

So a strategy has to be one that can be sustained. And the strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.

And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those.

Margaret Brennan, CBS.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. A more than year-long bombing campaign in Iraq and in Syria has failed to contain the ambition and the ability of ISIS to launch attacks in the West. Have you underestimated their abilities? And will you widen the rules of engagement for U.S. forces to take more aggressive action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, we haven’t underestimated our abilities. This is precisely why we’re in Iraq as we speak, and why we’re operating in Syria as we speak. And it’s precisely why we have mobilized 65 countries to go after ISIL, and why I hosted at the United Nations an entire discussion of counterterrorism strategies and curbing the flow of foreign fighters, and why we’ve been putting pressure on those countries that have not been as robust as they need to in tracking the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq.

And so there has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.

But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.

Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris.

And that’s what we did with al Qaeda. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that al Qaeda no longer possess the capabilities of potentially striking the West. Al Qaeda in the Peninsula that operates primarily in Yemen we know has consistently tried to target the West. And we are consistently working to disrupt those acts. But despite the fact that they have not gotten as much attention as ISIL, they still pose a danger, as well.

And so our goals here consistently have to be to be aggressive, and to leave no stone unturned, but also recognize this is not conventional warfare. We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.

These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.

Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.

Jim Avila.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. In the days and weeks before the Paris attacks, did you receive warning in your daily intelligence briefing that an attack was imminent? If not, does that not call into question the current assessment that there is no immediate, specific, credible threat to the United States today?

And secondly, if I could ask you to address your critics who say that your reluctance to enter another Middle East war, and your preference of diplomacy over using the military makes the United States weaker and emboldens our enemies.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, every day we have threat streams coming through the intelligence transit. And as I said, every several weeks we sit down with all my national security, intelligence, and military teams to discuss various threat streams that may be generated. And the concerns about potential ISIL attacks in the West have been there for over a year now, and they come through periodically. There were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we need — that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves.

But typically the way the intelligence works is there will be a threat stream that is from one source, how reliable is that source; perhaps some signal intelligence gets picked up, it’s evaluated. Some of it is extraordinarily vague and unspecific, and there’s no clear timetable. Some of it may be more specific, and then folks chase down that threat to see what happens.

I am not aware of anything that was specific in the sense — that would have given a premonition about a particular action in Paris that would allow for law enforcement or military actions to disrupt it.

With respect to the broader issue of my critics, to some degree I answered the question earlier. I think that when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.

Now, there are a few exceptions. And as I said, the primary exception is those who would deploy U.S. troops on a large scale to retake territory either in Iraq or now in Syria. And at least they have the honesty to go ahead and say that’s what they would do. I just addressed why I think they’re wrong. There have been some who are well-meaning, and I don’t doubt their sincerity when it comes to the issue of the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, who, for example, call for a no-fly zone or a safe zone of some sort.

And this is an example of the kind of issue where I will sit down with our top military and intelligence advisors, and we will painstakingly go through what does something like that look like. And typically, after we’ve gone through a lot of planning and a lot of discussion, and really working it through, it is determined that it would be counterproductive to take those steps — in part because ISIL does not have planes, so the attacks are on the ground. A true safe zone requires us to set up ground operations. And the bulk of the deaths that have occurred in Syria, for example, have come about not because of regime bombing, but because of on-the-ground casualties. Who would come in, who could come out of that safe zone; how would it work; would it become a magnet for further terrorist attacks; and how many personnel would be required, and how would it end — there’s a whole set of questions that have to be answered there.

I guess my point is this, Jim: My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe. And if there’s a good idea out there, then we’re going to do it. I don’t think I’ve shown hesitation to act — whether it’s with respect to bin Laden or with respect to sending additional troops in Afghanistan, or keeping them there — if it is determined that it’s actually going to work.

But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.

We’ll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it’s entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that.

Jim Acosta.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. I wanted to go back to something that you said to Margaret earlier when you said that you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a force that has now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world. How is that not underestimating their capabilities? And how is that contained, quite frankly? And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is — and if you’ll forgive the language — is why can’t we take out these bastards?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add. I think I’ve described very specifically what our strategy is, and I’ve described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.

This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason, as I said, Jim, is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.

Ron Allen.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I think a lot of people around the world and in America are concerned because given the strategy that you’re pursuing — and it’s been more than a year now — ISIS’s capabilities seem to be expanding. Were you aware that they had the capability of pulling off the kind of attack that they did in Paris? Are you concerned? And do you think they have that same capability to strike in the United States?

And do you think that given all you’ve learned about ISIS over the past year or so, and given all the criticism about your underestimating them, do you think you really understand this enemy well enough to defeat them and to protect the homeland?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, so this is another variation on the same question. And I guess — let me try it one last time.

We have been fully aware of the potential capabilities of them carrying out a terrorist attack. That’s precisely why we have been mounting a very aggressive strategy to go after them. As I said before, when you’re talking about the ability of a handful of people with not wildly sophisticated military equipment, weapons, who are willing to die, they can kill a lot of people. And preventing them from doing so is challenging for every country. And if there was a swift and quick solution to this, I assure you that not just the United States, but France and Turkey, and others who have been subject to these terrorist attacks would have implemented those strategies.

There are certain advantages that the United States has in preventing these kinds of attacks. Obviously, after 9/11, we hardened the homeland, set up a whole series of additional steps to protect aviation, to apply lessons learned. We’ve seen much better cooperation between the FBI, state governments, local governments. There is some advantages to geography with respect to the United States.

But, having said that, we’ve seen the possibility of terrorist attacks on our soil. There was the Boston Marathon bombers. Obviously, it did not result in the scale of death that we saw in Paris, but that was a serious attempt at killing a lot of people by two brothers and a crockpot. And it gives you some sense of, I think, the kinds of challenges that are going to be involved in this going forward.

So again, ISIL has serious capabilities. Its capabilities are not unique. They are capabilities that other terrorist organizations that we track and are paying attention to possess, as well. We are going after all of them.

What is unique about ISIL is the degree to which it has been able to control territory that then allows them to attract additional recruits, and the greater effectiveness that they have on social media and their ability to use that to not only attract recruits to fight in Syria, but also potentially to carry out attacks in the homeland and in Europe and in other parts of the world.

And so our ability to shrink the space in which they can operate, combined with a resolution to the Syria situation — which will reduce the freedom with which they feel that they can operate, and getting local forces who are able to hold and keep them out over the long term, that ultimately is going to be what’s going to make a difference. And it’s going to take some time, but it’s not something that at any stage in this process have we not been aware needs to be done.

Q (Off-mic) — Mr. President?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, go ahead.

Q Should I wait for the microphone?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I can hear you.

Q Okay, thank you so much. (Inaudible.) I want to ask a question (inaudible). These terrorist attacks we’ve seen allegedly have been attacks under the name of Islam. But this really takes — or upsets the peaceful people like countries like Turkey. So how can we give off that (inaudible) this is not really representative of Muslims?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this is something that we spoke a lot about at the G20. The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism over the last several years, and certainly the overwhelming majority of victims of ISIL, are themselves Muslims. ISIL does not represent Islam. It is not representative in any way of the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. This is something that’s been emphasized by Muslim leaders — whether it’s President Erdogan or the President of Indonesia or the President of Malaysia — countries that are majority Muslim, but have shown themselves to be tolerant and to work to be inclusive in their political process.

And so to the degree that anyone would equate the terrible actions that took place in Paris with the views of Islam, those kinds of stereotypes are counterproductive. They’re wrong. They will lead, I think, to greater recruitment into terrorist organizations over time if this becomes somehow defined as a Muslim problem as opposed to a terrorist problem.

Now, what is also true is, is that the most vicious terrorist organizations at the moment are ones that claim to be speaking on behalf of true Muslims. And I do think that Muslims around the world — religious leaders, political leaders, ordinary people — have to ask very serious questions about how did these extremist ideologies take root, even if it’s only affecting a very small fraction of the population. It is real and it is dangerous. And it has built up over time, and with social media it has now accelerated.

And so I think, on the one hand, non-Muslims cannot stereotype, but I also think the Muslim community has to think about how we make sure that children are not being infected with this twisted notion that somehow they can kill innocent people and that that is justified by religion. And to some degree, that is something that has to come from within the Muslim community itself. And I think there have been times where there has not been enough pushback against extremism. There’s been pushback — there are some who say, well, we don’t believe in violence, but are not as willing to challenge some of the extremist thoughts or rationales for why Muslims feel oppressed. And I think those ideas have to be challenged.

Let me make one last point about this, and then unfortunately I have to take a flight to Manila. I’m looking forward to seeing Manila, but I hope I can come back to Turkey when I’m not so busy.

One of the places that you’re seeing this debate play itself out is on the refugee issue both in Europe, and I gather it started popping up while I was gone back in the United States. The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents, they are children, they are orphans. And it is very important — and I was glad to see that this was affirmed again and again by the G20 — that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.

In Europe, I think people like Chancellor Merkel have taken a very courageous stance in saying it is our moral obligation, as fellow human beings, to help people who are in such vulnerable situations. And I know that it is putting enormous strains on the resources of the people of Europe. Nobody has been carrying a bigger burden than the people here in Turkey, with 2.5 million refugees, and the people of Jordan and Lebanon, who are also admitting refugees. The fact that they’ve kept their borders open to these refugees is a signal of their belief in a common humanity.

And so we have to, each of us, do our part. And the United States has to step up and do its part. And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

When Pope Francis came to visit the United States, and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted. He didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit to those who were of the same religious faith. He said, protect people who are vulnerable.

And so I think it is very important for us right now — particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard — not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.

I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse. And whether you are European or American, the values that we are defending — the values that we’re fighting against ISIL for are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them. And we don’t feed that kind of notion that somehow Christians and Muslims are at war.

And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END 5:43 P.M. EET

Full Text Obama Presidency July 6, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Progress in the Fight Against ISIS Transcript



Remarks by the President on Progress in the Fight Against ISIL

Source: WH, 7-6-15

The Pentagon

4:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend — especially our men and women in uniform.  This Fourth of July we were honored to once again welcome some of our incredible troops and their families to share Fourth of July and fireworks at the White House.  It was another chance for us, on behalf of the American people, to express our gratitude for their extraordinary service around the world every day.

And that includes the work that brings me here today — our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group ISIL.  This is a cause, a coalition, that’s united countries across the globe — some 60 nations, including Arab partners.  Our comprehensive strategy against ISIL is harnessing all elements of American power, across our government — military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, development and perhaps most importantly, the power of our values.

Last month, I ordered additional actions in support of our strategy.  I just met with my national security team as part of our regular effort to assess our efforts — what’s working and what we can do better.  Secretary Carter, Chairman Dempsey, I want to thank you and your team for welcoming us and for your leadership, including General Austin who’s leading the military campaign.  And I want to summarize briefly where we stand.

I want to start by repeating what I’ve said since the beginning.  This will not be quick.  This is a long-term campaign.  ISIL is opportunistic and it is nimble.  In many places in Syria and Iraq, including urban areas, it’s dug in among innocent civilian populations.  It will take time to root them out — and doing so must be the job of local forces on the ground, with training and air support from our coalition.

As with any military effort, there will be periods of progress, but there are also going to be some setbacks — as we’ve seen with ISIL’s gains in Ramadi in Iraq and central and southern Syria.  But today, it’s also important for us to recognize the progress that’s been made.

Our coalition has now hit ISIL with more than 5,000 airstrikes.  We’ve taken out thousands of fighting positions, tanks, vehicles, bomb factories, and training camps.  We’ve eliminated thousands of fighters, including senior ISIL commanders.  And over the past year, we’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back.

In Iraq, ISIL lost at the Mosul Dam.  ISIL lost at Mount Sinjar.  ISIL has lost repeatedly across Kirkuk Province.  ISIL lost at Tikrit.  Altogether, ISIL has lost more than a quarter of the populated areas that it had seized in Iraq.  In Syria, ISIL lost at Kobani.  It’s recently endured losses across northern Syria, including the key city of Tal Abyad, denying ISIL a vital supply route to Raqqa, its base of operations in Syria.

So these are reminders that ISIL’s strategic weaknesses are real.  ISIL is surrounded by countries and communities committed to its destruction.  It has no air force; our coalition owns the skies.  ISIL is backed by no nation.  It relies on fear, sometimes executing its own disillusioned fighters.  Its unrestrained brutality often alienates those under its rule, creating new enemies.  In short, ISIL’s recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated.

Indeed, we’re intensifying our efforts against ISIL’s base in Syria.  Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations.  We’re going after the ISIL leadership and infrastructure in Syria — the heart of ISIL that pumps funds and propaganda to people around the world.  Partnering with other countries — sharing more information, strengthening laws and border security — allows us to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria as well as Iraq, and to stem, obviously, the flow of those fighters back into our own countries.  This continues to be a challenge, and, working together, all our nations are going to need to do more, but we’re starting to see some progress.

We’ll continue cracking down on ISIL’s illicit finance around the world.  By the way, if Congress really wants to help in this effort, they can confirm Mr. Adam Szubin, our nominee for Treasury Under Secretary to lead this effort.  This is a vital position to our counterterrorism efforts.  Nobody suggests Mr. Szubin is not qualified.  He’s highly qualified.  Unfortunately, his nomination has been languishing up on the Hill, and we need the Senate to confirm him as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, we continue to ramp up our training and support of local forces that are fighting ISIL on the ground.  As I’ve said before, this aspect of our strategy was moving too slowly.  But the fall of Ramadi has galvanized the Iraqi government.  So, with the additional steps I ordered last month, we’re speeding up training of ISIL [Iraqi] forces, including volunteers from Sunni tribes in Anbar Province.

More Sunni volunteers are coming forward.  Some are already being trained, and they can be a new force against ISIL.  We continue to accelerate the delivery of critical equipment, including anti-tank weapons, to Iraqi security forces, including the Peshmerga and tribal fighters.  And I made it clear to my team that we will do more to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria.

Now, all this said, our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it’s matched by a broader effort — political and economic — that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction.  They have filled a void, and we have to make sure that as we push them out that void is filled.  So, as Iraqi cities and towns are liberated from ISIL, we’re working with Iraq and the United Nations to help communities rebuild the security, services and governance that they need.  We continue to support the efforts of Prime Minister Abadi to forge an inclusive and effective Iraqi government that unites all the people of Iraq — Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and all minority communities.

In Syria, the only way that the civil war will end — and in a way so that the Syrian people can unite against ISIL — is an inclusive political transition to a new government, without Bashar Assad — a government that serves all Syrians.  I discussed this with our Gulf Cooperation Council partners at Camp David and during my recent call with President Putin.  I made it clear the United States will continue to work for such a transition.

And a glimmer of good news is I think an increasing recognition on the part of all the players in the region that given the extraordinary threat that ISIL poses it is important for us to work together, as opposed to at cross-purposes, to make sure that an inclusive Syrian government exists.

While the focus of our discussions today was on Iraq and Syria, ISIL and its ideology also obviously pose a grave threat beyond the region.  In recent weeks we’ve seen deadly attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.  We see a growing ISIL presence in Libya and attempts to establish footholds across North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Southeast Asia. We’ve seen attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, France and Copenhagen.

So I’ve called on the international community to unite against this scourge of violent extremism.  In this fight, the United States continues to lead.  When necessary to prevent attacks against our nation, we’ll take direct action against terrorists.  We’ll continue to also partner with nations from Afghanistan to Nigeria to build up their security forces.  We’re going to work day and night with allies and partners to disrupt terrorist networks and thwart attacks, and to smother nascent ISIL cells that may be trying to develop in other parts of the world.

This also includes remaining vigilant in protecting against attacks here in the homeland.  Now, I think it’s important for us to recognize the threat of violent extremism is not restricted to any one community.  Here in the United States, we’ve seen all kinds of homegrown terrorism.  And tragically, recent history reminds us how even a single individual motivated by a hateful ideology with access to dangerous weapons can inflict horrendous harm on Americans.  So our efforts to counter violent extremism must not target any one community because of their faith or background, including patriotic Muslim Americans who are our partners in keeping our country safe.

That said, we also have to acknowledge that ISIL has been particularly effective at reaching out to and recruiting vulnerable people around the world, including here in the United States.  And they are targeting Muslim communities around the world.  Numerous individuals have been arrested across the country for plotting attacks or attempting to join ISIL in Syria and Iraq.  Two men apparently inspired by ISIL opened fire in Garland, Texas.  And because of our success over the years in improving our homeland security, we’ve made it harder for terrorists to carry out large-scale attacks like 9/11 here at home.

But the threat of lone wolves or small cells of terrorists is complex — it’s harder to detect and harder to prevent.  It’s one of the most difficult challenges that we face.  And preventing these kinds of attacks on American soil is going to require sustained effort.

So I just want to repeat, the good news is that because of extraordinary efforts from law enforcement as well as our military intelligence, we are doing a better job at preventing any large-scale attacks on the homeland.  On the other hand, the small, individual lone wolf attacks or small cells become harder to detect and they become more sophisticated, using new technologies.  And that means that we’re going to have to pick up our game to prevent these attacks.

It’s also true why, ultimately, in order for us to defeat terrorist groups like ISIL and al Qaeda it’s going to also require us to discredit their ideology — the twisted thinking that draws vulnerable people into their ranks.  As I’ve said before — and I know our military leaders agree — this broader challenge of countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort.  Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and more compelling vision.

So the United States will continue to do our part, by working with partners to counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online.  We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam.  We’re fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims.  But around the world, we’re also going to insist on partnering with Muslim communities as they seek security, prosperity and the dignity that they deserve.  And we’re going to expect those communities to step up in terms of pushing back as hard as they can, in conjunction with other people of goodwill, against these hateful ideologies in order to discredit them more effectively, particularly when it comes to what we’re teaching young people.

And this larger battle for hearts and minds is going to be a generational struggle.  It’s ultimately not going to be won or lost by the United States alone.  It will be decided by the countries and the communities that terrorists like ISIL target.  It’s going to be up to Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, to keep rejecting warped interpretations of Islam, and to protect their sons and daughters from recruitment.  It will be up to all people — leaders and citizens — to reject the sectarianism that so often fuels the resentments and conflicts upon which terrorists are currently thriving.  It will be up to governments to address the political and economic grievances that terrorists exploit.

Nations that empower citizens to decide their own destiny, that uphold human rights for all their people, that invest in education and create opportunities for their young people — those can be powerful antidotes to extremist ideologies.  Those are the countries that will find a true partner in the United States.

In closing, let me note that this Fourth of July we celebrated 239 years of American independence.  Across more than two centuries, we’ve faced much bigger, much more formidable challenges than this — Civil War, a Great Depression, fascism, communism, terrible natural disasters, 9/11.  And every time, every generation, our nation has risen to the moment.  We don’t simply endure; we emerge stronger than before.  And that will be the case here.

Our mission to destroy ISIL and to keep our country safe will be difficult.  It will take time.  There will be setbacks as well as progress.  But as President and Commander-in-Chief, I want to say to all our men and women in uniform who are serving in this operation — our pilots, the crews on the ground, our personnel not only on the ground but at sea, our intelligence teams and our diplomatic teams — I want to thank you.  We are proud of you, and you have my total confidence that you’re going to succeed.

To the American people, I want to say we will continue to be vigilant.  We will persevere.  And just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.

Thank you very much, everybody.  And thanks to the team up on the stage here with me — they’re doing an outstanding job.

Q    Take a question?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know what, I will take a question.  Go ahead.

Q    Every servicemember who is listening to you today, Mr. President, is wondering, are you going to veto the defense bills that are going to pay me?  What is your latest thinking on that? Because we’ve heard secondhand through statements of policy that your advisors would threaten a veto.  What’s your take, sir?  Would you veto the appropriations bills?

THE PRESIDENT:  Our men and women are going to get paid.  And if you’ll note that I’ve now been President for six and a half years and we’ve had some wrangling with Congress in the past — our servicemembers haven’t missed a paycheck.

But what is also important in terms of our budget is making sure that we are not short-changing all the elements of American power that allow us to secure the nation and to project our power around the world.  So what we’re not going to do is to accept a budget that short-changes our long-term requirements for new technologies, for readiness.  We’re not going to eat our seed corn by devoting too much money on things we don’t need now and robbing ourselves of the capacity to make sure that we’re prepared for future threats.

I’ve worked very closely with the Chairman and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a budget that is realistic and that looks out into the future and says this is how we’re going to handle any possible contingency.  And we can’t do that if we’ve got a budget that short-changes vital operations and continues to fund things that are not necessary.

We also have to remind ourselves that the reason we have the best military in the world is, first and foremost, because we’ve got the best troops in history.  But it’s also because we’ve got a strong economy, and we’ve got a well-educated population.  And we’ve got an incredible research operation and universities that allow us to create new products that then can be translated into our military superiority around the world.  We short-change those, we’re going to be less secure.

So the way we have to look at this budget is to recognize that, A, we can’t think short term, we’ve got to think long term; and B, part of our national security is making sure that we continue to have a strong economy and that we continue to make the investments that we need in things like education and research that are going to be vital for us to be successful long term.

Q    As an Army reservist, I’m curious to know if you have any plans to send any more American troops overseas right now, any additional forces.

THE PRESIDENT:  There are no current plans to do so.  That’s not something that we currently discussed.  I’ve always said that I’m going to do what’s necessary to protect the homeland.

One of the principles that we all agree on, though, and I pressed folks pretty hard because in these conversations with my military advisors I want to make sure I’m getting blunt and unadultered [sic] uncensored advice.  But in every one of the conversations that we’ve had, the strong consensus is that in order for us to succeed long-term in this fight against ISIL we have to develop local security forces that can sustain progress.

It is not enough for us to simply send in American troops to temporarily set back organizations like ISIL, but to then, as soon as we leave, see that void filled once again with extremists.  It is going to be vital for us to make sure that we are preparing the kinds of local ground forces and security forces with our partners that can not only succeed against ISIL, but then sustain in terms of security and in terms of governance.

Because if we try to do everything ourselves all across the Middle East, all across North Africa, we’ll be playing Whack-a-Mole and there will be a whole lot of unintended consequences that ultimately make us less secure.

All right?  Thank you.  I didn’t even plan to do this.  (Laughter.)  You guys got two bonus questions.

Thank you.

4:28 P.M. EDT


Full Text Obama Presidency June 24, 2015: President Barack Obama, White House shifts hostage policy



FACT SHEET: U.S. Government Hostage Policy

Source: WH, 6-24-15

Over the past decade, we have witnessed a significant shift in hostage-takings by terrorist organizations and criminal groups that has challenged the ability of the U.S. Government to secure the safe recovery of U.S. nationals taken captive.  The wanton and brutal murder of several Americans held hostage over the past year lays bare the magnitude of this challenge.  Other less publicized cases of Americans held hostage overseas, including several who remain in captivity, are no less tragic and have presented the U.S. Government with a similar set of difficult choices.  The Government’s response to hostage-takings must therefore evolve to account for this new reality.  Moreover, the Government’s handling of these hostage cases – and in particular its interaction and communication with families whose loved ones have been taken hostage – must improve.  To that end, in December 2014 President Obama directed a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward overseas hostage-takings.

Based on the recommendations resulting from this review, the President approved Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 29, U.S. Nationals Taken Hostage Abroad and Personnel Recovery Efforts and issued an Executive Order on the recovery of U.S. hostages taken abroad, which directs key organizational changes to ensure that the U.S. Government is doing all that it can to safely recover Americans taken hostage overseas and is being responsive to the needs of their families.  The key findings and recommendations set forth by the review can be found in the Report on U.S. Hostage Policy at the following link.  PPD-29 and the Executive Order can be found on WhiteHouse.gov….READ MORE

Presidential Policy Directive — Hostage Recovery Activities

Source: WH, 6-24-15


SUBJECT:      U.S. Nationals Taken Hostage Abroad and Personnel Recovery Efforts

The 21st century has witnessed a significant shift in hostagetakings by terrorist organizations and criminal groups abroad.  Hostage-takers frequently operate in unstable environments that challenge the ability of the United States Government and its partners and allies to operate effectively.  Increasingly, hostage-takers target private citizens — including journalists and aid workers — as well as Government officials.  They also utilize sophisticated networks and tactics to derive financial, propaganda, and recruitment benefits from hostage-taking operations.  The United States Government’s response to hostage-takings must evolve with this ever-changing landscape.

This Presidential Policy Directive (PPD), including its classified annex, supersedes and revokes NSPD-12, United States Citizens Taken Hostage Abroad, dated February 18, 2002, along with Annex 1 and Appendix A to NSPD-12, dated December 4, 2008.  The policy directs a renewed, more agile United States Government response to hostage-takings of U.S. nationals and other specified individuals abroad.  It establishes processes to enable consistent implementation of the policies set forth in this directive, to ensure close interagency coordination in order to employ all appropriate means to recover U.S. hostages held abroad, and to significantly enhance engagement with hostages’ families.  It also reaffirms the United States Government’s personnel recovery policy, which seeks to prevent, prepare for, and respond to hostage-takings and other circumstances in which U.S. nationals are isolated from friendly support.  This policy will thereby further important national security and foreign policy interests by strengthening the protections for U.S. nationals outside the United States….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency June 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Medal of Honor Presentation Sergeant William Shemin and Private Henry Johnson — Transcript



Remarks by the President at Presentation of the Medal of Honor

Source: WH, 6-2-15

President Obama Signs Medal of Honor Certificate and Citation

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

11:27 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Please be seated.

Welcome to the White House.

Nearly 100 years ago, a 16-year-old kid from the Midwest named Frank Buckles headed to Europe’s Western Front.  An ambulance driver, he carried the wounded to safety.  He lived to see our troops ship off to another war in Europe.  And one in Korea.  Vietnam.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  And Frank Buckles became a quietly powerful advocate for our veterans, and remained that way until he passed away four years ago — America’s last surviving veteran of World War I.

On the day Frank was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Vice President Biden and I went to pay our respects.  And we weren’t alone.  Americans from across the country came out to express their gratitude as well.  They were of different ages, different races, some military, some not.  Most had never met Frank.  But all of them braved a cold winter’s day to offer a final tribute to a man with whom they shared a powerful conviction — that no one who serves our country should ever be forgotten.

We are a nation — a people — who remember our heroes.  We take seriously our responsibility to only send them when war is necessary.  We strive to care for them and their families when they come home.  We never forget their sacrifice.  And we believe that it’s never too late to say thank you.  That’s why we’re here this morning.

Today, America honors two of her sons who served in World War I, nearly a century ago.  These two soldiers were roughly the same age, dropped into the battlefields of France at roughly the same time.  They both risked their own lives to save the lives of others.  They both left us decades ago, before we could give them the full recognition that they deserved.  But it’s never too late to say thank you.  Today, we present America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Private Henry Johnson and Sergeant William Shemin.

I want to begin by welcoming and thanking everyone who made this day possible — family, friends, admirers.  Some of you have worked for years to honor these heroes, to give them the honor they should have received a long time ago.  We are grateful that you never gave up.  We are appreciative of your efforts.

As a young man, Henry Johnson joined millions of other African-Americans on the Great Migration from the rural South to the industrial North — a people in search of a better life.  He landed in Albany, where he mixed sodas at a pharmacy, worked in a coal yard and as a porter at a train station.  And when the United States entered World War I, Henry enlisted.  He joined one of only a few units that he could:  the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment.  The Harlem Hellfighters.  And soon, he was headed overseas.

At the time, our military was segregated.  Most black soldiers served in labor battalions, not combat units.  But General Pershing sent the 369th to fight with the French Army, which accepted them as their own.  Quickly, the Hellfighters lived up to their name.  And in the early hours of May 15, 1918, Henry Johnson became a legend.

His battalion was in Northern France, tucked into a trench. Some slept — but he couldn’t.  Henry and another soldier, Needham Roberts, stood sentry along No Man’s Land.  In the pre-dawn, it was pitch black, and silent.  And then — a click — the sound of wire cutters.

A German raiding party — at least a dozen soldiers, maybe more — fired a hail of bullets.  Henry fired back until his rifle was empty.  Then he and Needham threw grenades.  Both of them were hit.  Needham lost consciousness.  Two enemy soldiers began to carry him away while another provided cover, firing at Henry.  But Henry refused to let them take his brother in arms.  He shoved another magazine into his rifle.  It jammed.  He turned the gun around and swung it at one of the enemy, knocking him down.  Then he grabbed the only weapon he had left — his Bolo knife — and went to rescue Needham.  Henry took down one enemy soldier, then the other.  The soldier he’d knocked down with his rifle recovered, and Henry was wounded again.  But armed with just his knife, Henry took him down, too.

And finally, reinforcements arrived and the last enemy soldier fled.  As the sun rose, the scale of what happened became clear.  In just a few minutes of fighting, two Americans had defeated an entire raiding party.  And Henry Johnson saved his fellow soldier from being taken prisoner.

Henry became one of our most famous soldiers of the war.  His picture was printed on recruitment posters and ads for Victory War Stamps.  Former President Teddy Roosevelt wrote that he was one of the bravest men in the war.  In 1919, Henry rode triumphantly in a victory parade.  Crowds lined Fifth Avenue for miles, cheering this American soldier.

Henry was one of the first Americans to receive France’s highest award for valor.  But his own nation didn’t award him anything –- not even the Purple Heart, though he had been wounded 21 times.  Nothing for his bravery, though he had saved a fellow solder at great risk to himself.  His injuries left him crippled. He couldn’t find work.  His marriage fell apart.  And in his early 30s, he passed away.

Now, America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson.  We can’t change what happened to too many soldiers like him, who went uncelebrated because our nation judged them by the color of their skin and not the content of their character.  But we can do our best to make it right.  In 1996, President Clinton awarded Henry Johnson a Purple Heart.  And today, 97 years after his extraordinary acts of courage and selflessness, I’m proud to award him the Medal of Honor.

We are honored to be joined today by some very special guests –- veterans of Henry’s regiment, the 369th.  Thank you, to each of you, for your service.  And I would ask Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard to come forward and accept this medal on Private Johnson’s behalf.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America authorized buy Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Private Henry Johnson, United States Army.  Private Henry Johnson distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces, on May 15, 1918, during combat operations against the enemy on the front lines of the Western Front in France.

In the early morning hours, Private Johnson and another soldier were on sentry duty at a forward outpost when they received a surprise attack from the German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers.  While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Private Johnson mounted a brave retaliation, resulting in several enemy casualties.  When his fellow soldier was badly wounded and being carried away by the enemy, Private Johnson exposed himself to great danger by advancing from his position to engage the two enemy captors in hand-to-hand combat.  Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded himself, Private Johnson continued fighting, defeating the two captors and rescuing the wounded soldier.  Displaying great courage, he continued to hold back the larger enemy force until the defeated enemy retreated, leaving behind a large cache of weapons and equipment and providing valuable intelligence.

Without Private Johnson’s quick actions and continued fighting, even in the face of almost certain death, the enemy might have succeeded in capturing prisoners in the outpost and abandoning valuable intelligence.  Private Johnson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, William Shemin loved sports — football, wrestling, boxing, swimming.  If it required physical and mental toughness, and it made your heart pump, your muscles ache, he was all in.  As a teenager, he even played semi-pro baseball.  So when America entered the war, and posters asked if he was tough enough, there was no question about it — he was going to serve.  Too young to enlist?  No problem.  He puffed his chest and lied about his age.  (Laughter.)  And that’s how William Shemin joined the 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, and shipped out for France.

On August 7th, 1918, on the Western Front, the Allies were hunkered down in one trench, the Germans in another, separated by about 150 yards of open space — just a football field and a half.  But that open space was a bloodbath.  Soldier after soldier ventured out, and soldier after soldier was mowed down.  So those still in the trenches were left with a terrible choice: die trying to rescue your fellow soldier, or watch him die, knowing that part of you will die along with him.

William Shemin couldn’t stand to watch.  He ran out into the hell of No Man’s Land and dragged a wounded comrade to safety.  Then he did it again, and again.  Three times he raced through heavy machine gunfire.  Three times he carried his fellow soldiers to safety.

The battle stretched on for days.  Eventually, the platoon’s leadership broke down.  Too many officers had become casualties. So William stepped up and took command.  He reorganized the depleted squads.  Every time there was a lull in combat, he led rescues of the wounded.  As a lieutenant later described it, William was “cool, calm, intelligent, and personally utterly fearless.”  That young kid who lied about his age grew up fast in war.  And he received accolades for his valor, including the Distinguished Service Cross.

When he came home, William went to school for forestry and began a nursery business in the Bronx.  It was hard work, lots of physical labor — just like he liked it.  He married a red-head, blue-eyed woman named Bertha Schiffer, and they had three children who gave them 14 grandchildren.  He bought a house upstate, where the grandkids spent their summers swimming and riding horses.  He taught them how to salute.  He taught them the correct way to raise the flag every morning and lower and fold it every night.  He taught them how to be Americans.

William stayed in touch with his fellow veterans, too.  And when World War II came, William went and talked to the Army about signing up again.  By then, his war injuries had given him a terrible limp.  But he treated that limp just like he treated his age all those years ago — pay no attention to that, he said.  He knew how to build roads, he knew camouflage — maybe there was a place for him in this war, too.  To Bertha’s great relief, the Army said that the best thing William could do for his country was to keep running his business and take care of his family.  (Laughter.)

His daughter, Elsie — who’s here today with what seems like a platoon of Shemins — (laughter) — has a theory about what drove her father to serve.  He was the son of Russian immigrants, and he was devoted to his Jewish faith.  “His family lived through the pogroms,” she says.  “They saw towns destroyed and children killed.  And then they came to America.  And here they found a haven — a home — success — and my father and his sister both went to college.  All that, in one generation!  That’s what America meant to him.  And that’s why he’d do anything for this country.”

Well, Elsie, as much as America meant to your father, he means even more to America.  It takes our nation too long sometimes to say so — because Sergeant Shemin served at a time when the contributions and heroism of Jewish Americans in uniform were too often overlooked.  But William Shemin saved American lives.  He represented our nation with honor.   And so it is my privilege, on behalf of the American people, to make this right and finally award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant William Shemin. I want to invite his daughters — Elsie and Ina — 86 and 83, and gorgeous — (laughter) — to accept this medal on their father’s behalf.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant William Shemin, United States Army.

Sergeant William Shemin distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifleman with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy on the Vesle River, near Bazoches, France from August 7th to August 9th, 1918.

Sergeant Shemin upon three different occasions left cover and crossed an open space of 150 yards, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue wounded.  After officers and seniors noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Sergeant Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until wounded on August 9th.

Sergeant Shemin’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, and the United States Army.

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve.  And there are surely others whose heroism is still unacknowledged and uncelebrated.  So we have work to do, as a nation, to make sure that all of our heroes’ stories are told.   And we’ll keep at it, no matter how long it takes.  America is the country we are today because of people like Henry and William — Americans who signed up to serve, and rose to meet their responsibilities — and then went beyond.  The least we can do is to say:  We know who you are.  We know what you did for us.  We are forever grateful.

May God bless the fallen of all of our wars.  May He watch over our veterans and their families and all those who serve today.  May God bless the United States of America.

With that, I’d ask the Chaplain to return to the podium for a benediction.

(The benediction is given.)

THE PRESIDENT:  With that, we conclude the formal ceremony.  But I welcome everybody to join in a wonderful reception.  And let’s give our Medal of Honor winners one big round of applause. (Applause.)

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

11:48 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 25, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Memorial Day Ceremony Speech Transcript



Remarks by the President on Memorial Day

Source: WH, 5-25-15 

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

11:32 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Thank you, Secretary Carter, for your leadership of our men and women in uniform.  General Dempsey; Major General Buchanan; Mr. Patrick Hallinan, Executive Director of Army National Military Cemeteries; Chaplain Studniewski; members of our armed services, veterans, and, most of all, families and friends of our fallen — it is my deep honor to share this day with you again.

For 147 years, our nation has set aside this day to pay solemn tribute to patriots who gave their last full measure of devotion for this country that we love.  And while the nature of war has changed over that time, the values that drive our brave men and women in uniform remain constant:  Honor, courage, selflessness.  Those values lived in the hearts of everyday heroes who risked everything for us in every American war — men and women who now rest forever in these quiet fields and across our land.

They lived in the patriots who sparked a revolution, and who saved our union.  They lived in the young GIs who defeated tyranny in Europe and the Pacific.  And this year, we mark a historic anniversary — 70 years since our victory in World War II.   More than 16 million Americans left everything they knew to fight for our freedom.  More than 400,000 gave their lives.  And today I ask all the family and friends of our fallen World War II heroes — spouses, children, brothers and sisters, and fellow veterans of World War II — to please stand if you can, or raise your hand, so that our country can thank you once more.  (Applause.)

These same values lived in those who braved the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of the Middle East.  And in the past decade, we’ve seen these values on display again in the men and women of our 9/11 Generation.

For many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful; it is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end.  Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.  So on this day, we honor the sacrifice of the thousands of American servicemembers — men and women — who gave their lives since 9/11, including more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

As an Arizona kid, Wyatt Martin loved the outdoors.  He started fishing when he was two years old.  His dad says he was pretty good for a toddler.  Wyatt grew to 6-foot-4, became a hunter and wore flannel shirts every day — so his friends nicknamed him Paul Bunyan.  He planned to go to college and work in the Arizona Game and Fish Department so that he could protect the land and waters he loved so much.

Wyatt’s life was animated by the belief that the blessings that he and his family enjoyed as Americans came with an obligation to give back, an obligation to serve.  So before he pursued his dream of being a good steward of the great outdoors, he enlisted in the Army.  And when he deployed to Afghanistan as a combat engineer, there was no doubt in his mind that he was doing the right thing.  Last summer, Wyatt told his sister, “If something happens to me, know that I went happy.”

Ramon Morris was born in Jamaica.  He moved to Queens as a teenager.  Like so many proud immigrants, he was called –compelled — to serve his new country.  He, too, enlisted in the Army, and he even recruited his older brother Marlon to join, as well.  He served five tours, including several in Iraq.  Along the way, he fell in love with an Army Reservist named Christina.  And they had a little girl, and named her Ariana.  Ramon was the kind of leader who would do anything for his men, on and off the battlefield.  But nothing was more important to him than being a great father to his little girl.

Specialist Wyatt Martin and Sergeant First Class Ramon Morris were 15 years apart in age.  They traveled greatly different paths in life.  But those paths took them to the same unit.  Those paths made them brothers-in-arms, serving together in Afghanistan.  In December, an IED struck their vehicle.  They were the last two Americans to give their lives during our combat mission in Afghanistan.  Today, here in Arlington, in Section 60, Ramon lies in eternal rest.  And we are honored to be joined by his brother, Sergeant First Class Marlon Laidley, who is deploying for Germany tonight.  Thank you, Marlon.  Thank you to your family.  (Applause.)

These two men, these two heroes, if you saw them passing on the street, you wouldn’t have known they were brothers.  But under this flag, in common cause, they were bonded together to secure our liberty, to keep us safe.

My fellow Americans, this hallowed ground is more than the final resting place of heroes; it is a reflection of America itself.  It’s a reflection of our history — the wars we’ve waged for democracy, the peace we’ve laid to preserve it.  It’s a reflection of our diversity — men and women of all backgrounds, all races and creeds and circumstances and faiths, willing to defend and die for the ideals that bind us as one nation.  It’s a reflection of our character, seen not only in those who are buried here, but also in the caretakers who watch over them and preserve this sacred place; and in the Sentinels of the 3rd Infantry Regiment who dutifully, unfailingly watch over those patriots known only to God, but never forgotten.  Today, a grateful nation thanks them as well.

Most Americans don’t fully see, don’t fully understand the sacrifice made by the one percent who serve in this all-volunteer armed forces -– a sacrifice that preserves the freedoms we too often take for granted.  Few know what it’s like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you.  But our Gold Star families, our military families, our veterans — they know this, intimately.

Whenever I meet with our Gold Star families, like I did this morning, I hear their pride through their tears, as they flip through old photos and run their fingers over shiny medals.  I see that their hearts are still broken, and yet still full of love.  They do not ask for awards or honors.  They do not ask for special treatment.  They are unfailingly humble.  In the face of unspeakable loss, they represent the best of who we are.

They’re people like Ramon’s mother, who could carry hate for the people who killed her son — but she says, “I have no anger, no bitterness, even for the person who did this.  I feel sorry for them, and I ask God to change their hearts.”  That’s one Gold Star mother’s amazing grace.

Folks like Wyatt’s parents, Brian and Julie Martin, who said of their son, “He’s not just our kid, he’s everybody’s.  He’s an American soldier.  And as an American soldier, he belongs to everybody.”

They are siblings, like the Gold Star sister who wrote to me of her brother, Private First Class Stephen Benish, who gave his life in Iraq in 2004:  She said, “Remember him not as the 1,253rd war casualty, but the 6-foot-7 burst of light and positive influence he was on the world.”

These sons and daughters, these brothers and sisters who lay down their lives for us — they belong to us all.  They’re our children, too.  We benefit from their light, their positive influence on the world.  And it’s our duty, our eternal obligation, to be there for them, too; to make sure our troops always have what they need to carry out the mission; to make sure we care for all those who have served; to make sure we honor all those whom we’ve lost; to make sure we keep faith with our military families; to make sure we never stop searching for those who are missing, or trying to bring home our prisoners of war.  And we are grateful for the families of our POW/MIAs.

This may be the first Memorial Day since the end of our war in Afghanistan.  But we are acutely aware, as we speak, our men and women in uniform still stand watch and still serve, and still sacrifice around the world.

Several years ago, we had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 10,000 troops remain on a mission to train and assist Afghan forces.  We’ll continue to bring them home and reduce our forces further, down to an embassy presence by the end of next year.  But Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place.  And as so many families know, our troops continue to risk their lives for us.

Growing up in Massachusetts, John Dawson was an honor student who played varsity soccer.  He loved the Bruins, loved the Pats, and was always up for fun — running into a room while spraying silly string, or photobombing long before it was in style.

And John was passionate about service.  He shared the same convictions of so many we honor today, who wanted nothing more than to join a common cause and be part of something bigger than himself.  He channeled his love of cycling into charity bike rides with his church.  He joined the Army.  And as a combat medic, he fulfilled his dream of helping people.  He loved his job.

In April, an attacker wearing an Afghan uniform fired at a group of American soldiers.  And Army Corporal John Dawson became the first American servicemember to give his life to this new mission to train Afghan forces.  The words on John’s dog tag were those of Scripture:  “Greater love has no other than this, than to lay down your life for your friends.”

The Americans who rest beneath these beautiful hills, and in sacred ground across our country and around the world, they are why our nation endures.  Each simple stone marker, arranged in perfect military precision, signifies the cost of our blessings.  It is a debt we can never fully repay, but it is a debt we will never stop trying to fully repay.  By remaining a nation worthy of their sacrifice.  By living our own lives the way the fallen lived theirs — a testament that “Greater love has no other than this, than to lay down your life for your friends.”

We are so grateful for them.  We are so grateful for the families of our fallen.  May God bless our fallen heroes and their families, and all who serve.  And may He continue to bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

11:47 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism



Remarks by the President at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism | February 19, 2015

Source: WH, 2-19-15

State Department
Washington, D.C.

10:33 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, John.  Good morning, everyone.  I want to thank John Kerry, not only for his introduction, but for the outstanding leadership of American diplomacy.  John is tireless.  If he has not visited your country yet, he will soon.  And I want to thank you and everybody here at the State Department for organizing and hosting this ministerial today.

Mr. Secretary General, distinguished guests, we are joined by representatives from governments, because we all have a responsibility to ensure the security, the prosperity and the human rights of our citizens.  And we’re joined by leaders of civil society, including many faith leaders, because civil society — reflecting the views and the voices of citizens — is vital to the success of any country.  I thank all of you and I welcome all of you.

We come together from more than 60 countries from every continent.  We speak different languages, born of different races and ethnic groups, belong to different religions.  We are here today because we are united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.

As we speak, ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq and engaging in unspeakable cruelty.  The wanton murder of children, the enslavement and rape of women, threatening religious minorities with genocide, beheading hostages.  ISIL-linked terrorists murdered Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula, and their slaughter of Egyptian Christians in Libya has shocked the world.   Beyond the region, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

Elsewhere, Israelis have endured the tragedy of terrorism for decades.  Pakistan’s Taliban has mounted a long campaign of violence against the Pakistani people that now tragically includes the massacre of more than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers.  From Somalia, al-Shabaab terrorists have launched attacks across East Africa.  In Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate violent extremism.  And I challenged countries to come to the General Assembly this fall with concrete steps we can take together.  And I’m grateful for all of you for answering this call.

Yesterday at the White House, we welcomed community groups from the United States, and some from your countries, to focus on how we can empower communities to protect their families and friends and neighbors from violent ideologies and recruitment.  And over the coming months, many of your countries will host summits to build on the work here and to prepare for the General Assembly.  Today, I want to suggest some areas where I believe we can focus on as governments.

First, we must remain unwavering in our fight against terrorist organizations.  And in Afghanistan, our coalition is focused on training and assisting Afghan forces, and we’ll continue to conduct counterterrorism missions against the remnants of al Qaeda in the tribal regions.  When necessary, the United States will continue to take action against al Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen and Somalia.  We will continue to work with partners to help them build up their security forces so that they can prevent ungoverned spaces where terrorists find safe haven, and so they can push back against groups like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

In Iraq and Syria, our coalition of some 60 nations, including Arab nations, will not relent in our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And as a result of a separate ministerial here yesterday, many of our governments will be deepening our cooperation against foreign terrorist fighters by sharing more information and making it harder for fighters to travel to and from Syria and Iraq.

Related to this, and as I said at the United Nations last fall, nations need to break the cycles of conflict — especially sectarian conflict — that have become magnets for violent extremism.  In Syria, Assad’s war against his own people and deliberate stoking of sectarian tensions helped to fuel the rise of ISIL.  And in Iraq, with the failure of the previous government to govern in an inclusive manner, it helped to pave the way for ISIL’s gains there.

The Syrian civil war will only end when there is an inclusive political transition and a government that serves Syrians of all ethnicities and religions.  And across the region, the terror campaigns between Sunnis and Shia will only end when major powers address their differences through dialogue, and not through proxy wars.  So countering violent extremism begins with political, civic and religious leaders rejecting sectarian strife.

Second, we have to confront the warped ideologies espoused by terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL, especially their attempt to use Islam to justify their violence.  I discussed this at length yesterday.  These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy.  And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and ISIL are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth.  And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations; that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam or seek to suppress Muslims; or that we are the cause of every ill in the Middle East.

That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations.  That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence.  And that hurts all of us, including Islam, and especially Muslims, who are the ones most likely to be killed.

Obviously, there is a complicated history between the Middle East, the West.  And none of us I think should be immune from criticism in terms of specific policies, but the notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie.  And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it.

At the same time, former extremists have the opportunity to speak out, speak the truth about terrorist groups, and oftentimes they can be powerful messengers in debunking these terrorist ideologies.  One said, “This wasn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  Those voices have to be amplified.

And governments have a role to play.  At minimum, as a basic first step, countries have a responsibility to cut off funding that fuels hatred and corrupts young minds and endangers us all.  We need to do more to help lift up voices of tolerance and peace, especially online.

That’s why the United States is joining, for example, with the UAE to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.  Within the U.S. government, our efforts will be led by our new coordinator of counterterrorism communications — and I’m grateful that my envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, has agreed to serve in this new role.  So the United States will do more to help counter hateful ideologies, and today I urge your nations to join us in this urgent work.

Third, we must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.  As I said yesterday, poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes someone to become a criminal.  There are millions, billions of people who are poor and are law-abiding and peaceful and tolerant, and are trying to advance their lives and the opportunities for their families.

But when people — especially young people — feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliations of corruption — that feeds instability and disorder, and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.  And we have seen that across the Middle East and we’ve seen it across North Africa.  So if we’re serious about countering violent extremism, we have to get serious about confronting these economic grievances.

Here, at this summit, the United States will make new commitments to help young people, including in Muslim communities, to forge new collaborations in entrepreneurship and science and technology.  All our nations can reaffirm our commitment to broad-based development that creates growth and jobs, not just for the few at the top, but for the many.  We can step up our efforts against corruption, so a person can go about their day and an entrepreneur can start a business without having to pay a bribe.

And as we go forward, let’s commit to expanding education, including for girls.  Expanding opportunity, including for women.  Nations will not truly succeed without the contributions of their women.  This requires, by the way, wealthier countries to do more.  But it also requires countries that are emerging and developing to create structures of governance and transparency so that any assistance provided actually works and reaches people.  It’s a two-way street.

Fourth, we have to address the political grievances that terrorists exploit.  Again, there is not a single perfect causal link, but the link is undeniable.  When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied — particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines — when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.  It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit.  When peaceful, democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available.

And so we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.  That means free elections where people can choose their own future, and independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, and free speech and freedom for civil society groups.  And it means freedom of religion — because when people are free to practice their faith as they choose, it helps hold diverse societies together.

And finally, we have to ensure that our diverse societies truly welcome and respect people of all faiths and backgrounds, and leaders set the tone on this issue.

Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL peddle the lie that some of our countries are hostile to Muslims.  Meanwhile, we’ve also seen, most recently in Europe, a rise in inexcusable acts of anti-Semitism, or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment.  When people spew hatred towards others — because of their faith or because they’re immigrants — it feeds into terrorist narratives.  If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey.  And we can’t allow cycles of suspicions to tear at the fabric of our countries.

So we all recognize the need for more dialogues across countries and cultures; those efforts are indeed important.  But what’s most needed today, perhaps, are more dialogues within countries — not just across faiths, but also within faiths.

Violent extremists and terrorists thrive when people of different religions or sects pull away from each other and are able to isolate each other and label them as “they” as opposed to “us;” something separate and apart.  So we need to build and bolster bridges of communication and trust.

Terrorists traffic in lies and stereotypes about others — other religions, other ethnic groups.  So let’s share the truth of our faiths with each other.  Terrorists prey upon young impressionable minds.  So let’s bring our youth together to promote understanding and cooperation.  That’s what the United States will do with our virtual exchange program — named after Ambassador Chris Stevens — to connect 1 million young people from America and the Middle East and North Africa for dialogue.  Young people are taught to hate.  It doesn’t come naturally to them.  We, adults, teach them.

I’d like to close by speaking very directly to a painful truth that’s part of the challenge that brings us here today.  In some of our countries, including the United States, Muslim communities are still small, relative to the entire population, and as a result, many people in our countries don’t always know personally of somebody who is Muslim.  So the image they get of Muslims or Islam is in the news.  And given the existing news cycle, that can give a very distorted impression.  A lot of the bad, like terrorists who claim to speak for Islam, that’s absorbed by the general population.  Not enough of the good — the more than 1 billion people around the world who do represent Islam, and are doctors and lawyers and teachers, and neighbors and friends.

So we have to remember these Muslim men and women — the young Palestinian working to build understanding and trust with Israelis, but also trying to give voice to her people’s aspirations.  The Muslim clerics working for peace with Christian pastors and priests in Nigeria and the Central African Republic to put an end to the cycle of hate.  Civil society leaders in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies.  Parliamentarians in Tunisia working to build one of the world’s newest democracies.

Business leaders in India, with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations.  Entrepreneurs unleashing new innovations in places like Malaysia.  Health workers fighting to save lives from polio and from Ebola in West Africa.  And volunteers who go to disaster zones after a tsunami or after an earthquake to ease suffering and help families rebuild.  Muslims who have risked their lives as human shields to protect Coptic churches in Egypt and to protect Christians attending mass in Pakistan and who have tried to protect synagogues in Syria.

The world hears a lot about the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris, but the world has to also remember the Paris police officer, a Muslim, who died trying to stop them.  The world knows about the attack on the Jews at the kosher supermarket in Paris; we need to recall the worker at that market, a Muslim, who hid Jewish customers and saved their lives.  And when he was asked why he did it, he said, “We are brothers.  It’s not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims.  We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.”

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for being here today.  We come from different countries and different cultures and different faiths, but it is useful for us to take our wisdom from that humble worker who engaged in heroic acts under the most severe of circumstances.

We are all in the same boat.  We have to help each other.  In this work, you will have a strong partner in me and the United States of America.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

10:54 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech in Closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism



Remarks by the President in Closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

Source: WH, 2-18-15 

South Court Auditorium

4:20 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat.

Well, thank you, Lisa, for the introduction.  Lisa is an example of the countless dedicated public servants across our government, a number of who are here today, who are working tirelessly every single day on behalf of the security and safety of the American people.  So we very much appreciate her.  And thanks to all of you for your attendance and participation in this important summit.

For more than 238 years, the United States of America has not just endured, but we have thrived and surmounted challenges that might have broken a lesser nation.  After a terrible civil war, we repaired our union.  We weathered a Great Depression, became the world’s most dynamic economy.  We fought fascism, liberated Europe.  We faced down communism — and won.  American communities have been destroyed by earthquakes and tornadoes and fires and floods — and each time we rebuild.

The bombing that killed 168 people could not break Oklahoma City.  On 9/11, terrorists tried to bring us to our knees; today a new tower soars above New York City, and America continues to lead throughout the world.  After Americans were killed at Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon, it didn’t divide us; we came together as one American family.

In the face of horrific acts of violence — at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, or at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City — we reaffirmed our commitment to pluralism and to freedom, repulsed by the notion that anyone should ever be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, or how they worship.

Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid.  And I want to be as clear as I can be:  As Americans, all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support.

My point is this:  As Americans, we are strong and we are resilient.  And when tragedy strikes, when we take a hit, we pull together, and we draw on what’s best in our character — our optimism, our commitment to each other, our commitment to our values, our respect for one another.  We stand up, and we rebuild, and we recover, and we emerge stronger than before.  That’s who we are.  (Applause.)

And I say all this because we face genuine challenges to our security today, just as we have throughout our history.  Challenges to our security are not new.  They didn’t happen yesterday or a week ago or a year ago.  We’ve always faced challenges.  One of those challenges is the terrorist threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  But this isn’t our challenge alone.  It’s a challenge for the world.  ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq, beheads and burns human beings in unfathomable acts of cruelty.  We’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

So, in the face of this challenge, we have marshalled the full force of the United States government, and we’re working with allies and partners to dismantle terrorist organizations and protect the American people.  Given the complexities of the challenge and the nature of the enemy — which is not a traditional army — this work takes time, and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective.  But I’m confident that, just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.

And part of what gives me that confidence is the overwhelming response of the world community to the savagery of these terrorists — not just revulsion, but a concrete commitment to work together to vanquish these organizations.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate this scourge of violent extremism.  And I want to thank all of you — from across America and around the world — for answering this call.  Tomorrow at the State Department, governments and civil society groups from more than 60 countries will focus on the steps that we can take as governments.  And I’ll also speak about how our nations have to remain relentless in our fight — our counterterrorism efforts — against groups that are plotting against our counties.

But we are here today because of a very specific challenge  — and that’s countering violent extremism, something that is not just a matter of military affairs.  By “violent extremism,” we don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people.  We also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists –the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.  We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist, so there’s no way to predict who will become radicalized.  Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths.  It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography, or one period of time.

But we are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  And this week we are focused on prevention — preventing these groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place.  I’ve called upon governments to come to the United Nations this fall with concrete steps that we can take together.  And today, what I want to do is suggest several areas where I believe we can concentrate our efforts.

First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence.  Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge.  So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam.  That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.”  And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.  That’s how they recruit.  That’s how they try to radicalize young people.  We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.  Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.  They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.  (Applause.)  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.  (Applause.)

Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well.  Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts.  They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.  They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.  No religion is responsible for terrorism.  People are responsible for violence and terrorism.  (Applause.)

And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith.  They want to make very clear what Islam stands for.  And we’re joined by some of these leaders today.  These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.  Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.

But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.

The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances  — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.

So those beliefs exist.  In some communities around the world they are widespread.  And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization.  And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues.  We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas.

So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations.  Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.  (Applause.)

And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.

As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online.  We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists.  Their words speak to us today.  And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised: “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.”  “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.”  “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  “I’m 28 — is this the only future I’m able to imagine?”  That’s the voice of so many who were temporarily radicalized and then saw the truth.  And they’ve warned other young people not to make the same mistakes as they did.  “Do not run after illusions.”  “Do not be deceived.”  “Do not give up your life for nothing.”  We need to lift up those voices.

And in all this work, the greatest resource are communities themselves, especially like those young people who are here today.  We are joined by talented young men and women who are pioneering new innovations, and new social media tools, and new ways to reach young people.  We’re joined by leaders from the private sector, including high-tech companies, who want to support your efforts.  And I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but to empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world.  And that can be a calling for your generation.

So that’s the first challenge — we’ve got to discredit these ideologies.  We have to tackle them head on.  And we can’t shy away from these discussions.  And too often, folks are, understandably, sensitive about addressing some of these root issues, but we have to talk about them, honestly and clearly.  (Applause.)  And the reason I believe we have to do so is because I’m so confident that when the truth is out we’ll be successful.     Now, a second challenge is we do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.  Poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes somebody to become a criminal.  There are millions of people — billions of people  — in the world who live in abject poverty and are focused on what they can do to build up their own lives, and never embrace violent ideologies.

Conversely, there are terrorists who’ve come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden.  What’s true, though, is that when millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester.  The risk of instability and extremism grow.  Where young people have no education, they are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and radical ideas, because it’s not tested against anything else, they’ve got nothing to weigh.  And we’ve seen this across the Middle East and North Africa.

And terrorist groups are all too happy to step into a void. They offer salaries to their foot soldiers so they can support their families.  Sometimes they offer social services — schools, health clinics — to do what local governments cannot or will not do.  They try to justify their violence in the name of fighting the injustice of corruption that steals from the people — even while those terrorist groups end up committing even worse abuses, like kidnapping and human trafficking.

So if we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better.  And the United States intends to do its part.  We will keep promoting development and growth that is broadly shared, so more people can provide for their families.  We’ll keep leading a global effort against corruption, because the culture of the bribe has to be replaced by good governance that doesn’t favor certain groups over others.

Countries have to truly invest in the education and skills and job training that our extraordinary young people need.  And by the way, that’s boys and girls, and men and women, because countries will not be truly successful if half their populations — if their girls and their women are denied opportunity.  (Applause.)  And America will continue to forge new partnerships in entrepreneurship and innovation, and science and technology, so young people from Morocco to Malaysia can start new businesses and create more prosperity.

Just as we address economic grievances, we need to face a third challenge — and that’s addressing the political grievances that are exploited by terrorists.  When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence.  It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment.  Terrorist groups claim that change can only come through violence.  And if peaceful change is impossible, that plays into extremist propaganda.

So the essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it’s more democracy.  (Applause.)  It’s institutions that uphold the rule of law and apply justice equally.  It’s security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity.  It’s free speech and strong civil societies where people can organize and assemble and advocate for peaceful change.  It’s freedom of religion where all people can practice their faith without fear and intimidation.  (Applause.)  All of this is part of countering violent extremism.

Fourth, we have to recognize that our best partners in all these efforts, the best people to help protect individuals from falling victim to extremist ideologies are their own communities, their own family members.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims, especially those who may be disillusioned or wrestling with their identity.  That’s the truth.  The high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorist Twitter accounts — it’s all designed to target today’s young people online, in cyberspace.

And by the way, the older people here, as wise and respected as you may be, your stuff is often boring — (laughter) — compared to what they’re doing.  (Applause.)  You’re not connected.  And as a consequence, you are not connecting.

So these terrorists are a threat, first and foremost, to the communities that they target, which means communities have to take the lead in protecting themselves.  And that is true here in America, as it’s true anywhere else.  When someone starts getting radicalized, family and friends are often the first to see that something has changed in their personality.  Teachers may notice a student becoming withdrawn or struggling with his or her identity, and if they intervene at that moment and offer support, that may make a difference.

Faith leaders may notice that someone is beginning to espouse violent interpretations of religion, and that’s a moment for possible intervention that allows them to think about their actions and reflect on the meaning of their faith in a way that’s more consistent with peace and justice.  Families and friends, coworkers, neighbors, faith leaders — they want to reach out; they want to help save their loved ones and friends, and prevent them from taking a wrong turn.

But communities don’t always know the signs to look for, or have the tools to intervene, or know what works best.  And that’s where government can play a role — if government is serving as a trusted partner.  And that’s where we also need to be honest.  I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement.  And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.

So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities.  Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith.  (Applause.)  Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance.  We can’t “securitize” our relationship with Muslim Americans — (applause) — dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement. Because when we do, that only reinforces suspicions, makes it harder for us to build the trust that we need to work together.

As part of this summit, we’re announcing that we’re going to increase our outreach to communities, including Muslim Americans. We’re going to step up our efforts to engage with partners and raise awareness so more communities understand how to protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized.  We’ve got to devote more resources to these efforts.  (Applause.)

And as government does more, communities are going to have to step up as well.  We need to build on the pilot programs that have been discussed at this summit already — in Los Angeles, in Minneapolis, in Boston.  These are partnerships that bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect and create more dialogue and more trust and more cooperation.  If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient.  (Applause.)

And finally, we need to do what extremists and terrorists hope we will not do, and that is stay true to the values that define us as free and diverse societies.  If extremists are peddling the notion that Western countries are hostile to Muslims, then we need to show that we welcome people of all faiths.

Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.  (Applause.)  Generations of Muslim immigrants came here and went to work as farmers and merchants and factory workers, helped to lay railroads and build up America.  The first Islamic center in New York City was founded in the 1890s.  America’s first mosque — this was an interesting fact — was in North Dakota.  (Laughter.)

Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders, and protect our nation by serving in uniform, and in our intelligence communities, and in homeland security.  And in cemeteries across our country, including at Arlington, Muslim American heroes rest in peace having given their lives in defense of all of us.  (Applause.)

And of course that’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know — Muslims succeeding and thriving in America.  Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is.  It’s also a story that every American must never forget, because it reminds us all that hatred and bigotry and prejudice have no place in our country.  It’s not just counterproductive; it doesn’t just aid terrorists; it’s wrong.  It’s contrary to who we are.

I’m thinking of a little girl named Sabrina who last month sent me a Valentine’s Day card in the shape of a heart.  It was the first Valentine I got.  (Laughter.)  I got it from Sabrina before Malia and Sasha and Michelle gave me one.  (Laughter.)  So she’s 11 years old.  She’s in the 5th grade.  She’s a young Muslim American.  And she said in her Valentine, “I enjoy being an American.”  And when she grows up, she wants to be an engineer — or a basketball player.  (Laughter.)  Which are good choices. (Laughter.)  But she wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims…If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do.”  And she asked, “Please tell everyone that we are good people and we’re just like everyone else.”  (Applause.)  Now, those are the words — and the wisdom — of a little girl growing up here in America, just like my daughters are growing up here in America.  “We’re just like everybody else.”  And everybody needs to remember that during the course of this debate.

As we move forward with these challenges, we all have responsibilities, we all have hard work ahead of us on this issue.  We can’t paper over problems, and we’re not going to solve this if we’re always just trying to be politically correct. But we do have to remember that 11-year-old girl.  That’s our hope.  That’s our future.  That’s how we discredit violent ideologies, by making sure her voice is lifted up; making sure she’s nurtured; making sure that she’s supported — and then, recognizing there are little girls and boys like that all around the world, and us helping to address economic and political grievances that can be exploited by extremists, and empowering local communities, and us staying true to our values as a diverse and tolerant society even when we’re threatened — especially when we’re threatened.

There will be a military component to this.  There are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped.  ISIL is killing Muslims at a rate that is many multiples the rate that they’re killing non-Muslims.  Everybody has a stake in stopping them, and there will be an element of us just stopping them in their tracks with force.  But to eliminate the soil out of which they grew, to make sure that we are giving a brighter future to everyone and a lasting sense of security, then we’re going to have to make it clear to all of our children — including that little girl in 5th grade — that you have a place. You have a place here in America.  You have a place in those countries where you live.  You have a future.

Ultimately, those are the antidotes to violent extremism.  And that’s work that we’re going to have to do together.  It will take time.  This is a generational challenge.  But after 238 years, it should be obvious — America has overcome much bigger challenges, and we’ll overcome the ones that we face today.  We will stay united and committed to the ideals that have shaped us for more than two centuries, including the opportunity and justice and dignity of every single human being.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

4:54 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 11, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech Requesting to Congress for Authorization of Force Against ISIS



Remarks by the President on Request to Congress for Authorization of Force Against ISIL

Source: WH,  2-11-15

Roosevelt Room
3:37 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  Today, as part of an international coalition of some 60 nations — including Arab countries — our men and women in uniform continue the fight against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria.
More than 2,000 coalition airstrikes have pounded these terrorists.  We’re disrupting their command and control and supply lines, making it harder for them to move.  We’re destroying their fighting positions, their tanks, their vehicles, their barracks, their training camps, and the oil and gas facilities and infrastructure that fund their operations.  We’re taking out their commanders, their fighters, and their leaders.
In Iraq, local forces have largely held the line and in some places have pushed ISIL back.  In Syria, ISIL failed in its major push to take the town of Kobani, losing countless fighters in the process — fighters who will never again threaten innocent civilians.  And we’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.
Now, make no mistake — this is a difficult mission, and it will remain difficult for some time.  It’s going to take time to dislodge these terrorists, especially from urban areas.  But our coalition is on the offensive, ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose.  Its barbaric murders of so many people, including American hostages, are a desperate and revolting attempt to strike fear in the hearts of people it can never possibly win over by its ideas or its ideology — because it offers nothing but misery and death and destruction.  And with vile groups like this, there is only one option:  With our allies and partners, we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.
And when I announced our strategy against ISIL in September, I said that we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together.  Today, my administration submitted a draft resolution to Congress to authorize the use of force against ISIL.  I want to be very clear about what it does and what it does not do.
This resolution reflects our core objective to destroy ISIL.  It supports the comprehensive strategy that we have been pursuing with our allies and partners:  A systemic and sustained campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  Support and training for local forces on the ground, including the moderate Syrian opposition.  Preventing ISIL attacks, in the region and beyond, including by foreign terrorist fighters who try to threaten our countries.  Regional and international support for an inclusive Iraqi government that unites the Iraqi people and strengthens Iraqi forces against ISIL.  Humanitarian assistance for the innocent civilians of Iraq and Syria, who are suffering so terribly under ISIL’s reign of horror.
I want to thank Vice President Biden, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, and General Marty Dempsey for their leadership in advancing our strategy.  Even as we meet this challenge in Iraq and Syria, we all agree that one of our weapons against terrorists like ISIL — a critical part of our strategy — is the values we live here at home.  One of the best antidotes to the hateful ideologies that try to recruit and radicalize people to violent extremism is our own example as diverse and tolerant societies that welcome the contributions of all people, including people of all faiths.
The resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria.  It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq.  The 2,600 American troops in Iraq today largely serve on bases — and, yes, they face the risks that come with service in any dangerous environment.  But they do not have a combat mission.  They are focused on training Iraqi forces, including Kurdish forces.
As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East.  That’s not in our national security interest and it’s not necessary for us to defeat ISIL.  Local forces on the ground who know their countries best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL — and that’s what they’re doing.
At the same time, this resolution strikes the necessary balance by giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances.  For example, if we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our Special Forces to take action, because I will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.  So we need flexibility, but we also have to be careful and deliberate.  And there is no heavier decision than asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives on our behalf.  As Commander in Chief, I will only send our troops into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary for our national security.
Finally, this resolution repeals the 2002 authorization of force for the invasion of Iraq and limits this new authorization to three years.  I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war, or by remaining on a perpetual war footing.  As a nation, we need to ask the difficult and necessary questions about when, why and how we use military force.  After all, it is our troops who bear the costs of our decisions, and we owe them a clear strategy and the support they need to get the job done.  So this resolution will give our armed forces and our coalition the continuity we need for the next three years.
It is not a timetable.  It is not announcing that the mission is completed at any given period.  What it is saying is that Congress should revisit the issue at the beginning of the next President’s term.  It’s conceivable that the mission is completed earlier.  It’s conceivable that after deliberation, debate and evaluation, that there are additional tasks to be carried out in this area.  And the people’s representatives, with a new President, should be able to have that discussion.
In closing, I want to say that in crafting this resolution we have consulted with, and listened to, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  We have made a sincere effort to address difficult issues that we’ve discussed together.  In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to work closely with leaders and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.  I believe this resolution can grow even stronger with the thoughtful and dignified debate that this moment demands.  I’m optimistic that it can win strong bipartisan support, and that we can show our troops and the world that Americans are united in this mission.
Today, our men and women in uniform continue the fight against ISIL, and we salute them for their courageous service.  We pray for their safety.  We stand with their families who miss them and who are sacrificing here at home.  But know this:  Our coalition is strong, our cause is just, and our mission will succeed.  And long after the terrorists we face today are destroyed and forgotten, America will continue to stand free and tall and strong.
May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.  Thank you very much, everybody.
3:45 P.M. EST

News Headlines February 4, 2015: Brian Williams apologizes admits he lied was not shot down during the Iraq War




Brian Williams apologizes admits he lied was not shot down during the Iraq War

By Bonnie K. Goodman

NBC News anchor Brian Williams has finally admitted he lied about being aboard a helicopter that had been shot down during the Iraq War invasion in 2003. On Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, Williams apologized and recanted his often-told story…READ MORE

Political Musings December 26, 2014: Obamas celebrate Christmas marking the end of the War in Afghanistan




Obamas celebrate Christmas marking the end of the War in Afghanistan

By Bonnie K. Goodman

There was a definite theme and message President Barack Obama was trying to get across this Christmas, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, that after 13 years the combat war in Afghanistan will officially be over on Dec. 31. The president and…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech to Military and Civilian Personnel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst



Remarks by the President to Military and Civilian Personnel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

Source: WH, 12-15-14

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst
New Jersey

2:49 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst! (Applause.) Thank you, General Martin, for the introduction and for your great leadership of the Air Force Expeditionary Center. I want to thank all the outstanding leaders for coming to welcome me here today, including General Maggie Boor and Colonel James Hodges. I want to thank the folks who are the backbone of our military — give a big round of applause for your incredible senior NCOs. (Applause.)

This is one of our nation’s premier joint military bases. Everybody is here. We’ve got Army. (Hoo-ah!) We’ve got Navy. (Oo-rah!) We’ve got Air Force. (Hoo-ah!) We’ve got Marines. (Oo-rah!) And we’ve got some Coast Guard. (Oo-rah!) (Laughter.) Who’s that one Coast Guard — there you go, that was loud, right there. (Laughter.)

All of you come together as one great American team. And I know that we also have some spouses and families here today. Your wives, your husbands, your partners, your sons, your daughters — they serve, as well. They make their own sacrifices — especially when you’re deployed. So our military families are the heroes on the home front. Give it up for our remarkable military families. (Applause.)

We’ve got some outstanding elected officials who support the mission of this facility each and every day. I want to thank Governor Christie for joining us here today. (Applause.) We’ve got some outstanding members of Congress who are here — Bob Menendez, Cory Booker, Congressmen Jon Runyan, Congressman Donald Norcross, and incoming Congressman Tom MacArthur. (Applause.) And they were already lobbying me about the base on the way in, so they’re doing a good job. (Laughter.)

It is great to be back. I was here last year and visited with some of you on my way to the Jersey Shore. Christie and I went down to Asbury Park, spent some time on the boardwalk. We played a little Frog Bog. Chris’s kids taught me how to hit the hammer to get those little frogs into the buckets. It was hard. And then Christie beat me at football toss, which really aggravated me. (Laughter.) And he bragged about it afterwards, which is okay, but I will get a rematch at some point.

But we weren’t there just to have fun. We came because, after Hurricane Sandy, people across this state — including those of you here at this base — you had to pick yourselves up, pull together, rebuild, show that here in New Jersey, here in America, we are stronger than any storm. Like a friend of mine from New Jersey likes to say, “Wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own.” That’s what we do here in New Jersey. That’s what we do all across America.

And this facility exemplifies that spirit. For nearly a century, our flag has flown right here. Millions of Americans passed through the old Fort Dix. This was where they shipped out. This was where they were welcomed home. One of them was Don Drysdale, Hall of Fame Dodgers pitcher. And he had the same thought as a lot of new recruits at basic training: “What the hell am I doing here?” (Laughter.) Another recruit remembered, “I cleaned a lot of latrines with toothbrushes.”

Among those who were demobilized here was a soldier from Tennessee, serial number 53310761, a guy named Sergeant Elvis Presley. He was all shook up. (Laughter.) His homecoming was a little different, though. Apparently the King drove off in a limo. (Laughter.) Now, if it were up to me, I’d give all you all limos when you come home.

Because part of the message I’m here to deliver on behalf of the American people is very simple: It’s just to say thank you. Thank you for your extraordinary service. I thank you as your President because you inspire me. And of all the privileges I have in serving in this office, nothing comes close to the honor of serving as your Commander-in Chief.

And I also thank you on behalf of more than 300 million Americans. We Americans may disagree and debate and argue sometimes — that is part of our democracy. It is messy sometimes. Sometimes it results in some gridlock in Washington. But whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, white, black, brown, rich, poor — no matter how we pray, no matter who we love, when it comes to our troops, when it comes to you and your families, as Americans we stand united. We are proud of you. We support you. And we can never thank you enough. (Applause.)

And that’s especially true now, during the holidays. We can gather with family and friends because you’re willing to hug yours goodbye and step forward to serve. After a long day, we can come home because you’re willing to leave your home and deploy. We get to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, go to soccer games and go to dance recitals because you’re willing to miss those in your family. We’re free and safe and secure over here because you’re willing to serve over there.

That’s the noble spirit of your sacrifice. That’s the selfless character of our military. Those are the precious gifts that you give America — not just this time of year, but all year, every year. You never stop serving. You never stop giving. You guys are like Santa in fatigues. (Laughter.) Although, I’ll bet one of those C-130s is a little more efficient than Santa’s sleigh. (Applause.) I figured I’d get something out of our guys on that. (Laughter.)

I also wanted to be here, though, because after more than a decade of war, our nation is marking an important milestone. Ever since our country was attacked that awful September morning, 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan. Many people here have deployed there, or to Iraq, and you’ve deployed multiple times in some cases. There are people here who’ve lost really good friends, patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice, including 54 fallen heroes from this base, who we will honor forever.

For more than a year, Afghan forces have been in the lead to secure their country, and that means more of our troops have been coming home, including right here to this joint base. So let me just say to all of you who’ve returned from Afghanistan in recent weeks, on behalf of a grateful nation, I want to say welcome home. You’re home for the holidays. And we’re glad to have you back.

Now, this month, in just two weeks, the transition that we’re making in Afghanistan will be complete. Afghans will take full responsibility for their security. This month, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. This month, America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.

Now, that doesn’t mean everything is great in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place. But I want you, and every American who has served in Afghanistan, to be proud of what you’ve accomplished there. Because your generation — the 9/11 Generation — has met every mission that’s been given to you. You helped decimate the core al Qaeda leadership and deliver justice to Osama bin Laden. He will not be attacking here anymore. You helped to prevent terrorist attacks against this country. You helped push back the Taliban. You helped train Afghan forces to take the lead. You helped make possible a historic election this year and the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history. Despite all their challenges, Afghans are now looking to the future. And that’s all because of you. That’s makes us safer, and it gives them a chance for a better future.

Even as our combat mission ends, our commitment to Afghanistan endures. We’ll continue to have a limited military presence there because we’ve got to keep training and equipping Afghan forces, and we’ve got to conduct counterterrorism missions because there are still remnants of al Qaeda there. After all the sacrifices you’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you’ve made. We want a stable and secure Afghanistan. And we want to make sure that country is never again used to launch attacks against the United States of America.

Now, this year is also a reminder that even as our combat mission ends in Afghanistan, there are still challenges to our security around the globe. In times of crisis, people around the world look to one nation to lead, and that is the United States of America. Even our critics, when they get into trouble they’re calling us. And when the world calls on America, we call on you — our men and women in uniform — because nobody can do what you do.

One news article said it best: When our forces train here, folks who live nearby might “feel the ground shake” because no other military in the world is as good as you, as ready as you, as capable as you, able to go as far, able to go as fast as you do and perform your basic missions. Nobody. Nobody in history has been able to do what you’ve done.

Which means we’re leading the global coalition against the brutal terrorist group ISIL in Iraq and Syria. And you are doing your part, supporting the aerial refueling that keeps our aircraft in the skies and the airlift that moves our people and equipment into place. Some folks from this base are there right now doing incredible work. And to them, and to all our troops far from home and their families for the holidays, you are in our thoughts, our prayers, and we can’t wait till you come home, too.

Just look at the difference that you and the rest of our military have made — rescuing thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children that were trapped up on a mountain in danger of slaughter. You saved them. Air dropping food and water and medicine, saving countless lives. America led the way. That’s what we do.

Along with our coalition partners, we are hammering these terrorists, taking out their fighters, their commanders, hundreds of vehicles and tanks, nearly 200 oil and gas facilities, the infrastructure that funds their terror. More than a thousand fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, barracks — we’re taking them out. That’s because of the work that you do. We’re cutting their command and control and supply lines, and making it harder for them to maneuver.

In Iraq, local forces have held the line in some places and pushed back ISIL in other places. In Syria, our airstrikes are inflicting heavy losses on ISIL fighters and leaders. Because of you, we have blunted their momentum and we have put them on the defensive. And these terrorists are learning the same thing that the leaders of al Qaeda have learned the hard way: They may think that they can chalk up some quick victories, but our reach is long. We do not give up. You threaten America, you will have no safe haven. We will find you. And like petty tyrants and terrorists before you, the world is going to leave you behind and keep moving on without you, because we will get you. That’s thanks to you.

Now, this campaign in Iraq will take time. But make no mistake, our coalition isn’t just going to degrade this barbaric terrorist organization, we’re going to destroy it. And because this isn’t just a military effort, we’re going to keep working with those in the Middle East who believe in tolerance and opportunity and peace, because that’s what the region needs. These terrorists only know how to destroy. And we know how to do something bigger — how to build the security and peace and justice that we can build with others. But none of that would be possible without you. That’s American leadership. That’s the difference you make.

In the same way that we’re leading the fight against ISIL, we’re leading the global fight against Ebola in West Africa. And you’ve been doing your part — deploying to Liberia and Senegal, improving airfields, setting up the logistics and command-and-control, building the infrastructure, manning that air bridge, airlifting food and equipment and personnel. You have been out front.

And if you doubt the impact that you’re having, take a look at what’s going on there. With your help, we’ve built new treatment centers. We’re training more health care workers. We’re delivering medicine and supplies. Other countries are now willing to come in because you laid the foundation. And this is still a terrible epidemic, and the world has to keep on stepping up, but in Liberia, where we focused our efforts, cases are starting to decline. Ultimately, we will have saved thousands of lives because of you.

As one of our American commanders said, “Everywhere I go, Liberians are waving; hope is what we’re providing.” Or as one West African put it, “We’ve always loved America and for them to come in and help at a time like this reinforces that.” That’s the difference you’re making. There are people who are alive today because of what you guys do. That’s American leadership.

So, stepping back for a moment, we’re at a turning point. When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this month, we’ll have fewer than 15,000 in those two countries. We’ve now brought home about 90 percent of our troops — 90 percent. The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation-building overseas, that’s coming to an end.

And going forward, our military will be leaner. But as your Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to make sure we keep you ready for the range of missions that we ask of you. We are going to keep you the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped military in the history of the world because the world will still be calling.

And that’s why it was so important that folks in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — came together and passed legislation that I’m going to sign to keep our government open and funded for the coming year. And that includes military operations — the support and commissaries that your families depend on, a pay raise for you, health care for our wounded warriors and our veterans. (Applause.) You’ve always been there for us; we’ve got to be there for you.

And let me make one other point. At this time of transition, I know some of you will be returning to civilian life. I was talking about this with the two generals that I rode over with. We want to make sure you can enjoy the American Dream that you helped to defend. So we’ll keep helping you with the transition assistance and the credentialing and the licensing to help find civilian jobs worthy of your incredible talents.

We’re going to keep funding the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and keep working with colleges and universities to help you and your families realize your dream of a higher education. And as many of you know, Michelle — the First Lady — Vice President’s wife, Jill Biden; everybody at Joining Forces, we’re all going to be saying to every company in America: If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a military spouse. Hire a veteran. That’s the difference you can make here at home. Because that’s also American leadership — the jobs and the opportunity, and the country that we can build together as one American team. (Applause.) You understand that. You’ve trained for it. And when you get in the job, that’s what you deliver every single time.

So I want to leave you with a story of somebody who has a special understanding of the American spirit. I just met them before I came out here, but before I came out, Yeoman Carrie Chavez and Staff Sergeant Ashley Montgomery, they did the Pledge of Allegiance and sang our National Anthem — and I had a chance to take a picture with them out back. And I asked them where they’re from, and they’re from Jersey, of course. (Laughter.) And, in fact, Ashley said that her dad had served at this facility 30 years earlier. So I asked her, had she ever left the base — (laughter) — and she said, yes, she had been deployed at four other bases. But that’s one example of American service — a generation passing the baton to the next generation; entire families who have served our country nobly, dating back in some cases over a century.

But then there’s another part of the American story. There’s another young man I met. His name is Nelson Rieu — and Nelson is here today. Wave, Nelson. There’s Nelson. (Applause.) Now, the reason I want to tell Nelson’s story is because, unlike Ashley, Nelson wasn’t born here on base, he wasn’t born in Jersey. He was born in the Republic of Congo. And when his country slipped into civil war, he and his mother became refugees. And that was a terrible civil war — over a million people died in that civil war. That was a hard life. When he was 20 years old, he and his mom got some incredible news — “the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. He had the chance to come to America.

So they land in Los Angeles, and Nelson said it was like being in a movie — all these glistening buildings and freeways. And they settled in Arizona. And Nelson barely spoke a word of English. So he took high school classes — English, American history; he earned his high school diploma. And then he signed up to serve a country that wasn’t even yet fully his own. He raised his hand, took the oath, joined the United States Air Force. And then, this past Fourth of July, he put on his uniform, he raised his hand again, and he took another oath to become a citizen of the United States. “The Fourth of July,” he says, “is my new American birthday.”

And today, Airman First Class Nelson Rieu is an engineering apprentice here on base, helping to keep his fellow airmen safe. And at 24 years old, he dreams of someday joining the Special Forces. And he says, “Freedom is the reason why I am in this country and [why I] wanted to be part of those who sustain that freedom. It’s a great feeling to know you’re the backbone of the greatest nation on Earth.”

So you think about that. You’ve got folks whose dads were born on — or who were born on base and who served going back generations. But then you’ve got new Americans with that same patriotism, that same sense of what we’re about as Americans, that same creed that we can all pledge allegiance to, regardless of what we look like or where we come from. We’re fighting on the same team for the same values and the same ideals.

So thank you for your patriotism, Nelson. (Applause.)

And that’s one of the things that makes America exceptional, and what makes our military the absolute best in the world. It’s not just your training, or your equipment, or your technology — although all that’s important. What makes us special, what makes us the best is all of you. It’s your character and your willingness to say, “Send me.” Your dedication to duty, and your courage, and your readiness to defend our values and our ideals of freedom and liberty — not just for us, but for people all around the world.

You are the backbone of the greatest nation on Earth — and you always will be that. And for that, America is eternally grateful, and I am incredibly proud to serve as your Commander-in-Chief.

So, happy holidays, everybody. (Applause.) God bless you. God bless your families. God bless our Armed Forces. God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)

3:13 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 13, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Giving Thanks for Our Troops — Transcript



Weekly Address: Giving Thanks for Our Troops

Source: WH, 12-13-14

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 13, 2014

Hi, everybody. It’s the holidays—a season to give thanks for our many blessings. The love of family. The joy of good friends. The bonds of community. The freedom we cherish as Americans. The peace and justice we seek in the world.

As we go about our days, as we gather with loved ones and friends, it’s important to remember: our way of life—the freedom, prosperity and security that we enjoy as Americans—is not a gift that is simply handed to us. It has to be earned—by every generation. And no one sacrifices more to preserve our blessings than our extraordinary men and women in uniform.

That’s why, on Monday, I’ll be visiting our troops at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey—to salute them for their service and thank them for their sacrifices. Since our nation was attacked on 9/11, these men and women, like so many others in uniform, have met every mission we’ve asked of them. They deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In more than a decade of war, this 9/11 Generation has worked with the Afghan people to help them reclaim their communities and prevent terrorist attacks against our own country.

Now, many of our troops are returning from Afghanistan, and on Monday, I’ll be proud to help welcome them home. That’s because, this month, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. Our war in Afghanistan is coming to a responsible end.

Of course, the end of our combat mission in Afghanistan doesn’t mean the end of challenges to our security.We’ll continue to work with Afghans to make sure their country is stable and secure and is never again used to launch attacks against America. The troops I’ll visit on Monday have been part of our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria. They’ve been supporting our efforts in West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic and save lives. Because in times of crisis and challenge, the world turns to America for leadership. And when the world calls on America, we call on the brave men and women of our armed forces to do what no one else can.

So this holiday season, as we give thanks for the blessings in our own lives, let’s also give thanks to our men and women in uniform who make those blessings possible. Even as some are coming home for the holidays, many more will be far from their families, who sacrifice along with them.

There are so many ways we can express our gratitude to our troops, their families and our veterans—everyone can do something. To find out what you can do, just go to JoiningForces.gov. As a nation, as Americans, let’s always keep striving to serve them as well as they have always served us.

Thanks, have a great weekend, and God bless our troops and their families.

Political Musings December 10, 2014: First Lady Michelle delivers Toys for Tots with Santa Obama as the big Elf




First Lady Michelle delivers Toys for Tots with Santa Obama as the big Elf

By Bonnie K. Goodman

This year President Barack Obama joined his wife First Lady Michelle Obama, on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2014 to deliver and sort toys for the “Marine Corps’ annual Toys for Tots campaign” at the joint Base…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 10, 2014: President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Remarks At Toys for Tots Gift Sorting — Transcript



Remarks by the President and the First Lady At Toys for Tots Gift Sorting

Source: WH, 12-10-14

Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling

1:42 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Ho, ho, ho.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  That’s a pretty serious, ho, ho, ho.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ho, ho, ho.

MRS. OBAMA:  How is everybody doing?

THE PRESIDENT:  She’s doing good.

MRS. OBAMA: Happy holidays, merry Christmas.

THE PRESIDENT:  Merry Christmas.

MRS. OBAMA: How are all the kids?  Yay.  Well, we’re happy to be back.  As you can see, I brought a little help this year.  Welcome to Toys for Tots.  Your first year.  We’re going to break you in slowly, okay?

But let me start — we’re not going to talk long because we’re here to actually do some work.  But I want to just thank everybody who has been involved in this effort.  Of course, Lieutenant General Osman, who has just been a tremendous partner for so many years.  His leadership is really at the heart of what makes this drive possible.

But also Lieutenant General Richard Mills, Lieutenant Colonel David Johnson, and First Sergeant Lowery, as well.  Let’s give them all a round of applause for their tremendous leadership.  (Applause.)

Thank you all for all the hours that you spend picking up the donations, sorting in warehouses all throughout the area.  This wouldn’t be possible without you and, of course, your wonderful families here who help to make this possible.

We have a couple of other folks here.  We’ve got White House Communications Agency folks and their families.  Let’s give you guys a round of applause.  Thank you all so much for your work.  (Applause.)

And of course, to all of the Marines from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, plus their spouses and all of our military kids.  Yay, you guys.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yay!  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  As General Osman said, this is the sixth year that I’ve been involved in Toys for Tots.  And every year it’s just a tremendous privilege to be able to be a part of making Christmas just a little brighter for a few kids across the country.

And we try to make it a big deal at the White House.  We create competitions.  I think this year the office that collected the most toys got a Bo and Sonny visit.  (Laughter.)  So we did a good job this year.  I think this year we’re bringing in about a thousand toys from the White House.  And so we’re proud of our team at the White House for participating.

But we still have a lot of time.  And one of the things that I just want to remind the public is that there’s still time to donate.  And we really want to urge folks out there do everything in their power to donate to Toys for Tots.

And if you need to find out where to go, all you have to go — do is go to the Toys for Tots website.  People can donate online.  They can go by one of the drop-off centers.  And each year, I kind of remind people that at times one of the challenges is making sure we have enough toys for the older kids.  It’s always fun to buy the Barbie Dolls and the coloring books, but we have to remember that there are teenagers out there too that need those gifts.  And we try to make it a point to make sure that we’re buying cool clothes for kids and electronic products and educational materials for teenagers, as well.

So if you haven’t already donated, don’t forget our teenagers.  They’re looking for a merry Christmas as well.

So with that, I’m going to turn it over to my new helper, who I brought along with me.  He doesn’t need any introductions.  I don’t know how good he’ll be with sorting — (laughter) — because he doesn’t usually deal in shopping in any kind of way.  But we’ll watch him closely to see if he can figure out which ones are girls, zero to two, or unisex.  It gets really complicated.  So watch him, because he could really make your work harder.

So with that, it’s my pleasure to introduce my husband, the President of the United States.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  I’m the big elf.  (Laughter.)  I’m like Will Farrell.  (Laughter.)  It is great to be here.  I’m not going to talk long.  I just want to say thanks to all of you for participating.  I want to say thank you to Toys for Tots.  Quick statistic:  Since it started in the 1940s, Toys for Tots has distributed more than 469 million toys to more than 216 million children.  That’s a lot of dollhouses, that’s a lot of Ninja Turtles.

But really what Toys for Tots is about is generosity and giving back.  All of us are so blessed.  Look at these beautiful kids here and wonderful families.  We are lucky.  We’re lucky first and foremost to live in the United States of America, and we’re lucky to be able to look after our kids and there are parents out there who love their kids just as much but are going through a tough time.  And for us to be able to make sure that that holiday spirit extends a little bit beyond just our family but to people all around the country, it is a wonderful contribution.

While I’m here, I just want to say thank you to our Marine Corps for their extraordinary work.  Our men and women in uniform and our military families don’t just work to keep us safe; they’re also strengthening our country here at home.  They’re volunteering at schools, congregations, our communities.  With our combat mission coming to a close in Afghanistan, it means more of our extraordinary military members are going to be home for the holidays, back where they belong.  And that is the most important blessing of all.

But what’s also great is that we’re now seeing our incredible military — some who may be leaving the military — able to provide that same dedication, that same sense of service to organizations throughout the country.  Sometimes in a volunteer capacity, sometimes in a professional capacity.  And we are very proud of that.  Lieutenant General Osman is just a great example of the ongoing spirit of duty and service that is instilled in armed forces.  So we are so grateful to all of you.

With that, I want to wish everybody a merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and let’s get sorting.  I am positive that girls, zero to two, that’s perfect for the “Call of Duty” video game.  (Laughter.)  Isn’t that right?

MRS. OBAMA:  What video game?

THE PRESIDENT:  See, she didn’t even get the joke.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  I wasn’t listening.

THE PRESIDENT:  She wasn’t listening to me.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

1:50 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency November 8, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address This Veterans’ Day, Let’s Honor Our Veterans



WEEKLY ADDRESS: This Veterans’ Day, Let’s Honor Our Veterans

Source: WH, 11-8-14

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, in advance of Veterans’ Day, the President paid tribute to the men and women in uniform who have given so much in service of America. Veterans have risked their lives to protect our freedom, and we need to be there for them when they return from duty by ensuring they get the care they need and the opportunities they deserve. The President asked every American to thank and welcome home the veterans in their lives who, like all who fight for our country, are heroes worthy of our constant gratitude and support.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
November 8, 2014

Hi, everybody.  This weekend, I depart for Asia to advance American leadership and promote American jobs in a dynamic region that will be critical to our security and prosperity in the century ahead.  The democracies, progress and growth we see across the Asia Pacific would have been impossible without America’s enduring commitment to that region – especially the service of generations of Americans in uniform.  As we approach Veterans’ Day, we honor them – and all those who’ve served to keep us free and strong.

We salute that Greatest Generation who freed a continent from fascism and fought across Pacific Islands to preserve our way of life.  We pay tribute to Americans who defended the people of South Korea, soldiered through the brutal battles of Vietnam, stood up to a tyrant in Desert Storm and stopped ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

And we celebrate our newest heroes from the 9/11 Generation – our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.  For more than 13 years, we have been at war in Afghanistan.  Next month, our combat mission will be over, and America’s longest war will come to a responsible end.

But the end of a war is just the beginning of our obligations to those who serve in our name.  These men and women will be proud veterans for decades to come, and our service to them has only just begun.  So as we welcome our newest veterans home, let’s honor them by giving them the thanks and respect they deserve.  And let’s make sure we’re there for their families and children, too – because they’ve also made great sacrifices for America.

Let’s honor our veterans by making sure they get the care and benefits they’ve earned.  That means health care that’s there for them when they need it.  It means continuing to reduce the disability claims backlog.  And it means giving our wounded warriors all the care and support they need to heal, including mental health care for those with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.  Some of the most moving moments I’ve experienced as Commander in Chief have been with our wounded warriors.  Some have to learn how to walk again, talk again, write their names again.  But no matter how hard it is, they never give up.  They never quit.  And we can’t ever quit on them.

Let’s honor our veterans by making sure they get their shot at the American Dream that they risked their lives to defend – by helping them find jobs worthy of their skills and talents, and making sure the Post-9/11 GI Bill stays strong so more veterans can earn a college education.  When our veterans have the opportunity to succeed, our whole nation is stronger.  And let’s work together to end the tragedy of homelessness among veterans once and for all – because anyone who has defended America deserves to live in dignity in America.

Finally, let’s honor our veterans by remembering that this isn’t just a job for government.  It’s a job for every American.  We’re all keepers of that sacred trust that says, if you put on a uniform and risk your life to keep us safe, we’ll do our part for you.  We’ll make sure you and your family get the support you need.  We’l have your backs – just like you had ours.

So this Veterans’ Day, and every day, let’s make sure all our veterans know how much we appreciate them.  If you see a veteran, go on up and shake their hand.  Look them in the eye.  Say those words that every veteran deserves to hear:  “Welcome home.  Thank you.  We need you more than ever to help us stay strong and free.”

Full Text Obama Presidency October 8, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Pentagon on the Fight Against ISIS and Ebola Crisis — Transcript



Remarks by the President at the Pentagon

Source: WH, 10-8-14

The Pentagon
Washington, D.C.

4:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I want to thank Secretary Hagel, Deputy Secretary Work, Chairman Dempsey, Vice Chairman Winnefeld, and all the outstanding leaders who are here today.  This is a periodic check-in that I have with not only our service commander but also our COCOMs.  And I thought, although usually we do this over the White House, now was a good time for me to come over to the Pentagon and have an opportunity to hear from our top military about the work that they’re doing.

And I’ve said this before and I want to repeat:  We put enormous burdens and enormous strains on our men and women of the armed forces, and each and every time, the members of our armed services, our troops perform in exemplary fashion.  I think at a time when there’s so much turbulence in the world, never during my presidency has it become more apparent how good our military is, but also how they can tackle a wide range of problems and not just a narrow set of problems.  It’s not just the finest military in the history of the world, it’s also just one of the best organizations we’ve ever seen at doing a whole bunch of different stuff.

And so I expressed my gratitude to the leadership, but also asked them to express to those under their command the thanks of the American people.

We had an opportunity to talk about ISIL and the campaign there.  After this meeting, we’ll have a National Security Council meeting in which General Lloyd Austin, who’s leading Central Command, will further brief us on the progress that’s been made by the coalition there.

Our strikes continue alongside our partners.  It remains a difficult mission.  As I’ve indicated from the start, this is not something that is going to be solved overnight.  The good news is, is that there is a broad-based consensus not just in the region but among nations of the world that ISIL is a threat to world peace, security and order, that their barbaric behavior has to be dealt with.  And we’re confident that we will be able to continue to make progress in partnership with the Iraqi government, because ultimately it’s going to be important for them to be able to, with our help, secure their own country and to find the kind of political accommodations that are necessary for long-term prosperity in the region.

We had a chance to talk about the fight against Ebola, and I got a briefing from General Rodriguez.  Our military is essentially building an infrastructure that does not exist in order to facilitate the transport of personnel and equipment and supplies to deal with this deadly epidemic and disease.  And we are doing it in a way that ensures our men and women in uniform are safe.  That has been my top priority, and I’ve instructed folks we’re not going to compromise the health and safety of our armed services.

But what’s true is, we have unique capabilities that nobody else has.  And as a consequence of us getting in early and building that platform, we’re now able to leverage resources from other countries and move with speed and effectiveness to curb that epidemic.

We had a discussion about global security generally, including the work that, with General Breedlove, we’re doing at NATO to mobilize Europe around the increased threats posed by Russian aggression in Ukraine and against some of its neighbors. We had a very successful meeting in Wales that showed the commitment from all 28 NATO countries to redouble the reassurance they can provide to frontline states to invest further in the joint capabilities that are necessary.  And I very much appreciate the leadership that General Breedlove has shown on that front.

And I got a chance to get a briefing from Admiral Locklear of the Pacific Command about the ongoing both challenges and opportunities in the Pacific.  It’s been noted that our alliances in that area have never been stronger.  We are very much welcomed as a Pacific power in the region.  And our ability to continue to maintain a presence that ensures freedom of navigation, that international law is observed is going to be critically important.  And we need to do that in a way that also reflects our interest in cooperation and effective communication with China, which obviously is a major player in the region.

But the anchor of our presence there, our treaties and alliances with key countries like South Korea and Japan, obviously remain critically important.  And thanks to the work of some of the gentlemen sitting around this table and their staffs, those alliances have never been in better shape.

Finally, we had a chance to talk briefly about defense budget and reforms.  We have done some enormous work, and I want to thank everybody sitting around this table to continue to make our forces leaner, meaner, more effective, more tailored to the particular challenges that we’re going to face in the 21st century.

But we also have to make sure that Congress is working with us to avoid, for example, some of the Draconian cuts that are called for in sequestration, and to make sure that if we’re asking this much of our armed forces, that they’ve got the equipment and the technology that’s necessary for them to be able to succeed at their mission, and that we’re supporting their families at a time when, even after ending one war and winding down another, they continue to have enormous demands placed on them each and every day.

So I want to thank everybody around this table.  A special thank-you to General Austin for the enormous amount of work that’s been done by CENTCOM in what is a very challenging situation.  We very much appreciate him.  I want to thank General Rodriguez for the great work in standing up our operations in West Africa.

And finally, I want to say publicly a hearty thank you to Jim Amos, who somewhere between eight to 10 days from now — (laughter) — will be retiring from his command.  He is the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the first aviator to command our Marine Corps.  I know that he could not be prouder of the men and women under his command.  They continue to make us proud.  They certainly make him proud.  We want to thank him and Mrs. Amos and the entire family for the great service that they’ve rendered to our country.

So thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END4:29 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency October 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Dedication — Transcript



Remarks by the President at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Dedication

Source: WH, 10-5-14 

Washington, D.C.

12:21 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Good afternoon. Please be seated. To all our disabled veterans — our extraordinary wounded warriors — we gather here today, on this gorgeous autumn day in America, because each of you endured a moment that shaped the arc of your lives and that speaks to our debt as a nation.

Maybe it was there on the battlefield, as the bullets and shrapnel rained down around you. Maybe it was as you lay there, the medics tending to your wounds. Perhaps it was days or months later, in that hospital room, when you finally came to. Perhaps it was years later, as you went about your day, or in the midnight hour, when the memories came rushing back like a flood.

Wherever you were, whatever your story, it was the moment that binds each of you forever — that moment of realization that life would not be the same. Your foot. Your hand. Your arm. Your leg — maybe both. Your sight. Your peace of mind. A part of you was gone.

Speaking to his fellow veterans of the Civil War, the great Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “As I look into your eyes I feel…that a great trial in your youth made you different…different from what we could have been without it.” And he said, we learned “a lesson early which has given a different feeling to life” — a sense of duty that burns like a fire in the heart.

To Lois Pope, Art Wilson and everyone at the memorial foundation and our incredible veterans service organizations who devoted so many years of effort, especially our friends at the Disabled American Veterans; to all the architects and craftspeople who lent your talents to bring this memorial to life; members of Congress, Secretaries Jewell and McDonald; distinguished guests; and most of all, to our veterans who have come to know “a different feeling to life,” and to your families — it’s a great honor to be with you here today.

For more than two centuries, Americans have left everything they have known and loved — their families and their friends — and stepped forward to serve: to win our independence, to preserve our Union, to defend our democracy, to keep safe this country that we love. And when the guns fall silent, our veterans return home, ready to play their part in the next chapter of our American story. As a nation, we have not always fulfilled our obligations to those who served in our name. This is a painful truth. And few have known this better than our veterans wounded in war.

In the first years after our Revolution — when our young nation still resisted the idea of a standing army — veterans of the Continental Army returned to towns that could be indifferent to their service. One veteran — his hand mangled by a British musket ball — was deemed, like many veterans, as “unfit for labor.” And frustrated by his inability to secure a disability pension, he wrote that “many of those who aided in conquering the enemy are suffering under the most distressing poverty.” After the Civil War, and again after the First World War, our disabled veterans had to organize and march for the benefits they had earned. Down the decades, our nation has worked to do better — to do right by these patriots. Because in the United States of America, those who have fought for our freedom should never be shunned and should never be forgotten.

So, today, we take another step forward. With this memorial we commemorate, for the first time, the two battles our disabled veterans have fought — the battle over there, and the battle here at home — your battle to recover, which at times can be even harder, and certainly as longer. You walk these quiet grounds — pause by the pictures of these men and women, you look into their eyes, read their words — and we’re somehow able to join them on a journey that speaks to the endurance of the American spirit. And to you, our veterans and wounded warriors, we thank you for sharing your journey with us.

Here we feel your fears — the shock of that first moment when you realized something was different; the confusion about what would come next; the frustrations and the worries — as one veteran said — “that maybe I wouldn’t be quite the same.”

And then here we see your resolve — your refusal, in the face of overwhelming odds, to give in to despair or to cynicism; your decision, your choice, to overcome. Like the veteran who said, “It’s possible for a man to lose half his physical being and still become whole.”

It is here we can see your perseverance — your unyielding faith that tomorrow can be better; your relentless determination, often through years of hard recovery and surgeries and rehab, learning the simple things all over again — how to button a shirt, or how to write your name; in some cases, how to talk or how to walk; and how, when you’ve stumbled, when you’ve fallen, you’ve picked yourself up, you’ve carried on, you’ve never given up.

Here we get a glimpse of the wounds within — the veteran who says, “I relive the war every day.” Because no matter what war you served in — and whether they called it “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” or the “1,000-yard stare” or post-traumatic stress — you know that the unseen wounds of war are just as real as any other, and they can hurt just as much, if not more.

Here we’re reminded that none of you have made this journey alone. Beside each of you is a wife or a husband, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and neighbors and friends — who day after day, year after year, have been there, lifting you up, pushing you further, rooting you on — like the caregiver who said, “I loved him for who he was in his heart. And he still had that.” Today we salute all your families, and the love that never quits.

And, finally, here we see that our wounded veterans are defined not by what you can’t do, but by what you can do. Just ask Captain Dawn Halfaker. In Iraq, her Humvee was hit by an RPG. She suffered burns and broken bones, lost her right arm. She struggled physically and emotionally. But with the help of her fellow wounded warriors she came to focus, she said, “not on what I had lost, but on what I still had.” And today what she has is the respect of her fellow veterans that she mentors; a business of her own — one that hires veterans; and a beautiful 6-month-old son. Dawn’s picture — this member of the 9/11 Generation — now graces this memorial, and we are honored that she is here today. And, Dawn, please stand up. (Applause.)

I’ve seen Dawn’s story over and over and over again — in all the wounded warriors and veterans that I have the honor to meet, from Walter Reed to Bethesda to Bagram. I know in Dawn’s life, many of you see your own. Today, I want every American to see it. After everything you endured, after all the loss, you summoned the best in yourself and found your strength again. How many of you learned to walk again and stand again and run again. How you’ve competed in races and marathons and the Paralympics, on Team USA. How you found joy and love — getting married, raising children. How you found new ways to serve — returning to your units or starting new businesses, or teaching our children, or serving your fellow veterans, or leading in your communities.

America, if you want to know what real strength is, if you want to see the character of our country — a country that never quits — look at these men and women. And I’d ask all of our disabled veterans here today — if you can stand, please stand; if not, please raise your hand so that our nation can pay tribute to your service. We thank you. We’re inspired by you. And we honor you. (Applause.)

From this day forward, Americans will come to this place and ponder the immense sacrifice made on their behalf; the heavy burden borne by a few so that we might live in freedom and peace. Of course, our reflection is not enough. Our expressions of gratitude are not enough.

Here, in the heart of our nation’s capital, this memorial is a challenge to all of us — a reminder of “the obligations this country is under.” And if we are to truly honor these veterans, we must heed the voices that speak to us here. Let’s never rush into war — because it is America’s sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives. (Applause.) Let us only send them into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary. And if we do, let’s always give them the strategy, the mission, and the support that they need to get the job done. When the mission is over — and as our war in Afghanistan comes to a responsible end in two months — let us stand united as Americans and welcome our veterans home with the thanks and respect they deserve. (Applause.)

And if they come home having left a part of themselves on the battlefield, on our behalf, this memorial tells us what we must do. When our wounded veterans set out on that long road of recovery, we need to move heaven and earth to make sure they get every single benefit, every single bit of care that they have earned, that they deserve. (Applause.)

If they’re hurting and don’t know if they can go on, we need to say loud and clear, as family and friends, as neighbors and coworkers, as fellow citizens, and as a nation: You are not alone, it’s all right to ask for help, and we’re here to help you be strong again. Because our wounded warriors may have “a different feeling to life,” but when we are truly there for them, when we give them every opportunity to succeed and continue their enormous contributions to our country, then our whole nation is stronger, all our lives are richer.

So if you’re an American, and you see a veteran — maybe with a prosthetic arm or leg, maybe burns on their face — don’t ever look away. Do not turn away. You go up and you reach out, and you shake their hand, and you look them in the eye and you say those words every veteran should hear all the time: “Welcome home, thank you. We need you more than ever. You help us stay strong, you help us stay free.” (Applause.)

To every wounded warrior, to every disabled veteran — thank you. God bless you. God bless these United States of America. (Applause.)

12:35 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency October 1, 2014: President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks Before Bilateral Meeting — Transcript



Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel Before Bilateral Meeting

Source: WH, 10-1-14

Oval Office

11:23 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it’s good once again to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu.  Obviously, he’s no stranger to the White House.  I think I’ve met with Bibi more than any world leader during my tenure as President.

We meet at a challenging time.  Israel is obviously in a very turbulent neighborhood, and this gives us an opportunity once again to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.

Throughout the summer, obviously all of us were deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza.  I think the American people should be very proud of the contributions that we made to the Iron Dome program to protect the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis.  I think we also recognize that we have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.

And so we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our agenda will be broader than that, obviously.  I’ll debrief Bibi on the work that we’re doing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the broader agenda that I discussed at the United Nations, which is mobilizing a coalition not only for military action, but also to bring about a shift in Arab states and Muslim countries that isolate the cancer of violent extremism that is so pernicious and ultimately has killed more Muslims than anything else.

And we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.

So we have a lot to talk about, and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister coming.  It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times.  And we’re glad that the United States can be a partner in that process.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had — expressed in so many ways, but also in an additional installment of support for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives, saved many lives across the border.  And I thank you for that, and for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.

I also want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and to discuss the enormous challenges facing the United States and Israel in the Middle East.  There’s definitely a new Middle East.  I think it poses new dangers, but it also presents new opportunities.

As for the dangers, Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat ISIS.  We think everybody should support this.  And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.

As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.

Equally, I think that there are opportunities.  And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states.  And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.

I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground.  And I believe we should make use of the new opportunities, think outside the box, see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda.  And I look forward to our discussions on these and many other matters.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

11:29 A.M. EDT

Political Musings September 30, 2014: Netanyahu in powerful UN address equates ISIS with Hamas, Iran greatest threat





Netanyahu in powerful UN address equates ISIS with Hamas, Iran greatest threat

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promise to “refute all of the lies being directed at us” when he boarded his flight to New York on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, and when he delivered his address to…READ MORE

Political Musings September 29, 2014: Obama on 60 minutes acknowledges administration underestimated ISIS threat





Obama on 60 minutes acknowledges administration underestimated ISIS threat

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama admitted 2014 that his administration underestimated the threat of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in a CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ interview with Steve Kroft that was taped on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014…READ MORE

Political Musings September 28, 2014: Boehner wants Congress to vote on ground troops in war against ISIS





Full Text Obama Presidency September 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: America is Leading the World on American Leadership in Fights against ISIS & Ebola — Transcript



Weekly Address: America is Leading the World

Source: WH, 9-27-14 

In this week’s address, the President reiterated the forceful and optimistic message of American leadership that he delivered in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week. America is leading the world against the most pressing challenges, including the fight to degrade and destroy ISIL, the effort to stop the Ebola epidemic, and the movement to confront the threat from climate change. The world looks to America and its commitment to freedom in the face of uncertainly, and as the President said, it will continue to do so for generations to come.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
September 27, 2014

Hi, everybody. American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. That was true this week, as we mobilized the world to confront some of our most urgent challenges.

America is leading the world in the fight to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL. On Monday, our brave men and women in uniform began air strikes against ISIL targets in Syria. And they weren’t alone. I made it clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition, and we were joined in this action by friends and partners, including Arab nations. At the United Nations in New York, I worked to build more support for this coalition; to cut off terrorist financing; and to stop the flow of foreign fighters into and out of that region. And in my address to the UN, I challenged the world — especially Muslim communities – to reject the ideology of violent extremism, and to do more to tap the extraordinary potential of their young people.

America is leading the effort to rally the world against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Along with our allies, we will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. And this week, I called upon even more nations to join us on the right side of history.

America is leading the fight to contain and combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. We’re deploying our doctors and scientists — supported by our military — to help corral the outbreak and pursue new treatments. From the United Kingdom and Germany to France and Senegal, other nations are stepping up their efforts, too, sending money, supplies, and personnel. And we will continue to rally other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this disease, and enhance global health security for the long-term.

America is engaging more partners and allies than ever to confront the growing threat of climate change before it’s too late. We’re doing our part, and helping developing nations do theirs. At home, we’ve invested in clean energy, cut carbon pollution, and created new jobs in the process. Abroad, our climate assistance now reaches more than 120 nations. And on Tuesday, I called on every nation – developed and developing alike — to join us in this effort for the sake of future generations.

The people of the world look to us to lead. And we welcome that responsibility. We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom. And as we showed the world this week, we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Full Text Obama Presidency September 26, 2014: Vice President Joe Biden’s Speech at at the UN Summit on Peacekeeping Operations — Transcript



Opening Remarks by the Vice President at the UN Summit on Peacekeeping Operations

Source: WH, 9-26-14

The United Nations
New York, New York

10:43 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Welcome.  And welcome to my co-hosts — the Secretary General, the President of Rwanda, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister of Japan, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and all the assembled leaders, ministers, ambassadors and distinguished guests.  And as we say in the body I used to work in, the United States Senate, if you could excuse the point of personal privilege, I’d like to welcome my colleague, Senator Coons, who represents my home constituency.  So I want to be able to go back home.  (Laughter.)

We meet at a moment when the demand for international peacekeeping has never been greater.  In one generation, U.N. peacekeeping has grown tenfold, to about 120,000 men and women deployed around the world.

And as the nature of conflict and combatants has evolved —  to include sophisticated non-state actors as well as traditional armies -— the instruments of peacekeeping have evolved as well.

Today, we ask peacekeepers to protect civilians in South Sudan and the Central African Republic; to prevent sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and to help with the peace process in Mali, amid deadly attacks by extremists -— even as we continue to monitor longstanding ceasefires on three continents.

When we ask them to do more than ever, that is the peacekeepers, in even more difficult and more dangerous environments, we owe them more.  The result is that peacekeeping is under greater strain than it ever has been.  And I should say — and I’m sure I speak for everyone — we are grateful for the burdens peacekeepers have carried, and we honor the sacrifices that they have made.

But, today, we gather to offer more than just words of support.  Together, our nations are here to offer resources, troops, police, and more for these missions.  We have to meet the peacekeeping challenges today.  We also have to look ahead what they’re going to be tomorrow; and we have to do it together.

The United States will do its part.  Last month, President Obama launched the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, a new commitment of $110 million dollars per year for the next three to five years to help six African partners build their capacity to rapidly — and I emphasize rapidly –deploy peacekeepers in emerging crises.  Because rapid deployment, if done rapidly, can save tens of thousands of lives.

We thank the growing coalition, including several leaders here today, who are joining us in support of this initiative.  We think they share the same view, and we thank them for their contributions.

We also will review U.S. contributions to peacekeeping, as well, to assess gaps that the United States is uniquely positioned to fill, like base camps we are building and helping the U.N. build for peacekeepers in the Central African Republic; to better share the U.S. military’s knowledge of confronting asymmetric threats; and to help the U.N. deploy advanced technology.

And we’ll continue to offer support during cases as we did — crises, I should say, as we did after the Haiti earthquake, and as we will be doing in Liberia to help contain the Ebola outbreak.

We are already making contributions, all of us.  But we can and should do more together, and we can do it, in our view, more effectively.  That’s why the United States, Mr. Secretary General, welcomes the comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations that you have put forward.

This is a chance not only to make commitments, but to think strategically together about future peacekeeping needs and related missions.  My guess is — and I’ve been in this business a long time — had we met in the same fora 20 years ago, no one would be anticipating the type — have anticipated the type of peacekeeping operations from non-state actors that we’re engaged with.  So when I say think strategically, we have to think ahead, as well.

And as to what kind of missions are going to be required in the future; what will be required to deploy them — these missions — rapidly and ensure they perform effectively; working in partnership with the African Union, NATO, and the European Union, and other organizations, we can do that.  And we owe the United Nations our best and boldest thinking.

So the truth is the very fact that peacekeeping exists, that men and women sometimes from halfway around the world risk their lives to protect peace on the fault lines of conflict is one of the great achievements of this international system.  Working together I’m confident we can strengthen that system and meet the challenges ahead.

And with that, let me now turn to His Excellency, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

10:50 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at U.N. Security Council Summit on Foreign Terrorist Fighters for ISIS — Transcript



Remarks by the President at U.N. Security Council Summit on Foreign Terrorist Fighters

Source: WH, 9-24-14 

Watch the Video


United Nations
New York, New York

3:11 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, His Excellency, the Secretary-General, for his statement.  I’ll now make a statement in my capacity as President of the United States.

Mr. Secretary-General, heads of state and government distinguished representatives, thank you for being here today.

In the nearly 70 years of the United Nations, this is only the sixth time that the Security Council has met at a level like this.  We convene such sessions to address the most urgent threats to peace and security.  And I called this meeting because we must come together — as nations and an international community — to confront the real and growing threat of foreign terrorist fighters.

As I said earlier today, the tactic of terrorism is not new. So many nations represented here today, including my own, have seen our citizens killed by terrorists who target innocents.  And today, the people of the world have been horrified by another brutal murder, of Herve Gourdel, by terrorists in Algeria.  President Hollande, we stand with you and the French people not only as you grieve this terrible loss, but as you show resolve against terror and in defense of liberty.

What brings us together today, what is new is the unprecedented flow of fighters in recent years to and from conflict zones, including Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Libya, and most recently, Syria and Iraq.

Our intelligence agencies estimate that more than 15,000 foreign fighters from more than 80 nations have traveled to Syria in recent years.  Many have joined terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda’s affiliate, the Nusrah Front, and ISIL, which now threatens people across Syria and Iraq.  And I want to acknowledge and thank Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq for being here today.

In the Middle East and elsewhere, these terrorists exacerbate conflicts; they pose an immediate threat to people in these regions; and as we’ve already seen in several cases, they may try to return to their home countries to carry out deadly attacks.  In the face of this threat, many of our nations — working together and through the United Nations — have increased our cooperation.  Around the world, foreign terrorist fighters have been arrested, plots have been disrupted and lives have been saved.

Earlier this year at West Point, I called for a new Partnership to help nations build their capacity to meet the evolving threat of terrorism, including foreign terrorist fighters.  And preventing these individuals from reaching Syria and then slipping back across our borders is a critical element of our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

The historic resolution that we just adopted enshrines our commitment to meet this challenge.  It is legally binding.  It establishes new obligations that nations must meet.  Specifically, nations are required to “prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping” of foreign terrorist fighters, as well as the financing of their travel or activities.  Nations must “prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups” through their territory, and ensure that their domestic laws allow for the prosecution of those who attempt to do so.

The resolution we passed today calls on nations to help build the capacity of states on the front lines of this fight — including with the best practices that many of our nations approved yesterday, and which the United States will work to advance through our Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund.  This resolution will strengthen cooperation between nations, including sharing more information about the travel and activities of foreign terrorist fighters.  And it makes clear that respecting human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law is not optional — it is an essential part of successful counterterrorism efforts.  Indeed, history teaches us that the failure to uphold these rights and freedoms can actually fuel violent extremism.

Finally, this resolution recognizes that there is no military solution to the problem of misguided individuals seeking to join terrorist organizations, and it, therefore, calls on nations to work together to counter the violent extremism that can radicalize, recruit, and mobilize individuals to engage in terrorism.  Potential recruits must hear the words of former terrorist fighters who have seen the truth — that groups like ISIL betray Islam by killing innocent men, women and children, the majority of whom are Muslim.

Often it is local communities — family, friends, neighbors, and faith leaders — that are best able to identify and help disillusioned individuals before they succumb to extremist ideologies and engage in violence.  That’s why the United States government is committed to working with communities in America and around the world to build partnerships of trust, respect and cooperation.

Likewise, even as we are unrelenting against terrorists who threaten our people, we must redouble our work to address the conditions — the repression, the lack of opportunity, too often the hopelessness that can make some individuals more susceptible to appeals to extremism and violence.  And this includes continuing to pursue a political solution in Syria that allows all Syrians to live in security, dignity, and peace.

This is the work that we must do as nations.  These are the partnerships we must forge as an international community.  And these are the standards that we now must meet.  Yet even as we’re guided by the commitments that we make here today, let me close by stating the obvious.  Resolutions alone will not be enough.  Promises on paper cannot keep us safe.  Lofty rhetoric and good intentions will not stop a single terrorist attack.

The words spoken here today must be matched and translated into action, into deeds — concrete action, within nations and between them, not just in the days ahead, but for years to come. For if there was ever a challenge in our interconnected world that cannot be met by any one nation alone, it is this:  terrorists crossing borders and threatening to unleash unspeakable violence.  These terrorists believe our countries will be unable to stop them.  The safety of our citizens demand that we do.  And I’m here today to say that all of you who are committed to this urgent work will find a strong and steady partner in the United States of America.

I now would like to resume my function as President of the Council.  And I will now give the floor to the other members of the Security Council.

3:19 P.M. EDT

Political Musings September 24, 2014: In UN speech Obama issues call to destroy ISIS the “cancer of violent extremism”





In UN speech Obama issues call to destroy ISIS the “cancer of violent extremism”

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama delivered his annual address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 where he covered important issues the United States is facing at home and abroad. The president emphasized in…READ MORE
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