Full Text Obama Presidency December 25, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady Michelle Obama — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady

Source: WH, 12-25-14

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 25, 2014

THE PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas everybody!  Now, we’re not going to take much of your time because today is about family and being together with the ones you love.  And luckily for me, that means I get a little help on the weekly address, too.

THE FIRST LADY:  The holidays at the White House are such a wonderful time of year.

We fill the halls with decorations, Christmas trees, and carolers – and this year, we invited more than 65,000 people to join us.

Our theme was “A Children’s Winter Wonderland” – and Americans young and old had a chance to come together and celebrate the season.

THE PRESIDENT: And today, our family will join millions across the country in celebrating the birth of Jesus – the birth not just of a baby in a manger, but of a message that has changed the world: to reach out to the sick; the hungry; the troubled; and above all else, to love one another as we would be loved ourselves.

THE FIRST LADY: We hope that this holiday season will be a chance for us to live out that message—to bridge our differences and lift up our families, friends, and neighbors… and to reconnect with the values that bind us together.

And as a country, that also means celebrating and honoring those who have served and sacrificed for all of us—our troops, veterans, and their families.

THE PRESIDENT: In just a few days, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Our longest war will come to a responsible end.  And that gives us an opportunity to step back and reflect upon all that these families have given us.  We’re able to gather with family and friends because our troops are willing to hug theirs goodbye and step forward to serve.  After a long day, we can come home because they’re willing to leave their families and deploy.  We can celebrate the holidays because they’re willing to miss their own.

THE FIRST LADY: And so, as our troops continue to transition back home—back to our businesses, our schools, our congregations, and our communities—it’s up to all of us to serve them as well as they have served us.

You can visit JoiningForces.gov to find out how you can honor and support the troops, veterans, and military families in your communities.

That’s something we can do not only during the holiday season, but all year round.

THE PRESIDENT: So Merry Christmas, everybody.  May God bless you all.  And we wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2015.

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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.)

END
3:13 P.M. EST

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on the Release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Source: WH, 5-31-14

Rose Garden

6:16 P.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you all for being here very much.

END
6:23 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at West Point Military Academy Commencement Ceremony Outlining Foreign Policy Plan

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony

Source: WH, 5-28-14

 

U.S. Military Academy-West Point
West Point, New York

10:22 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  And thank you, General Caslen, for that introduction.  To General Trainor, General Clarke, the faculty and staff at West Point — you have been outstanding stewards of this proud institution and outstanding mentors for the newest officers in the United States Army.  I’d like to acknowledge the Army’s leadership — General McHugh — Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed, who is here, and a proud graduate of West Point himself.

To the class of 2014, I congratulate you on taking your place on the Long Gray Line.  Among you is the first all-female command team — Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff.  In Calla Glavin, you have a Rhodes Scholar.  And Josh Herbeck proves that West Point accuracy extends beyond the three-point line.  To the entire class, let me reassure you in these final hours at West Point:  As Commander-in-Chief, I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses.  (Laughter and applause.)  Let me just say that nobody ever did that for me when I was in school.  (Laughter.)

I know you join me in extending a word of thanks to your families.  Joe DeMoss, whose son James is graduating, spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote me a letter about the sacrifices you’ve made.  “Deep inside,” he wrote, “we want to explode with pride at what they are committing to do in the service of our country.”  Like several graduates, James is a combat veteran.  And I would ask all of us here today to stand and pay tribute — not only to the veterans among us, but to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families.  (Applause.)

This is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day.  You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq.  We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan.  Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al Qaeda’s core leadership — those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks.  And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed.  We have removed our troops from Iraq.  We are winding down our war in Afghanistan.  Al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more.  (Applause.)  And through it all, we’ve refocused our investments in what has always been a key source of American strength:  a growing economy that can provide opportunity for everybody who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home.

In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.  Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.  Think about it.  Our military has no peer.  The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative.  Each year, we grow more energy independent.  From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations.  America continues to attract striving immigrants.  The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe.  And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.  (Applause.)  So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed.  This presents opportunity, but also new dangers.  We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.  Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors.  From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums.  And even as developing nations embrace democracy and market economies, 24-hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.  The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead — not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

Now, this question isn’t new.  At least since George Washington served as Commander-in-Chief, there have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic wellbeing.  Today, according to self-described realists, conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve.  And not surprisingly, after costly wars and continuing challenges here at home, that view is shared by many Americans.

A different view from interventionists from the left and right says that we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.

And each side can point to history to support its claims. But I believe neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment.  It is absolutely true that in the 21st century American isolationism is not an option.  We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders.  If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American cities.  As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.  Regional aggression that goes unchecked — whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world — will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military.  We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries.

And beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.  I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative, it also helps to keep us safe.

But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.  Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences — without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.  Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.  As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947:  “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”

Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war, and that includes those of you here at West Point.  Four of the servicemembers who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort.  A lot more were wounded.  I believe America’s security demanded those deployments.  But I am haunted by those deaths.  I am haunted by those wounds.  And I would betray my duty to you and to the country we love if I ever sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.

Here’s my bottom line:  America must always lead on the world stage.  If we don’t, no one else will.  The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership.  But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.  And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader — and especially your Commander-in-Chief — to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.

So let me spend the rest of my time describing my vision for how the United States of America and our military should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership.

First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency:  The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger.  In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.  International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life.  (Applause.)

On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake — when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us — then the threshold for military action must be higher.  In such circumstances, we should not go it alone.  Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action.  We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action.  In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.

This leads to my second point:  For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy — drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan — to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.  Instead, it comes from decentralized al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.  And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi.  It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi.

So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat — one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan.

Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al Qaeda core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.  But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job.  And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police.  Earlier this spring, those forces, those Afghan forces, secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history.  And at the end of this year, a new Afghan President will be in office and America’s combat mission will be over.  (Applause.)

Now, that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces.  But as we move to a train-and-advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa.  So, earlier this year, I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.  Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.  And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria.  As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon.  As President, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.  And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.  I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.  And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people.

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism.  The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do — through capture operations like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice; or drone strikes like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.  There are times when those actions are necessary, and we cannot hesitate to protect our people.

But as I said last year, in taking direct action we must uphold standards that reflect our values.  That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is no certainty — there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.  For our actions should meet a simple test:  We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.

I also believe we must be more transparent about both the basis of our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried out.  We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it is drone strikes or training partners.  I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts.  Our intelligence community has done outstanding work, and we have to continue to protect sources and methods.  But when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.

And this issue of transparency is directly relevant to a third aspect of American leadership, and that is our effort to strengthen and enforce international order.

After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress — from NATO and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF.  These institutions are not perfect, but they have been a force multiplier.  They reduce the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint among other nations.

Now, just as the world has changed, this architecture must change as well.  At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon, “a gradual evolution in human institutions.”  And evolving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership.

Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action.  For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness.  I think they’re wrong.  Let me offer just two examples why.

In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe.   But this isn’t the Cold War.  Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.  Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.  And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.

This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions.  Yesterday, I spoke to their next President.  We don’t know how the situation will play out and there will remain grave challenges ahead, but standing with our allies on behalf of international order working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future without us firing a shot.

Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years.  But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government.  And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully.

The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement — one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.  And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.

The point is this is American leadership.  This is American strength.  In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge.  Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent problems from spreading.  For example, NATO is the strongest alliance the world has ever known.  But we’re now working with NATO allies to meet new missions, both within Europe where our Eastern allies must be reassured, but also beyond Europe’s borders where our NATO allies must pull their weight to counterterrorism and respond to failed states and train a network of partners.

Likewise, the U.N. provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict.  Now we need to make sure that those nations who provide peacekeepers have the training and equipment to actually keep the peace, so that we can prevent the type of killing we’ve seen in Congo and Sudan.  We are going to deepen our investment in countries that support these peacekeeping missions, because having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need for us to put our own troops in harm’s way.  It’s a smart investment.  It’s the right way to lead.  (Applause.)

Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict.  We have a serious problem with cyber-attacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens.  In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.  And we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.  That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change — a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters and conflicts over water and food, which is why next year I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.

You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else.  We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it’s taking place.  We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by our United States Senate, despite the fact that our top military leaders say the treaty advances our national security.  That’s not leadership; that’s retreat.  That’s not strength; that’s weakness.  It would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.  But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.  (Applause.)  And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo — because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.  (Applause.)  America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost.  We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere.

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership:  Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.  America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism — it is a matter of national security.  Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war.  Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.  Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.

A new century has brought no end to tyranny.  In capitals around the globe — including, unfortunately, some of America’s partners — there has been a crackdown on civil society.  The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments and their cronies, and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares.  And watching these trends, or the violent upheavals in parts of the Arab World, it’s easy to be cynical.

But remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.  Technology is empowering civil society in ways that no iron fist can control.  New breakthroughs are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.  And even the upheaval of the Arab World reflects the rejection of an authoritarian order that was anything but stable, and now offers the long-term prospect of more responsive and effective governance.

In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests — from peace treaties with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism.  So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.

And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma, which only a few years ago was an intractable dictatorship and hostile to the United States — 40 million people.  Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.  We’re now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment, through coaxing and, at times, public criticism.  And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot.  American leadership.

In each of these cases, we should not expect change to happen overnight.  That’s why we form alliances not just with governments, but also with ordinary people.  For unlike other nations, America is not afraid of individual empowerment, we are strengthened by it.  We’re strengthened by civil society.  We’re strengthened by a free press.  We’re strengthened by striving entrepreneurs and small businesses.  We’re strengthened by educational exchange and opportunity for all people, and women and girls.  That’s who we are.  That’s what we represent.  (Applause.)

I saw that through a trip to Africa last year, where American assistance has made possible the prospect of an AIDS-free generation, while helping Africans care themselves for their sick.  We’re helping farmers get their products to market, to feed populations once endangered by famine.  We aim to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa so people are connected to the promise of the global economy.  And all this creates new partners and shrinks the space for terrorism and conflict.

Now, tragically, no American security operation can eradicate the threat posed by an extremist group like Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped those girls.  And that’s why we have to focus not just on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting Nigerian efforts to educate its youth.  This should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.  They understood that foreign assistance is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security.  It is part of what makes us strong.

Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty.  We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency.  But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be — a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in a direction of justice.  And we cannot do that without you.

Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson.  You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim.  You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces, for in the course of your service you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts.  You’ll get to know allies and train partners.  And you will embody what it means for America to lead the world.

Next week, I will go to Normandy to honor the men who stormed the beaches there.  And while it’s hard for many Americans to comprehend the courage and sense of duty that guided those who boarded small ships, it’s familiar to you.  At West Point, you define what it means to be a patriot.

Three years ago, Gavin White graduated from this academy. He then served in Afghanistan.  Like the soldiers who came before him, Gavin was in a foreign land, helping people he’d never met, putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of his community and his family, of the folks back home.  Gavin lost one of his legs in an attack.  I met him last year at Walter Reed.  He was wounded, but just as determined as the day that he arrived here at West Point — and he developed a simple goal.  Today, his sister Morgan will graduate.  And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her.  (Applause.)

We have been through a long season of war.  We have faced trials that were not foreseen, and we’ve seen divisions about how to move forward.  But there is something in Gavin’s character, there is something in the American character that will always triumph.  Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens.  You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side.  Your charge, now, is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just.   As your Commander-in-Chief, I know you will.

May God bless you.  May God bless our men and women in uniform.  And may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:08 A.M. EDT

Political Musings May 27, 2014: Obama overcompensates Memorial Day honors as Veterans Affairs scandal heats up

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama overcompensates Memorial Day honors as Veterans Affairs scandal heats up

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Former Army Sergeant

Source: NYT, 2-11-13

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

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

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

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

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

POLITICAL BUZZ


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

Source: WH, 2-11-13 

East Room

1:40 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
2:10 P.M. EST

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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

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

Source: ABC News Radio, 1-12-13

Win McNamee/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Hosts President Karzai

Source: WH, 1-11-13

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

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

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

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

In his statement, President Karzai echoed that message.

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

Read the full transcript of their remarks or watch the video

Joint Press Conference by President Obama and President Karzai

Source: WH, 1-11-13 

East Room

1:40 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Mr. President, for the hospitality.

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

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

Q    Thank you, Mr. President and President Karzai.

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any Afghan press?  English-speaking press?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Indeed.  Indeed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

END
2:18 P.M. EST

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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama: US to End Afghan Combat Operations This Spring

Source: WH, 1-11-13


The White House

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

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

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

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

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at NATO Press Conference

South Building
Chicago, Illinois

3:26 P.M. CDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hans Nichols.  Where is Hans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold on a second — Alister Bull.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right?  Stephen Collinson.  Where’s Stephen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay.

Q    Mr. President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END                          4:10 P.M. CDT

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

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

President Obama Attends NATO Summit in Chicago

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

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

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

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


For more information:

Full Text Obama Presidency May 21, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech at ISAF Meeting on Afghanistan at the NATO Summit in Chicago

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at ISAF Meeting on Afghanistan

President Obama Speaks at ISAF Meeting on Afghanistan

President Obama Speaks at ISAF Meeting on Afghanistan

McCormick Place
Chicago, Illinois

9:24 A.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, good morning, everyone.  And for those who are joining us for the first time, welcome to Chicago.  I was just hearing from a few folks who are not NATO members that they had fun on the town last night.  Hopefully, no stories in the press.  (Laughter.)

We come together as 50 nations — NATO allies and partners — that make up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  I want to welcome the presence of President Karzai, as well as officials from central Asia and Russia — nations that have an important perspective and that continue to provide critical transit for ISAF supplies.

The presence of so many leaders and nations illustrates once again that this is a truly international mission, and that’s because the region and the world have a profound interest in an Afghanistan that is stable, that is secure, and that is not a source of attacks on other nations.  And today, as always, our thoughts are with our brave forces who are serving in this vital mission.

Two years ago, in Lisbon, our nations agreed on a framework for transition in Afghanistan that would allow us to responsibly wind down the war.  We agreed that this transition to Afghan lead for security would begin in 2011 and that it would conclude in 2014.  At the same time, we said that we would seek a long-term partnership with Afghanistan and the Afghan people.

Over the past two years, we’ve made important progress.  Our forces broke the Taliban’s momentum.  More Afghans are reclaiming their communities.  Afghan security forces have grown stronger.  And the transition that we agreed to in Lisbon is well underway.

This past week we saw more progress.  We very much welcomed President Karzai’s announcement to the third group of areas to begin transition.  This means that 75 percent of the Afghan people live in areas where Afghan forces will be moving into the lead.

Today, we’ll decide the next phase of the transition — the next milestone.  We’ll set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead for combat operations across the country in 2013 — next year — so that ISAF can move to a supporting role.  This will be another step toward Afghans taking full lead for their security as agreed to by 2014 when the ISAF combat mission will end.

Today is also an opportunity to ensure our hard-won progress is preserved.  The Strategic Partnership Agreement that President Karzai and I signed in Kabul ensures that as Afghans stand up they will not stand alone.  Today, we can agree on NATO’s long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, including our support of Afghan security forces.

So we have a lot of work to do.  Again, I want to thank all of my fellow leaders and our partners for being here.  Our nations and the world have a vital interest in the success of this mission.  And I am confident, because of the leadership represented here as well as the leadership of our outstanding armed forces, that we can advance that goal today and responsibly bring this war to an end.

END
9:28 A.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 5, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address A New Chapter in Afghanistan — Asks Congress to Invest in Debt & Rebuild America

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama calls on Congress to take the money we are no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the other half to rebuild America.

President Barack Obama tapes the weekly address in the Map Room

Weekly Address: A New Chapter in Afghanistan

Source: WH, 5-5-12
After signing an agreement that details our future relationship with Afghanistan, President Obama explains that we must now focus on the type of nation our troops return home to, and calls on Congress to take the money we are no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the other half to rebuild America.

Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

WEEKLY ADDRESS: A New Chapter in Afghanistan

In this week’s address, President Obama spoke about his recent trip to Afghanistan, where he met with our brave troops and signed an historic agreement that will help put an end to the war.  The goal of defeating al Qaeda is within sight, we have killed Osama Bin Laden, and the President has now signed an agreement with Afghanistan that details a new relationship in which the Afghans will soon be responsible for the security of their nation. As we look towards that future, we must also focus on the type of nation our troops return to.  This is why the President called on Congress to take the money we are no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the other half to rebuild America. It’s time for America to make the choices that ensure a strong middle class where everyone a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
May 5, 2012

This week, I traveled to Afghanistan—to thank our troops serving far from home, and to sign an historic agreement that will help us complete our mission and end the war.

As Commander-in-Chief, nothing is more humbling or inspiring than the chance to spend some time with our troops.  At Bagram Air Base, I visited with some of our outstanding men and women in uniform.  I thanked them for their extraordinary service.  And I let them know that America honors their sacrifice.

Because of their bravery and dedication, the tide of war has turned in Afghanistan. We have broken the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built strong Afghan Security Forces. We have devastated al Qaeda’s leadership. And one year ago, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set – to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach.

Because of the progress we have made, I was able to sign an historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines a new kind of relationship between our countries – a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation, and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states; a future in which the war ends, and a new chapter begins.

The enormous sacrifices of our men and women in uniform are not over.  But many of our troops are already coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. As our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014, the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country

And this is as it should be.  Because after more than a decade of war, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

As a new greatest generation returns from overseas, we must ask ourselves, what kind of country will they come back to?  Will it be a country where a shrinking number of Americans do really well while a growing number barely get by?  Or will it be a country where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules – a country with opportunity worthy of the troops who protect us?

America has answered this question before. My grandfather, a veteran of Patton’s Army, got the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.  My grandmother, who worked on a bomber assembly line, was part of a workforce that turned out the best products on Earth.  They contributed to a story of success that every American had the chance to share in, the basic American promise that if you work hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.

Keeping that promise alive is the defining issue of our time. But it means making responsible choices.

I don’t think we should prioritize things like more tax cuts for millionaires while cutting the kinds of investments that built a strong middle class.

That’s why I’ve called on Congress to take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the other half to rebuild America.

Because we’ve got more jobs to create.  More students to educate.  More clean energy to generate.  More entrepreneurs with the next great idea, just looking for their shot at success. We’ve got to invest in things like education and medical research.  We’ve got to build newer, faster transportation and communication networks.  And we’ve got to secure the care and benefits our veterans have earned, so that we serve them as well as they have served us.

Every time I have the privilege of meeting with our troops, I’m struck by their courage, their commitment, their selflessness, and their teamwork.  They have something to teach us.  Recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is a work in progress – but if we follow their example, then I have no doubt we will preserve the promise of this country, protect the freedoms we cherish, and leave for our children an America that’s built to last.

God bless you, and have a great weekend.

###

Full Text Obama Presidency May 1, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Historic Speech to the Nation from Afghanistan — Promises to Stand by Afghans & Wind Down War

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama on Ending the War in Afghanistan

Source: WH, 5-1-12 

Today, President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan — to meet with President Hamid Karzai and sign a strategic partnership agreement that will help to guide our future relationship with the country.

For more than a decade, U.S. troops have served in the region as part of the NATO mission. In a televised address, tonight, the President talked about the progress they’ve made and the new relationship between the United States and Afghanistan:

[We’ve] begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already, nearly half of the Afghan people live in places where Afghan security forces are moving into the lead. This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed.  But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.

As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more and more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.

The President also discussed how the end of two wars will allow us to focus on a new set of national priorities:

As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it’s time to renew America — an America where our children live free from fear and have the skills to claim their dreams. A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Excerpts of the President’s Address to the Nation from Afghanistan

As Prepared for Delivery –

“Already, nearly half the Afghan people live in places where Afghan Security Forces are moving into the lead. This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.

As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.”

“My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda.

This future is only within reach because of our men and women in uniform. Time and again, they have answered the call to serve in distant and dangerous places. In an age when so many institutions have come up short, these Americans stood tall. They met their responsibilities to one another, and the flag they serve under. I just met with some of them, and told them that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder. In their faces, we see what is best in ourselves and our country.”…

“As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America. An America where our children live free from fear, and have the skills to claim their dreams. A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.”

“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.”

Remarks by President Obama in Address to the Nation from Afghanistan

Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

4:01 A.M. AFT

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening from Bagram Air Base. This outpost is more than 7,000 miles from home, but for over a decade it’s been close to our hearts. Because here, in Afghanistan, more than half a million of our sons and daughters have sacrificed to protect our country.

Today, I signed a historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines a new kind of relationship between our countries — a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation, and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states; a future in which war ends, and a new chapter begins.

Tonight, I’d like to speak to you about this transition. But first, let us remember why we came here. It was here, in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden established a safe haven for his terrorist organization. It was here, in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda brought new recruits, trained them, and plotted acts of terror. It was here, from within these borders, that al Qaeda launched the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent men, women and children.

And so, 10 years ago, the United States and our allies went to war to make sure that al Qaeda could never again use this country to launch attacks against us. Despite initial success, for a number of reasons, this war has taken longer than most anticipated. In 2002, bin Laden and his lieutenants escaped across the border and established safe haven in Pakistan. America spent nearly eight years fighting a different war in Iraq. And al Qaeda’s extremist allies within the Taliban have waged a brutal insurgency.

But over the last three years, the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al Qaeda’s leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders. And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set — to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild — is now within our reach.

Still, there will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over. But tonight, I’d like to tell you how we will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan.

First, we’ve begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already, nearly half of the Afghan people live in places where Afghan security forces are moving into the lead. This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.

As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more and more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.

Second, we are training Afghan security forces to get the job done. Those forces have surged, and will peak at 352,000 this year. The Afghans will sustain that level for three years, and then reduce the size of their military. And in Chicago, we will endorse a proposal to support a strong and sustainable long-term Afghan force.

Third, we’re building an enduring partnership. The agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people: As you stand up, you will not stand alone. It establishes the basis for our cooperation over the next decade, including shared commitments to combat terrorism and strengthen democratic institutions. It supports Afghan efforts to advance development and dignity for their people. And it includes Afghan commitments to transparency and accountability, and to protect the human rights of all Afghans — men and women, boys and girls.

Within this framework, we’ll work with the Afghans to determine what support they need to accomplish two narrow security missions beyond 2014 — counter-terrorism and continued training. But we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains. That will be the job of the Afghan people.

Fourth, we’re pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We’ve made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban — from foot soldiers to leaders — have indicated an interest in reconciliation. The path to peace is now set before them. Those who refuse to walk it will face strong Afghan security forces, backed by the United States and our allies.

Fifth, we are building a global consensus to support peace and stability in South Asia. In Chicago, the international community will express support for this plan and for Afghanistan’s future. And I have made it clear to its neighbor — Pakistan — that it can and should be an equal partner in this process in a way that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, interests and democratic institutions. In pursuit of a durable peace, America has no designs beyond an end to al Qaeda safe havens and respect for Afghan sovereignty.

As we move forward, some people will ask why we need a firm timeline. The answer is clear: Our goal is not to build a country in America’s image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars, and most importantly, many more American lives. Our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that. Afghans want to assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That requires a clear timeline to wind down the war.

Others will ask, why don’t we leave immediately? That answer is also clear: We must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize. Otherwise, our gains could be lost and al Qaeda could establish itself once more. And as Commander-in-Chief, I refuse to let that happen.

I recognize that many Americans are tired of war. As President, nothing is more wrenching than signing a letter to a family of the fallen, or looking into the eyes of a child who will grow up without a mother or father. I will not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly.

My fellow Americans, we’ve travelled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq war is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will soon be coming home. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda.

This future is only within reach because of our men and women in uniform. Time and again, they have answered the call to serve in distant and dangerous places. In an age when so many institutions have come up short, these Americans stood tall. They met their responsibilities to one another, and to the flag they serve under. I just met with some of them and told them that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder. And in their faces, we see what is best in ourselves and our country.

Our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians in Afghanistan have done their duty. Now we must summon that same sense of common purpose. We must give our veterans and military families the support they deserve, and the opportunities they have earned. And we must redouble our efforts to build a nation worthy of their sacrifice.

As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it’s time to renew America — an America where our children live free from fear and have the skills to claim their dreams. A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.

Here in Afghanistan, Americans answered the call to defend their fellow citizens and uphold human dignity. Today, we recall the fallen and those who suffered wounds, both seen and unseen. But through dark days, we have drawn strength from their example and the ideals that have guided our nation and led the world — a belief that all people are treated equal and deserve the freedom to determine their destiny. That is the light that guides us still.

This time of war began in Afghanistan and this is where it will end. With faith in each other and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace.

May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

END        4:12 A.M. AFT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 1, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech to US Troops During Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

On Surprise Trip to Kabul, Obama Signs Afghan Pact

Source: NYT, 5-1-12

President Obama got a high five from a member of the U.S. military at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama got a high five from a member of the U.S. military at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

President Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement with President Hamid Karzai meant to mark the beginning of the end of the Afghanistan war….READ MORE

The Caucus: Obama’s Afghanistan Trip Latest in Tradition of Covert Travel

President Obama Pays a Surprise Visit to U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

Source: WH, 5-1-12

President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, where he signed an historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines how the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan will be normalized as we look beyond a responsible end to the war.

After his meeting with President Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, President Obama headed to Bagram Air Base, where he met with U.S. troops serving in that country, and thanked them for the sacrifices that they have made, and that their families have made, over the past decade of war, and paid tribute to their successes:

When we see our homeland violated, when we see our fellow citizens killed, then we understand what we have to do. And because of the sacrifices now of a decade, and a new Greatest Generation, not only were we able to blunt the Taliban momentum, not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice.

That could have only happened because each and every one of you, in your own way, were doing your jobs.  Each and every one of you — without a lot of fanfare, without a lot of fuss — you did your jobs.  No matter how small or how big, you were faithful to the oath that you took to protect this nation.  And your families did their job — supporting you and loving you and remembering you and being there for you.

And so, together, you guys represent what is best in America.  And you’re part of a long line of those who have worn this uniform to make sure that we are free and secure, to make sure that those of us at home have the capacity to live our lives.  And when you’re missing a birthday or you’re missing a soccer game or when you’re missing an anniversary, and those of us back home are able to enjoy it, it’s because of you.

And I’m here to tell you, everybody in America knows that.  And everybody in America appreciates it.  And everybody in America honors it.  And when the final chapter of this war is written, historians will look back and say, not only was this the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, but all of you also represented the values of America in an exemplary way.

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President to the Troops in Afghanistan

Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

1:21 A.M. AFT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hooah!  How’s everybody doing tonight?  Hooah!  (Applause.)

TROOPS:  Hooah!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It is good to be back here with all of you.  (Applause.)

I’ve got a few acknowledgments I’ve got to make before I say what I’ve got to say.  First of all, somebody who has served our country with the kind of distinction that doesn’t happen a lot, somebody who has been a leader for you and a leader for our country for a very long time — give your commander, General John Allen, a big, big round of applause.  (Applause.)

We also have somebody who is John’s partner on the civilian side and has made extraordinary sacrifices, first in Iraq, now in Afghanistan — Ambassador Ryan Crocker is here.  Please give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

All right, now, let me just see if I’ve got this right.  We’ve got the First Infantry Division in the house.  (Hooah!)  We’ve got the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.  (Hooah!)  We’ve got the Task Force Muleskinner.  (Hooah!)  We’ve got the 101st Army Field Sustainment Brigade.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Hooah!  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got Task Force Paladin in the house.  (Hooah!)  And we’ve got Task Force Defender in the house.  (Hooah!)  And we’ve got me in the house.  (Applause.)  Eighty-second in the house — 82nd in the house.  (Hooah!)  You know, somebody is going to be in trouble that they didn’t have 82nd on here. Anybody else I’m missing?  There you go.  All right.  I love all of you.

Now, listen, I’m not going to give a long speech. I’m going to have the opportunity to address the nation from Bagram just in a little bit, and it’s going to be broadcast back home during primetime. So all I want to do is just say thank you.

The sacrifices all of you have made, the sacrifices your families make every single day are what make America free and what make America secure. And I know that sometimes, out here, when you’re in theater, it’s not clear whether folks back home fully appreciate what’s going on. And let’s face it, a lot of times it’s easier to get bad news on the news than good news.

But here’s the good news, and here’s part of the reason that I’m here.  I just finished signing a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan that signals the transition in which we are going to be turning over responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans. We’re not going to do it overnight. We’re not going to do it irresponsibly.  We’re going to make sure that the gains, the hard-fought gains that have been made are preserved. But the reason we’re able to do that is because of you. The reason that the Afghans have an opportunity for a new tomorrow is because of you.  And the reason America is safe is because of you.

We did not choose this war. This war came to us on 9/11. And there are a whole bunch of folks here, I’ll bet, who signed up after 9/11.

TROOPS:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  We don’t go looking for a fight. But when we see our homeland violated, when we see our fellow citizens killed, then we understand what we have to do. And because of the sacrifices now of a decade, and a new Greatest Generation, not only were we able to blunt the Taliban momentum, not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice.

TROOPS:  Hooah!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  That could have only happened because each and every one of you, in your own way, were doing your jobs.  Each and every one of you — without a lot of fanfare, without a lot of fuss — you did your jobs.  No matter how small or how big, you were faithful to the oath that you took to protect this nation.  And your families did their job — supporting you and loving you and remembering you and being there for you.

And so, together, you guys represent what is best in America.  And you’re part of a long line of those who have worn this uniform to make sure that we are free and secure, to make sure that those of us at home have the capacity to live our lives.  And when you’re missing a birthday or you’re missing a soccer game or when you’re missing an anniversary, and those of us back home are able to enjoy it, it’s because of you.

And I’m here to tell you, everybody in America knows that.  And everybody in America appreciates it.  And everybody in America honors it.  And when the final chapter of this war is written, historians will look back and say, not only was this the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, but all of you also represented the values of America in an exemplary way.

I could not be prouder of you. And I want you to understand, I know it’s still tough. I know the battle is not yet over.  Some of your buddies are going to get injured, and some of your buddies may get killed.  And there’s going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead. But there’s a light on the horizon because of the sacrifices you’ve made.  And that’s the reason why for Michelle and me nothing is more important than looking after your families while you’re here.  And I want everybody here to know that when you get home, we are going to be there for you when you’re in uniform and we will stay there for you when you’re out of uniform. Because you’ve earned it; you earned a special place in our hearts. And I could not be prouder to be your Commander-in-Chief.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.  Now I want to shake some hands.  (Applause.)

END                1:30 A.M. AFT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 1, 2012: Speeches by President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at Signing of Strategic Partnership Agreement

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrive before signing a strategic partnership agreement, Tuesday, May 1, 2012, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

AP Photo/Charles Dharapa

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai before signing a strategic partnership agreement Tuesday at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

Remarks by President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at Signing of Strategic Partnership Agreement

Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan

May 2, 2012 AFT

12:00 A.M. AFT

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (Interpretation begins in progress) — prosperity and peace for the people of Afghanistan.

Stability in Afghanistan and peace in Afghanistan — people will sleep, will be safe in their house, and also law-abiding citizens.  Their life will be — will not threat their life by any forces.  The people of Afghanistan in past three decades, they didn’t have this, so now they want.  This is the responsibility of government of Afghanistan to fulfill the wishes of the people of Afghanistan to a better life, better future, and peace and prosperity and changing to reality for them.

For us, people of Afghanistan, this is a very important year in our life of our country and the people of Afghanistan.  The people of Afghanistan want the transition of Afghanistan before 2014, end of 2014, with all the responsibility and take the responsibility for the people of Afghanistan as one of our responsibility we have to take.

Accepting this responsibility — all the forces who were in Afghanistan the past 10 years, they worked with us, helped us and supported us — go back to their country.  And of course, the people of Afghanistan will never forget their help and their support, and also their relationship with this country.  We will start a new start with this relationship and we will continue with this relationship.

Mr. President, sir, I just want to say all the help and support the people of the United States to the people of Afghanistan did, I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart, sir.  And I just thank you.  And also, we just want to thank you, sir, for all the — which is provide all the necessity to bring this strategic partnership for signing tonight.  And I just thank you, all your team — Ryan Crocker, Ambassador Crocker, General Allen — I thank them for the hard work that with our team worked together.  They very patiently worked together to continue this dialogue.  Today we will see the result of this talking and communication — today we sign.

And I just want to thank you.  I just ask you, sir, to — give your speech, sir.  Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  President Karzai, the leaders of the Afghan government and society who are here, and most of all, to the Afghan people, thank you so much for welcoming me here today, especially in these beautiful surroundings.

I, too, want to thank Ambassador Ryan Crocker and National Security Advisor Spanta and their teams for the extraordinary work that brought about this day.

I’ve come to Afghanistan to mark a historic moment for our two nations, and to do so on Afghan soil.  I’m here to affirm the bonds between our countries, to thank American and Afghans who have sacrificed so much over these last 10 years, and to look forward to a future of peace and security and greater prosperity for our nations.

Neither Americans nor the Afghan people asked for this war. Yet, for a decade, we’ve stood together to drive al Qaeda from its camps, to battle an insurgency, and to give the people of Afghanistan the possibility to live in peace and in dignity.  The wages of war have been great for both our nations.  But today, with the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, we look forward to a future of peace.

Together, we’ve made much progress.  We’ve reached an agreement to transition detention facilities to Afghan control, and to put Afghans in the lead on special operations.  And today, we’re agreeing to be long-term partners in combating terrorism, and training Afghan security forces, strengthening democratic institutions and supporting development, and protecting human rights of all Afghans.  With this agreement, the Afghan people in the world should know that Afghanistan has a friend and a partner in the United States.

Mr. President, there will be difficult days ahead.  But as we move forward with our transition, I’m confident that Afghan forces will grow stronger, the Afghan people will take control of their future.  With this agreement, I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them, and they will know that the United States can achieve our goal of destroying al Qaeda and denying it a safe haven, but at the same time, we have the capacity to wind down this war and usher in a new era of peace here in Afghanistan.

Mr. President, I’m reminded of all who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, including members of your own family.  I pay tribute to those Afghans who have lost their lives alongside our men and women, and sacrificed for their country.  Of course, our hearts are heavy as we remember so many who have died in this war.  I’m grateful that this agreement pays tribute to the sacrifices made by the American people here in Afghanistan.

As I’ve said before, the United States has not come here to claim resources or to claim territory.  We came with a very clear mission:  We came to destroy al Qaeda.  And we have enormous respect for Afghan sovereignty and the dignity of the Afghan people.  Together, we’re now committed to replacing war with peace and pursuing a more hopeful future as equal partners.

To borrow words from this agreement, we are committed to seeking a future of justice, peace, security, and opportunity.  And I’m confident that although our challenges are not yet behind us, that the future before us is bright.

Thank you so much, Mr. President.  (Applause.)

(The Strategic Partnership Agreement is signed.)

END                                           12:15 A.M. AFT

Political Headlines April 19, 2012: Secret Service, GSA and Soldier Photos Scandals Comsuming the Obama Presidency

POLITICAL HEADLINES

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Secret Service, GSA and soldier photos overshadow Obama’s message, feed bad public perceptions

(Susan Walsh, File/ Associated Press ) - FILE - In this June 30, 2010 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sessions told reporters Thursday, the president should take responsibility for the Secret Service, GSA and energy company Solyndra scandals and insist on a government culture in which taxpayer dollars are not wasted. He said, “I don’t sense that this president has shown that kind of managerial leadership.”

(Susan Walsh, File/ Associated Press ) – FILE – In this June 30, 2010 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sessions told reporters Thursday, the president should take responsibility for the Secret Service, GSA and energy company Solyndra scandals and insist on a government culture in which taxpayer dollars are not wasted. He said, “I don’t sense that this president has shown that kind of managerial leadership.”

Source: AP, 4-19-12

It isn’t Mitt Romney who’s giving Barack Obama fits as the president pivots to re-election mode. It’s those federal bureaucrats carousing in Las Vegas, the Secret Service consorting with Columbian prostitutes and U.S. soldiers posing with bloody enemy corpses.

The scandals are taking a toll. They are distracting embarrassments that are dominating public attention while Obama seeks to focus on difficulties abroad and jobs at home. And they are giving Republicans an opportunity to question his competence and leadership, an opening for Romney in a race so close that any advantage might make a difference.

Even if the Democratic president escapes being defined by these flare-ups, they still feed a story line that can erode public confidence in Washington institutions, fuel a perception of federal excess and frustrate Obama’s argument that government can be a force for good.

The White House response has been textbook — a mix of outrage and deflection.

“The president has been crystal clear since he was a candidate about the standards that he insists be met by those who work for the federal government and on behalf of the American people and for the American people,” says White House spokesman Jay Carney….READ MORE

 

The GSA and Secret Service scandals: A political problem for President Obama?

Source: WaPo, 4-18-12

It’s been a rough few weeks for the federal government.

First, the lavish spending of the General Services Administration on a wild Las Vegas retreat came to light. Then came the Secret Service scandal where a number of agents advancing the President’s trip to Colombia were caught with prostitutes.


WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 18: Members of Bankrupting America dress as a clown and a mindreader as they hand out “resumes” to make fun of a hearing on General Services Administration (GSA) today in front of Dirksen Senate Office Building April 18, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)The question that’s largely been left out of the coverage of the twin scandals — in which new details seem to emerge daily if not hourly — is whether they carry any political danger for the man at the head of the federal government: President Obama.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is starting to ramp up his rhetoric on the subject, suggesting that President Obama needs to take more forceful action.

“I’d clean house,” Romney told conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday morning. “The right thing to do is to remove people who have violated the public trust and have put their play time and their personal interests ahead of the interests of the nation.”

(Romney was more measured on the Secret Service during another radio interview in Ohio today; “We are a nation, after all, under law and the president has confidence in the head of the Secret Service, as do I,” Romney said.)

Romney’s comments come less than 24 hours after White House press secretary Jay Carney addressed the twin scandals. Said Carney:

“The President believes that everyone who serves the American people by working for this government needs to hold themselves to the highest standards of public service. And there’s no point in comparing the singular incidents of one agency to another, but that principle is one he made clear during the campaign that he would bring to the office. It is a principle that he clearly set forth early on his presidency both in the words that he spoke and the actions that he took, and it is a principle, as I think was made clear in the wake of the GSA incident, that he believes should be enforced.”

White House officials note that the GSA Administrator resigned, her two top deputies were fired and four other officials were put on leave in the immediate aftermath of the Inspector General’s report detailing the agency’s wrongdoing — moves that leave little room for Romney to criticize.

Obviously, both scandals are too recent — and the full scope of each remains too unclear — to draw concrete conclusions about what they might mean (or not mean) to President Obama’s political prospects this fall.

But it is worth noting that one of the central pillars of Obama’s election in 2008 was competency….READ MORE

Full Text September 20, 2011: President Barack Obama Meets with World Leaders at the U.N. General Assembly — President Obama Speeches with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai & Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

 

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Meets with World Leaders at the U.N. General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-20-11

President Obama had a full day in New York City visiting the United Nations General Assembly to address a range of issues on the historic progress that has been made over the last year and the opportunities that lie ahead, including human rights abroad and the promotion of democracy.

The President began his day meeting with Transitional National Council (TNC) Chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil at the United Nations North Lawn Building.

UNGA: potus greets Chairman Mustafa Abdel jalil

President Barack Obama greets Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil of the Transitional National Council at the United Nations North Lawn Building in New York, N.Y., Sept. 20, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton September 20, 2011.

Next the President headed to a meeting to demonstrate support for the new Libya. President Obama explained that Libya, “is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together:”

This is how the international community should work in the 21st century — more nations bearing the responsibility and the costs of meeting global challenges. In fact, this is the very purpose of this United Nations. So every nation represented here today can take pride in the innocent lives we saved and in helping Libyans reclaim their country. It was the right thing to do.

Late morning President Obama met with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to address the tragic loss of former Afghani President and Chairman of Afghan Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabban. Watch the video of the President’s remarks below:

Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (33MB) | mp3 (3MB)

After lunch, the President met with President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil before holding a meeting with the Open Government Partnership, a global initiative to promote transparency, fight corruption, energize civic engagement and leverage new technologies to strengthen the foundations of freedom.

To close the day at the U.N. General Assembly, the President held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

UNGA: Potus w/ Turkey Prime Minister

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, N.Y., Sept. 20, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton) September 20, 2011.

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by President Obama and President Karzai of Afghanistan before Bilateral Meeting

President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan
September 20, 2011 6:38 PM

President Obama’s Bilateral Meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan

Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, New York

12:06 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: I want to welcome President Karzai and his delegation. We have a lot of important business to do. And I very much appreciate the efforts that he’s been taking in rebuilding Afghanistan and proceeding on the transition path that will ensure that the Afghans are ultimately responsible for their security and their prosperity.

We received some tragic news today that President Rabbani, who had been heading up the reconciliation process, was killed in a suicide attack. He was a man who cared deeply about Afghanistan and had been a valued advisor to President Karzai, and was a enormous contribution to rebuilding the country. So it is a tragic loss. We want to extend our heartfelt condolences to you and to his family, and the people of Afghanistan.

But, Mr. President, I think we both believe that despite this incident, we will not be deterred from creating a path whereby Afghans can live in freedom and safety and security and prosperity, and that it is going to be important to continue the efforts to bring all elements of Afghan society together to end what has been a senseless cycle of violence.

So we very much appreciate your presence here today. I know that you’re going to have to leave after our meeting. But we want to give you an opportunity to speak to the press, as well.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your message of condolence and support to myself and to the Afghan people on the very tragic loss and martyrdom of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, the chairman of the Afghan Peace Council, the former Afghan President, and Afghan patriot, who, as we see, has sacrificed his life for the sake of Afghanistan and for the peace of our country.

The mission that he had undertaken was vital, Mr. President, for the Afghan people and for the security of our country and for peace in our country. We will miss him very, very much. I don’t think, Mr. President, that we can fill his place easily. He was one of the few people in Afghanistan with the distinction that we cannot easily find in societies. A terrible loss. But as you rightly say, this will not deter us from continuing on the path that we have, and we’ll definitely succeed.

Thank you, Mr. President, for condemning this act of brutality and cowardice against President Rabbani. I will take that message from you to the Afghan people. This is a hard day for us in Afghanistan, but a day of unity and a day of continuity of our efforts.

Thank you.

END
12:10 P.M. EDT

 

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey before Bilateral Meeting

President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey
September 20, 2011 10:51 PM

President Obama’s Bilateral Meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey

Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, New York

4:46 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I want to welcome Prime Minister Erdogan and his delegation to New York City and to the United States.  Turkey is a NATO ally, a great friend and partner on a whole host of issues.  I want to thank him for all the work that we’ve done together — the cooperation in Afghanistan, the work that we most recently did in trying to provide freedom for Libya, and, in addition, the NATO obligations that both of us carry out together, most recently symbolized by the agreement of Turkey to host a missile defense radar.

Prime Minister Erdogan has shown great leadership on a range of issues and promoting democracy.  And we are very grateful to him for the work that we’ve done together.

I do want to stress my deepest condolences for the loss of life through the explosion that took place in Ankara.  And I understand that the investigation is ongoing, but I think that this reminds us that terrorism exists in many parts of the world, and that Turkey and the United States are going to be strong partners in preventing terrorism.  And we look forward to working with you on these issues.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your service and thank you for your friendship.

PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN:  (As translated.)  Thank you very much, Mr. President.  I’m very pleased that we have this occasion to meet during this week as we meet here for the 66th General Assembly of the United Nations.

And as you have described the relationship between Turkey and the United States, we have a model partnership.  And this is a process which is ongoing, in which we have taken some very important steps and we will continue to take some important steps.  One of those issues that is very common to both of us is fighting against terrorism, and fighting against terrorism based on a common platform.  We have, unfortunately, lost three citizens today as a result of the blast in Ankara, but in the later hours there was another attack in Siirt, in a city in the eastern part of Turkey, where four young girls were killed as a result of an attack in a car, and these were civilian citizens.  And so these are events which give us great sadness.  And this is an area which we have to work on.

As for whether or not we can completely eradicate terrorism I’m not very optimistic in thinking that perhaps we can completely eradicate it.  But I think that we have a lot of room to work together to make sure that we minimize terrorism to the lowest possible extent.  And to do that we have to keep working together on many areas of this effort — work together in — use technology so that we can continue to take joint steps in trying to fight against terrorism.  And those are some of the issues that we all will talk about.

I have also recently visited Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, and we have also worked together in those countries, and Afghanistan as well, and also in Iraq.  So these are many of the areas where we will continue to talk to each other, so that Turkey and the United States continue with this model partnership to move into a better future.

And let me take this opportunity also to thank you for your hospitality today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

Q Was there any discussion of the Palestinian —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We’re starting the meeting now.

END
4:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text September 15, 2011: President Barack Obama Awards Medal of Honor to US Marine Dakota Meyer

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Dakota Meyer

Source: WH, 9-15-11
President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to Dakota Meyer

President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to Dakota Meyer during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Sept. 15, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama today awarded the Medal of Honor to Dakota Meyer, a former active duty Marine Corps Corporal from Kentucky. Sergeant Meyer was recognized for his courageous actions at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on September 8, 2009. He is the third living recipient – and the first Marine – to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. And at 23, he is also one of the youngest recipients in decades.

The President, who first met Meyer when they shared a beer at the White House on Wednesday evening, said that, “in Sergeant Dakota Meyer, we see the best of a generation that has served through a decade of war. “

Meyer saved 36 lives during a Taliban ambush in repeated acts of bravery, tales of which the President noted, “will be told for generations:”

I want you to imagine it’s September 8, 2009, just before dawn. A patrol of Afghan forces and their American trainers is on foot, making their way up a narrow valley, heading into a village to meet with elders. And suddenly, all over the village, the lights go out. And that’s when it happens. About a mile away, Dakota, who was then a corporal, and Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, could hear the ambush over the radio. It was as if the whole valley was exploding. Taliban fighters were unleashing a firestorm from the hills, from the stone houses, even from the local school.

And soon, the patrol was pinned down, taking ferocious fire from three sides. Men were being wounded and killed, and four Americans — Dakota’s friends — were surrounded.  Four times, Dakota and Juan asked permission to go in; four times they were denied.  It was, they were told, too dangerous. But one of the teachers in his high school once said, “When you tell Dakota he can’t do something, he’s is going to do it.” And as Dakota said of his trapped teammates, “Those were my brothers, and I couldn’t just sit back and watch.”

The story of what Dakota did next will be told for generations. He told Juan they were going in. Juan jumped into a Humvee and took the wheel; Dakota climbed into the turret and manned the gun. They were defying orders, but they were doing what they thought was right. So they drove straight into a killing zone, Dakota’s upper body and head exposed to a blizzard of fire from AK-47s and machine guns, from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Coming upon wounded Afghan soldiers, Dakota jumped out and loaded each of the wounded into the Humvee, each time exposing himself to all that enemy fire. They turned around and drove those wounded back to safety. Those who were there called it the most intense combat they’d ever seen. Dakota and Juan would have been forgiven for not going back in.  But as Dakota says, you don’t leave anyone behind.

For a second time, they went back — back into the inferno; Juan at the wheel, swerving to avoid the explosions all around them; Dakota up in the turret — when one gun jammed, grabbing another, going through gun after gun. Again they came across wounded Afghans. Again Dakota jumped out, loaded them up and brought them back to safety.

For a third time, they went back — insurgents running right up to the Humvee, Dakota fighting them off.  Up ahead, a group of Americans, some wounded, were desperately trying to escape the bullets raining down. Juan wedged the Humvee right into the line of fire, using the vehicle as a shield. With Dakota on the guns, they helped those Americans back to safety as well.

For a fourth time, they went back. Dakota was now wounded in the arm. Their vehicle was riddled with bullets and shrapnel. Dakota later confessed, “I didn’t think I was going to die.  I knew I was.” But still they pushed on, finding the wounded, delivering them to safety.

And then, for a fifth time, they went back — into the fury of that village, under fire that seemed to come from every window, every doorway, every alley.  And when they finally got to those trapped Americans, Dakota jumped out.  And he ran toward them. Drawing all those enemy guns on himself.  Bullets kicking up the dirt all around him. He kept going until he came upon those four Americans, laying where they fell, together as one team.

Dakota and the others who had joined him knelt down, picked up their comrades and — through all those bullets, all the smoke, all the chaos — carried them out, one by one. Because, as Dakota says, “That’s what you do for a brother.”

Dakota says he’ll accept this medal in their name. So today, we remember the husband who loved the outdoors –Lieutenant Michael Johnson. The husband and father they called “Gunny J” — Gunnery Sergeant Edwin Johnson. The determined Marine who fought to get on that team — Staff Sergeant Aaron Kenefick. The medic who gave his life tending to his teammates — Hospitalman Third Class James Layton. And a soldier wounded in that battle who never recovered — Sergeant First Class Kenneth Westbrook.

Political Buzz September 15, 2011: President Barack Obama Awards Medal of Honor to US Marine Dakota Meyer

POLITICAL BUZZ

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

The President presents the Medal of Honor
White House Photo, Pete Souza, 9/15/11

THE HEADLINES: OBAMA AWARDS MEDAL OF HONOR TO US MARINE DAKOTA MEYER

“It may be a platform for representation of the guys who are out there fighting every day. My story is one of millions, and the others aren’t often told.” — Dakota Meyer said by telephone in the morning, as he prepared to receive the nation’s highest battlefield award

  • Obama awards Medal of Honor to young US Marine: President Barack Obama on Thursday bestowed the highest U.S. military honor on Dakota Meyer, a young and humble Marine who defied orders and barreled straight into a ferocious “killing zone” in Afghanistan to save 36 lives at extraordinary risk to himself…. – AP, 9-15-11
  • Defying orders, hero Marine saved other troops: Defying orders and tempting fate, Marine corporal Dakota Meyer charged five times in a Humvee into heavy gunfire in the darkness of an Afghanistan valley to rescue comrades under attack from Taliban insurgents.
    On Thursday, Meyer was presented with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, by President Barack Obama.
    Meyer’s courage during the six-hour ambush and firefight saved the lives of 36 people, both Americans and Afghans. He killed at least eight Taliban insurgents. Firing from a gun turret on top of the Humvee driven by a fellow Marine, he provided cover for his team, allowing many to escape likely death.
    He was defying orders from his commanders, who told him to stay back. The kill zone, they said, was too dangerous. But the young corporal, just 21 years old at the time, knew his friends were trapped that early morning in September 2009…. – AP, 9-15-11
  • Dakota Meyer, Marine, Is Awarded Medal of Honor: President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor on Thursday to a young Marine who ignored orders to stay put and fought his way five times into an ambush in an Afghan ravine, helping to rescue three dozen comrades and to recover the remains of four dead American servicemen…. – NYT, 9-15-11
  • Dakota Meyer and nine others: what they did to receive the Medal of Honor: For going above and beyond the call of duty, Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer was awarded Thursday the Medal of Honor, the US government’s highest military decoration. Here is a look at him and nine other men who risked their lives to protect America…. – CS Monitor, 9-15-11
  • Marine’s Actions in Afghanistan Earn Medal of Honor, Become Stuff of Folklore: At a ceremony at the White House on Thursday, Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor for rescuing U.S. and Afghan comrades caught in a Taliban ambush two years ago…. – PBS Newshour, 9-15-11
  • Marine gets Medal of Honor — and a beer with Obama: When Dakota Meyer is awarded the Medal of Honor this afternoon, it will be his second visit to the White House in as many days…. – USA Today, 9-15-11
  • Obama awards Medal of Honor to Marine: On Sept. 8, 2009, Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, then 21, defied the orders of his superiors while on duty in Afghanistan and raced into a “killing zone” to rescue 36 of his comrades…. – WaPo, 9-15-11
  • Before Medal of Honor, beer with Obama: Former Marine Dakota Meyer to be honored for saving 36 lives during Afghan ambush; Shares cold one with president on White House patio…. – CBS News, 9-14-11

Full Text: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

Remarks by the President on the Way Forward in Afghanistan

East Room

8:01 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  Nearly 10 years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor.  This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security –- one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives.

In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Then, our focus shifted.  A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there.  By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year.  But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive.  Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.

For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan.  When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives:  to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country.  I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.

Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment.  Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.  As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength.  Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.  Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership.  And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known.  This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11.  One soldier summed it up well.  “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget.  You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”

The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain.  Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that had been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -– thereby draining more widespread support.  Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks.  But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.

In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds.  Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country.  Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people.  In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.

Of course, huge challenges remain.  This is the beginning — but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war.  We’ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we’ve made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.  And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.

We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement.  So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.  Our position on these talks is clear:  They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.  But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply:  No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies.  We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.  We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.  That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.  What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.

Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.  No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region.  We’ll work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitments.  For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us.  They cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.

My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country.  We’ve learned anew the profound cost of war — a cost that’s been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1,500 who have done so in Afghanistan -– men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended.  Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the battlefield, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.  Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.  And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.  These long wars will come to a responsible end.

As they do, we must learn their lessons.  Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.  Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.  Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course.  Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.  When threatened, we must respond with force –- but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.  When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.

In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded.  We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens.  We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.  We stand not for empire, but for self-determination.  That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world.  We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.

Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.  To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care and benefits and opportunity that you deserve.

I met some of these patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell.  A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden.  Standing in front of a model of bin Laden’s compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost –- brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten.  This officer — like so many others I’ve met on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, and at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital -– spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one, depending on each other, and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril.

That’s a lesson worth remembering -– that we are all a part of one American family.  Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.  Now, let us finish the work at hand.  Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story.  With confidence in our cause, with faith in our fellow citizens, and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -– for this generation, and the next.

May God bless our troops.  And may God bless the United States of America.

END           8:16 P.M. EDT

Political Buzz June 22, 2011: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

POLITICAL BUZZ

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

IN FOCUS: OBAMA’S ADDRESS ON AFGHANISTAN EXIT STRATEGY


White House Photo, Photo by Chuck Kennedy, 6/22/11

Obama announces that ‘surge’ troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by summer 2012: President Obama on Wednesday announced that 10,000 U.S. troops will come home from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and that 23,000 more will be withdrawn by next summer, a timeline that is more rapid than military commanders had wanted.
“America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home,” Obama said, speaking from the White House East Room.

Obama to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year: President Obama will announce in his address at 8 p.m. Wednesday that he will order home 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012, according to administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
The plan, charting the U.S. military’s exit from America’s longest war, outlines the withdrawal of the 33,000 forces that Obama ordered to Afghanistan at the end of 2009, after a months-long strategy review meant to find ways of salvaging a flagging war.

“America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.” – President Obama, declaring that the United States had achieved its main goals in Afghanistan.

Text of President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan: The following is the prepared text of President Obama’s speech regarding the troop pullout in Afghanistan, as provided by the White House…. – NYT, 6-22-11

  • LIVE BLOG: Obama’s Afghanistan speechWaPo, 6-22-11 
  • Obama’s day: Afghanistan speech: President Obama has some meetings today, but will spend most of his time preparing for tonight’s speech on a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan…. – USA Today, 6-22-11
  • Obama’s Afghanistan speech: Admitting the limits of American power: In November of 1986, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the Politburo about his country’s futile war in Afghanistan. The conflict had already dragged on for six years, Gorbachev told his comrades, but no end was in sight. “In general, we haven’t found the key to resolving this problem,” the communist leader explained, according to Gregory Feifer’s book, The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan. “We need to finish this process as soon as possible.” That was especially true in a nation whose economy was groaning from the expense of the war. … – AP, 6-23-11
  • Obama Orders Troop Cuts in Afghanistan: President Obama declared Wednesday that the United States had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, setting in motion a timetable for the rapid withdrawal of American troops in an acknowledgement of the shifting threat in the region and fast-changing political and economic landscape in a war-weary America.
    Asserting that the country that served as a launching pad for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks no longer represented a terrorist threat to the United States, Mr. Obama declared that the “tide of war is receding.” And in a blunt acknowledgment of domestic economic strains, he said, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”
    Mr. Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 “surge” of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the troop reductions would continue “at a steady pace,” bringing to an end America’s longest war — a conflict that has cost 1,500 American lives.
    The troop reductions, which came after a short but fierce internal debate, are both deeper and faster than the recommendations made by Mr. Obama’s military commanders, and they come as the president faces relentless budget pressures, an increasingly restive Congress and American public and a re-election campaign next year…. – NYT, 6-22-11
  • Obama speech reflects unease at home after decade of war: President Obama announced his troop withdrawal from Afghanistan Wednesday night, but the real surprise was how much time he spent clothing his decision in domestic concerns with an eye to U.S. politics.
    As expected the president explained how the surge in U.S. troops had worked in hindering Al Qaeda from finding a safe haven in Afghanistan. He mentioned the U.S. raid in which terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan as well. He also praised Afghanistan and Pakistan for their efforts while noting they needed to do more.
    All of that had been expected, as had been the pledge to withdraw 10,000 troops this year and the rest of the surge forces in 2012.
    But the president made it clear he was aware of the American weariness with the almost decade-long war and a desire in many quarters to use any peace dividend for domestic needs.
    “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home,” Obama said…. – LAT, 6-22-11
  • Obama details plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan: President Obama announced that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will begin with 10,000 troops this year, plus another 23,000 by the end of next summer. Gains have been made against the Taliban, he said, but the fight against al Qaeda will continue wherever necessary…. – CS Monitor, 6-22-11
  • Obama’s Middle Ground on Afghanistan Is Between a Rock and a Hard Place: By seeking the middle ground in unwinding U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, President Obama now finds himself on an island.
    In Wednesday night’s 13-minute address from the East Room of the White House, the president declared, “[T]he tide of war is receding,” and announced his decision to remove 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and 23,000 more by next summer. That pace is much faster than his military commanders had recommended, but not fast enough to please his base…. – PBS Newshour, 6-23-11
  • Joint chiefs chairman: Obama Afghanistan plan incurs risk: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress today that President Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan is more risky than the military proposed, but still workable.
    “The president’s decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.
    “More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course,” Mullen said. “But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so.”… – USA Today, 6-23-11

    THE SPEECH

  • President Obama on the Way Forward in Afghanistan: By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
    For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.
    Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength….
    The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies. We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace. What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government….
    In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
    Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.
    America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
    In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf. To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care and benefits and opportunity that you deserve. – WH, 6-22-11Transcript: Speech Full-TextMp4Mp3

    REACTIONS

  • HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER, REPUBLICAN: I am pleased the president recognizes that success in Afghanistan is paramount. Continuing to degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities in Afghanistan and the surrounding region must take priority over any calendar dates. It’s important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant.
  • SENATOR JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRAT, CHAIRMAN SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The president correctly laid out the next phase of our strategy in Afghanistan — a transition to Afghan control that begins by redeploying the 33,000 surge troops starting next month and ending next summer, and puts the Afghans in complete control by 2014. In doing so, he kept the commitment he made to the American people 18 months ago at West Point. As a result of the gains made since the course correction outlined at West Point, we’re now operating from a position of strength.
  • SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN: I am concerned that the withdrawal plan that President Obama announced tonight poses an unnecessary risk to the hard-won gains that our troops have made thus far in Afghanistan and to the decisive progress that must still be made. This is not the ‘modest’ withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated.
  • SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, CONNECTICUT INDEPENDENT: I am disappointed by the pace and timing of the withdrawal of those troops the President announced tonight. I had hoped the president would draw down our forces more cautiously and am therefore concerned that the accelerated withdrawal which the president has ordered will put at risk the substantial gains we have made in Afghanistan.
  • SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR, SENIOR REPUBLICAN ON SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: No rational review would commit nearly 100,000 troops and $100 billion a year to Afghanistan.
    The country does not hold that level of strategic value for us, especially at a time when our nation is confronting a debt crisis and our armed forces are being strained by repeated combat deployments.
  • JEFF DRESSLER, A MILITARY ANALYST AT THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: My sense is that the military in general was in favor of a much smaller withdrawal. Something they could have lived with was a couple thousand troops. But the fact is the conditions on the ground don’t merit any sort of withdrawal — it’s not time to be pulling out a substantive amount of troops. There’s a lot that has to be done in the east and you’re not out of the woods in the south yet.
  • LAWRENCE KORB, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS AND FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think it’s also important that you send a signal to the government of Afghanistan that they are going to have to step up and take over. … You’re also balancing this against other U.S. interests. If the United States doesn’t have any money, we’re not going to be able to protect our interest in others areas. It’s obviously going to save some money.
  • CHRISTOPHER PREBLE, DIRECTOR OF FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, CATO INSTITUTE: Despite reports that the president’s decision signals a move toward a narrowly focused counter-terrorism mission, the fact is nearly 70,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan after this drawdown.
    Such a force is unnecessary, and a far less costly alternative is available to us. We could keep pressure on the Taliban, and deny al Qaeda a sanctuary, with perhaps as few as 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. We should be moving rapidly in that direction. President Obama hasn’t been, and this announcement suggests that he won’t.
  • TODD HARRISON, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND BUDGETARY ASSESSMENTS: With the faster drawdown that is being proposed, they (the administration) will actually save about $17 billion in ‘FY12 compared to what they had requested. That will bring the war budget down by about 15 percent, so that’s a significant reduction in war funding. Relative to the overall DOD (Department of Defense), it’s not that much of a reduction and relative to the overall federal budget and the deficit, this does not make much of a difference.
  • GOP hopefuls stake out Afghanistan positions: As President Obama called Wednesday night for scaling down troop numbers in Afghanistan over the next year, differences over how to approach the conflict emerged among GOP presidential hopefuls, with some calling for a faster withdrawal and others arguing for a more conditions-based drawdown.
    The contrast among 2012 Republican candidates reflects a change in the party’s hawkish orthodoxy, unease over spending and crumbling support for the war. The most recent poll shows that nearly three quarters of Americans believe a substantial number of troops should come home this summer. USA Today, 6-22-11
  • Jon M. Huntsman Jr.: Said the nation faces “a generational opportunity to reset our position in the world in a way that makes sense for our security as well as our budget.” “Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight. We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility, while leaving in place a strong counter intelligence and special forces effort proportionate to the threat.”
  • Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, in a Fox News interview: “When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully, and what that means now is not nation-building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus’s advice and to get those security forces built up where they can pick up the slack as we draw down.”
  • Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney: “We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics.”
  • Newt Gingrich: “Given the reality of the larger war that President Obama refuses to name, it’s not responsible to make a decision on Afghanistan in isolation just in order to meet a domestic political agenda.”
  • Military Experts Scrutinize Obama’s Drawdown Plan: Military analysts weigh in on President Obama’s new plan to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan…. – PBS Newshour, 6-23-11
  • Analysis: U.S. forces face new challenges after drawdown: The United States and its allies have made dramatic progress in Afghanistan over the past year, seizing the initiative from the Taliban and driving insurgents from key strongholds in the south.
    The challenge for military commanders now will be to consolidate those gains and shift the military main effort to tackle insurgent strongholds in the east — all with fewer troops. The plan is a “compromise that will be problematic to many of the players,” warned David Barno, a retired three-star general who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan and is now a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security.
    Several commanders in Afghanistan had said reductions should be made so as to not jeopardize gains.
    “Ultimately the commanders on the ground will be able to reshape the plan” to achieve objectives, Barno said…. – USA Today, 6-22-11
  • Analysts rate Obama’s Afghanistan address: President Barack Obama announced Wednesday night that all the 33,000 additional U.S. forces he ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 will be home within 15 months.
    In a nationally televised address from the East Room of the White House, Obama said 10,000 of the “surge” forces would withdraw by the end of this year, and the other 23,000 would leave Afghanistan by September 2012.
    At the same time, Obama said the drawdown would help the United States begin to refocus attention and resources on efforts to resolve economic and other problems and to unify a politically divided nation.
    Here’s how CNN analysts reacted to the address…

    Bergen: President for first time acknowledged talks with Taliban
    Borger: Difficult to separate the military decision from political decision
    Gergen: Obama winding down Iraq, Afghanistan wars like he said he would
    Zakaria: Kept with his basic strategic rationale from the start

    CNN, 6-22-11

AHA Panel: Historians Criticized as Often AWOL From Public Debate Over ‘War on Terror’

HISTORY NEWS & SPOTTED:

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-12-11

Many historians say a key difference between the Vietnam War and today’s U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is that far fewer members of their profession are stepping forward to be public critics of policies associated with the “war on terror.”

Participants in a panel discussion held here last weekend, at the annual conference of the American Historical Association, said historians’ relative silence about today’s policies stems not from agreement, but from trends in their field that have discouraged their scholarly peers from becoming actively involved in public debates.

They argued that historians in academe need to be doing much more to inform policy makers and sway public opinion on matters such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, by sharing their views with members of Congress, submitting op-eds to local newspapers, giving talks, and reaching out to local activists….READ MORE

Political Highlights December 20, 2010: Lame Duck Congress Passes Bipartisan Tax Cuts Package & Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, President Obama Updates Afghanistan Progress — Christmas at the White House

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN, and Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 111TH & 112TH CONGRESS:

The President records the Weekly Address

STATS & POLLS

  • White House Holidays: Simple Gifts
  • Fox News Poll: Majority Approves Tax Cut Agreement: A majority of American voters approve of the proposed deal to preserve Bush-era tax cuts agreed on between President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress, and voters are more likely to think the compromises made by both sides represent how things “should” work in Washington.
    A Fox News poll released Thursday found that by 68 to 26 percent, most voters approve of the compromise deal.
    Moreover, approval is across the board: 69 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents endorsed the deal.
    When asked what they would do if forced to choose between either continuing the tax cuts for all Americans or letting taxes increase for all Americans, 73 percent of voters said they would continue the tax cuts for all. That includes 83 percent of Republicans, 73 percent independents and 64 percent of Democrats…. – Fox News, 12-16-10
  • Gallup Poll: Obama loses the backing of some liberals: President Obama’s support among liberals falls to 79% in a Gallup tracking poll.
    Liberals, part of President Obama’s core backers, continue to be unhappy with the president, according to the Gallup tracking poll released Thursday.
    The poll shows that support among liberals has dipped to 79%, the first time it has fallen below 80%, according to Gallup. A week before the midterm elections, Obama stood at 88% with those who called themselves liberals…. – LAT, 12-16-10
  • Congress gets 83% disapproval rating in Gallup Poll, worst in over 30 years: People who identified themselves as Democrats registered the biggest decline in approval, from 38% to 16%. But the institution should bounce back in approval ratings in the next few months, if a pattern of past changes in partisan power hold true, Gallup noted.
    Just 13% of Americans say they approve of the way Congress is doing its job while 83% disapprove, the worst disapproval rating for lawmakers in more than 30 years, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
    The previous record low approval rating was 14% in July 2008, a time of high prices for gasoline and a poor economy. For the year, Congress averaged about a 19% approval rating, tied with the averages in 2008 and 1979, another tough year for the economy.
    Politically, independents and Republicans were down slightly in their view of Congress, while those saying they were Democrats had the biggest drop. From October to December, Democratic support fell from 38% to 16%. Republicans fell from 9% to 7% and independents from 16% to 13% during the same period…. – LAT, 12-15-10
  • Post-ABC poll: public not yet sold on GOP: Republicans made major gains in the November elections but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The midterm elections – where Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House of Representatives and added six seats to their Senate minority – were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public now trusts Obama marginally more than congressional Republicans to deal with the country’s main problems in the coming years, 43 to 38 percent. And when it comes to who has taken the stronger leadership role in Washington, it’s an even divide: 43 percent say Obama, 42 percent the GOP.
  • Facebook’s Zuckerberg is Time’s Person of the Year: The social networking magnate beats out WikiLeaks’ Assange and the Tea Party
    The man behind the world’s largest social network has been named Time’s Person of the Year. Time magazine announced today that its editors picked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the annual honor, beating out runners-up Julian Assange, the man behind the internationally controversial WikiLeaks, and the Tea Party.
    Time credited Zuckerberg with connecting more than half a billion people with through Facebook and mapping the social relations among them. And because Facebook’s 26-year-old CEO also is credited with creating a new system of exchanging information that is changing how people live their lives, he was named Person of the Year.
    “The way we connect with one another and with the institutions in our lives is evolving,” wrote Time managing editor Richard Stengel in an essay posted online today. “Our sense of identity is more variable, while our sense of privacy is expanding. What was once considered intimate is now shared among millions with a keystroke.” Zuckerberg, according to Stengel, is at the epicenter of these cultural and social changes.
    “The social-networking platform he invented is closing in on 600 million users,” he added. “In a single day, about a billion new pieces of content are posted on Facebook. It is the connective tissue for nearly a tenth of the planet. Facebook is now the third-largest country on Earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does. Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is its T-shirt-wearing head of state.”
    Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC, noted that 2010 was the year when the media hype about Zuckerberg went through the roof.
    “Hopefully, Time is giving him the recognition because he is the youngest tech baron to pledge to give away billions — in his case, before they’ve even been monetized. Bill Gates had practically retire before he got the Time kudo in 2005. More likely, they know Zuckerberg’s face will sell magazines, and they can only dream of being in touch with an audience like the one Facebook touches every minute.”…. – Computerworld, 12-15-10
  • The Man Who Took On Obama Health Care — and Won One Round: Virginia’s attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican who filed the Richmond lawsuit against the U.S. government, challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care act.Jay Paul for The New York Times Virginia’s attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican who filed the Richmond lawsuit against the U.S. government, challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care act.
    Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s attorney general, is quick to cite the legal basis for challenging President Obama’s signature legislative achievement: Congress has no power to punish people who choose not to buy private health insurance, he says.
    A federal judge on Monday agreed with him, ruling that parts of the health care reforms Mr. Obama championed violate the Constitution. Mr. Cuccinelli sued the federal government on behalf of Virginia.
    “On the issues the Tea Party cares about, I land right in their bulls eye.” — Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia attorney general
    “I wouldn’t have brought a case like this if it didn’t have legal merit,” he said in an interview with The Caucus. He added that he had turned away plenty of activists urging him to sue the federal government in other areas. “My answer is usually, ‘no.’ I don’t get to sue just because I don’t like something.”
    But it doesn’t take long for Mr. Cuccinelli to acknowledge that his motivations are not purely legal. The onetime state senator is a conservative Republican who has long sought to shrink government, limit federal powers and trumpet state rights…. – 12-14-10

THE HEADLINES….

President Barack Obama makes Congressional calls on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010

President Barack Obama makes Congressional calls from the Oval Office before Senate’s final vote on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. December 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Biden defends White House compromise on tax cuts: Vice President Joe Biden defended the Obama administration for its willingness to extend tax cuts for top earners, despite earlier promises that he and the president would fight against the Bush-era policy.
    “We got to the end, we couldn’t get it done, and we had to make a decision,” Biden said about President Barack Obama’s compromise with Republicans to allow tax cuts across the income scale to continue. The vice president told NBC’s “Meet The Press” in an interview broadcast Sunday that he and Obama still believe tax cuts for the wealthiest are “morally troubling” and that they would fight to avoid renewing the cuts when they expire in 2012.
    “The one target for us in two years is no longer extending the upper income tax credit for millionaires and billionaires,” Biden said…. – AP, 12-19-10
  • Republicans fail in second bid to amend START: A second Republican bid to amend President Barack Obama’s strategic nuclear arms treaty with Russia failed during debate in Senate on Sunday and top Democrats expressed confidence they would have the votes to approve the accord. Republican Senators concerned about the large disparity in tactical, short-range nuclear weapons between Russia and the United States rallied behind a treaty-killing amendment that would have inserted a reference to the issue in the preamble of the accord. The amendment was defeated 60-32. Democratic Senator Bob Casey said members of both parties were concerned about Russian tactical nuclear weapons but there was a simple reason the New START nuclear treaty did not address them — because it is an agreement dealing with strategic, or long-range, atomic arms…. – Reuters, 12-19-10
  • Senate Rejects Republican Effort to Amend Treaty: The Senate rejected another Republican attempt to rewrite the new arms control treaty with Russia on Sunday as the signature foreign policy agreement of President Obama’s tenure moved closer to a decisive vote expected later this week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he would vote against the arms control treaty with Russia. Senators voted 60 to 32 to defeat an amendment proposed by Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, to add language to the treaty preamble recognizing the importance of tactical nuclear weapons. The treaty, known as New Start, focuses only on reducing strategic nuclear weapons, meaning those that can be delivered at great distances. The vote on the amendment came after three prominent Republican senators announced they would vote against the treaty. Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the top two Republican leaders, said on Sunday talk shows that they would oppose it because of concerns about its possible impact on missile defense and other issues…. – NYT, 12-19-10
  • Backers of 9/11 health bill optimistic: Backers of a bill in Congress to help people who became sick after working in the World Trade Center dust created by the Sept. 11 attacks said Sunday they’re optimistic the Senate will approve the measure before the lame-duck session ends.
    “We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders and survivors, saying that they believe it will gain needed support from the GOP. They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once they finish dealing with the U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons. “Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week,” Schumer said.
    Supporters were three votes short of the 60 votes they needed for the original bill on a recent Senate test vote. The House has passed the original bill but would have to consider any new version as the final days of the lame-duck session wear down. New York lawmakers are pressing House Democratic leaders to stay in session long enough to vote after the Senate acts on the new bill…. – AP, 12-19-10
  • In historic vote, Senate moves to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’: Eight Republicans joined Democrats to vote for an end to the 1993 ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law banning gay troops from serving openly. Proponents compare it to ending racial segregation in the military.
    The Senate Saturday voted to end a longstanding ban on gay troops serving openly in the US armed services – a move Democrats compare to President Truman’s ending the ban on racial segregation in the military in 1948.
    “It is time to close this chapter in our history,” said President Obama in a statement. “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly.” Six Republicans – Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and George Voinovich of Ohio – broke with their party to give Democrats the votes needed to break a GOP filibuster. The measure subsequently passed, 65 to 31. Sens. John Ensign (R) of Nevada and Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina also joined Democrats on the final vote.
    The House passed an identical repeal on Wednesday, 250-175, sending the bill to the White House. At least 60 days before the law takes effect, both the President and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have to certify that ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy won’t adversely affect military readiness or morale.
    That issue was a major theme in today’s Senate debate. The Senate Armed Services Committee held two days of hearings on the final report of a Pentagon working group that reviewed the issue. Its conclusion was that a repeal of the ban “would present a low risk to the military’s effectiveness even during a time of war,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, who chairs the panel. “Seventy percent of the surveyed members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence,” he added, during Saturday’s floor debate. “While combat units expressed more concerns about the consequences of repeal, those concerns disappeared for troops who have worked with a gay or lesbian coworker.”… – CS Monitor, 12-18-10
  • John McCain’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Last Stand: In the end, eight Republican senators cast their votes to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces, repealing the 17-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.\ But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not join them and used his time on the Senate floor Saturday to stand athwart history yelling stop.
    “Today is a very sad day,” McCain announced, detailing his continuing opposition to allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to be open about their sexuality. “There will be high-fives over all the liberal bastions of America,” he predicted, from “the elite schools that bar military recruiters from campus” to “the salons of Georgetown” and the “talk shows” where people — “most of whom have never have served in the military” — will crow over the law’s repeal.
    Allowing gays to serve openly in the Marines would prove a potentially deadly distraction McCain said, quoting from a Marine Corps Commandant warning, “and I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen.”…. – The Atlantic, 12-18-10
  • White House unveils science integrity policy: The White House released a long-awaited federal scientific integrity policy on Friday, which says, “political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings.” President Barack Obama talks with Erika DeBenedictis, 18, a student at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico, during an unscheduled tour of auxiliary exhibits in the East Garden Room of the White House following the White House Science Fair, Oct. 18, 2010. DeBenedictis won the top award in the Intel Science Talent Search for developing a software navigation system to improve spacecraft travel through the solar system.
    Released by Office of Science and Technology Policy chief John Holdren, the four-page guidance to federal agencies and departments gives them 120 days to report on their implementation of policies. President Obama called for the science integrity rules in March of 2009, following years of disputes over political interference with scientists at NASA, FDA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and elsewhere in the executive branch during the Bush Administration.
    “The new memorandum describes the minimum standards expected as departments and agencies craft scientific integrity rules appropriate for their particular missions and cultures, including a clear prohibition on political interference in scientific processes and expanded assurances of transparency,” Holdren writes on a White House blog. The guidance lists principles for scientific integrity standards, public communication, federal advisory committee membership, scholarly development and implementation of the guidance. “Scientific progress depends upon honest investigation, open discussion, refined understanding, and a firm commitment to evidence,” Holdren says…. – USA Today, 12-18-10
  • Senate Blocks Bill for Young Illegal Immigrants: The Senate on Saturday blocked a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for certain young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, completed two years of college or military service and met other requirements, including passing a criminal background check. The vote by 55-41 in favor of the bill, which is known as the Dream Act, effectively kills it for this year, and its fate is uncertain. The measure needed the support of 60 senators to cut off a filibuster and bring it to the floor. Supporters said they were heartened that the measure won the backing of a majority of the Senate. They said they would continue to press for it, either on its own or as part of a wide immigration overhaul that some Democrats hope to undertake next year and believe could be an area of cooperation with Republicans, who will control a majority in the House…. – NYT, 12-18-10
  • Republicans Prepare for Looming Budget Battle: The collapse of a government-wide spending package in the final days of this Congressional session sets up a politically charged fiscal showdown early next year, testing the determination of Republicans about to take over the House with promises to slash an array of domestic programs. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio vowed Friday that Republicans would continue to focus on cutting spending. President Obama signing the $858 billion tax and unemployment insurance bill into law. As Congress struggled to assemble a stopgap measure to finance the government at least into the first months of 2011, House and Senate Republicans on Friday hailed their ability to derail a $1.2 trillion spending measure put forward by Senate Democrats, and promised to use their new Congressional muscle to respond to public demands to shrink government.
    “Beginning in January, the House is going to become the outpost in Washington for the American people and their desire for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the incoming House speaker. “I will tell you,” he added, “we are going to cut spending.” With the lame-duck session entering its final days, there was an air of partisan chaos on Capitol Hill as both parties scored important legislative victories and events changed on an almost hour-to-hour basis as the end of Democratic control of the House approached….. – NYT, 12-18-10
  • Napolitano confirms gang killed border agent in battle: An elite Border Patrol squad was pursuing a gang that preyed on drug smugglers when agent Brian Terry was shot and killed Tuesday night, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday. “They were seeking to apprehend what’s called a ‘rip crew,’ which is a name given to a crew that it is organized to seek to rip off people who are drug mules or traversing the border illegally,” she said during a meeting with The Arizona Republic’s editorial board. “That’s why they were in that area.” Her comments were the first official confirmation that Terry and other members of the Border Patrol’s specially trained tactical unit known as BORTAC were pursuing bandits the night the 40-year-old agent was killed in a gunbattle, which occurred in a remote canyon near Rio Rico…. – USA Today, 12-18-10
  • Could Lame Duck Be a Big Win for Obama Agenda?: Is President Obama on the verge of one of his most productive months in office? Far from being the legislative wasteland that some had predicted, this year’s Congressional lame-duck session has developed into an intense, make-or-break series of cliffhanger events for the president and his soon-to-expire Democratic majority in the House. “There’s a clean slate coming starting Jan. 1, when Republicans are back in control. They are going to start judging then.” — Kevin Madden, Republican strategist
    Mr. Obama is now on the knife’s edge; the hours and days ahead could go either way for him. But the president is concluding 2010 by directly confronting issues that have come to define the sweep of his presidency – the economy, foreign engagement and questions of social justice.
    In the early hours of Friday morning, the president won passage of the $858 billion tax deal he reached with Republicans and he appeared close to achieving approval of the landmark nuclear treaty he negotiated with the Russians. Both political parties have grudgingly agreed to do whatever is necessary to keep the federal government operating by approving an extension of the current budget authority into early next year.
    And in something of a surprise, it appears there may be enough Republican support to provide Mr. Obama with a victory on a major promise: to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gay people from serving openly in the armed forces.
    “This might turn out to be a very good month for the president,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign, which backs repeal. “Getting rid of D.A.D.T. is important not just to the gay community but to progressives as a whole. If he’s able to get this done, I think it will send an important message that he’s still got his progressive creds.'”…. – NYT, 12-17-10
  • Obama signs tax-cut legislation: ‘This is real money that is going to make a real difference in peoples’ lives,’ Obama says as he signs the measure, which extends the Bush-era tax cuts.
    President Obama on Friday signed the bill that extends the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, while Congress moved to wind up its lame-duck deliberations in a session marked by the changing nature of politics and power.
    Speaking at the signing ceremony, Obama again defended his compromise, worked out with Republicans. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was prominent at the ceremony, as was Vice President Joe Biden, who bargained with the Republican leader
    “This is real money that is going to make a real difference in peoples’ lives,” Obama said. Without the bill, the tax cuts would have expired at the end of the year.
    The measure won final approval in the House late Thursday night. In addition to extending the tax cuts for two years, the bill adds 13 months of jobless benefits and cuts the payroll tax by 2 percentage points for a year….. – LAT, 12-17-10
  • Obama Signs Tax Deal, Hails Bipartisan Effort to Grow Jobs President: ‘It’s A Good Deal for the American People’: President Obama today signed into law an agreement to extend Bush-era tax cuts into 2011, ending with the stroke of his pen a bitter schism in his own party and heading off what could have been a major standoff with Republicans. The president hailed the bipartisan effort, acknowledging that both parties compromised on the deal by extending both tax cuts for the wealthy and benefits for the unemployed.
    “It’s a good deal for the American people. This is progress and that’s what they sent us here to achieve,” Obama said before an assembled group of lawmakers from both parties. The bill, he said, “would protect our middle class, grow our economy and create jobs.” Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle “did what was right for the country,” despite what he called “occasional political discomfort” from partisans who thought the deal made too many concessions to one party or the other….
    “By a wide bipartisan margin, both houses of Congress have now passed a package of tax relief that will protect the middle class, that will grow our economy, and will create jobs for the American people,” the president said…. – ABC News, 12-16-10
  • When out walking Bo, Obama says he scoops the poop: He may be leader of the free world, but when he takes his dog for a walk, President Obama says he bends down to do the nasty work of cleaning up like anyone else. Answering questions Friday from youngsters at an elementary school, Obama described going for nighttime walks with first dog Bo on the White House South Lawn. He says that’s fun. But, Obama says, “Sometimes I have to scoop up his poop, because I don’t want to just leave it in the lawn!”
    The response from the kids: “Eeew!” Obama admonished them: “If you guys have a dog, you’ve got to walk your dog, too — and clean up after him.”…. –
  • House puts Obama tax deal on ice — for now: The bill to temporarily extend tax cuts and jobless benefits is on ice — for now — in the House. House Democratic leaders have pulled the rules for debate, which first have to get approved before lawmakers can take up the tax legislation. A party caucus meeting is set for this afternoon. Many liberals in the Democratic caucus are upset at the bill’s provision on estate taxes and want to amend the measure and send it back to the Senate. The problem is that Democrats would have to vote on the Senate-passed bill if they want to change the estate tax provision. The deal worked out by President Obama and congressional Republicans would extend for two years tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 for all income levels. Liberals such as Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., are upset that the extension includes families earing more than $250,000…. – USA Today, 12-16-10
  • What the Tax Deal Means to Your Wallet: The pressure is off — at least for now. With the Bush-era tax cuts extended for all Americans for at least the next two years under the law signed today by President Obama, government leaders have managed to postpone some tough decisions to be made surrounding the U.S. tax code until 2012.
    The law has been labeled “compromise” legislation, and for good reason. In exchange for the tax-cuts extension, Republicans agreed to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. They also agreed to give a one-year tax break to workers, giving those who make approximately $40,000 annually an additional $800 in their pockets throughout the course of 2011.
    So what can the average taxpayer expect in the year to come? According to experts, more of the same. Here are some of the key things you should know regarding the new law, and what it means for your tax preparation in the year ahead and beyond…
    The law affects more than just 2011….
    The most immediate benefit will be a 2% payroll tax cut…. Payroll taxes will drop, and it is on your employer to act ASAP….
    Tax preparation sites are up to speed….
    Wealth transfer provisions are on target….. – Fox Business, 12-17-10
  • House urges Obama to block unilateral Palestinian statehood: The U.S. House of Representatives called on President Obama to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.
    The non-binding resolution passed unanimously Wednesday evening calls on the Obama administration to “affirm that the United States would deny recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state and veto any resolution by the United Nations Security Council to establish or recognize a Palestinian state outside of an agreement negotiated by the two parties.” The resolution also affirms “strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state, living side-by- side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.”
    White House officials have said that they are working to push back a Palestinian Authority effort to garner international recognition of statehood, but have stopped short of pledging to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution…. – JTA, 12-16-10
  • Obama: US will back UN on rights of native peoples: President Barack Obama said Thursday that the United States will reverse course and support a United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people.
    Obama told Native American leaders that the declaration affirms the importance and rich cultures of Native peoples throughout the world. The U.S. voted against the declaration when the General Assembly adopted it in 2007, arguing that it was incompatible with existing laws. Three other countries, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, also opposed the declaration, but have since announced their support.
    The declaration protects the rights of more than 370 million native peoples worldwide, affirming their equality and ability to maintain their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions. It also establishes standards to combat discrimination and marginalization and eliminate human rights violations against them.
    “We’re making progress. We’re moving forward. And what I hope is that we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations,” Obama told a conference of tribal nations attended by more than 500 people representing more than 320 tribes…. – AP, 12-16-10
  • Senate Passes Compromise Tax Plan by Wide Margin: The Senate on Wednesday approved the $858 billion tax plan negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders — the first concrete product of a new era of divided government and acid compromise. The vote was 81 to 19, as Democrats yielded in their long push to end the Bush-era lowered tax rates for high-income taxpayers, and Republicans agreed to back a huge economic stimulus package, including an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a one-year payroll-tax cut for most workers, with the entire cost added to the federal deficit.
    The bill goes next to the House, where Democratic leaders said they expected to bring the bill to the floor on Thursday. They predicted that it would be approved this week, despite lingering opposition among rank-and-file Democrats who are still intent on making changes to a provision that grants a generous tax exemption to wealthy estates. Republicans have said they will not accept any change.
    “A tremendous accomplishment,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, declared shortly before the vote on Wednesday. “Whether you agree with all the contents of the bill or not, everyone should understand this is one of the major accomplishments of any Congress where two parties, ideologically divided, have agreed on a major issue for the American people.”
    The two-year tax measure will touch virtually every American — poor and rich, old and young, married or single, with children or living alone, and even those who die. And, with a reprise of this year’s contentious debate now slated for the height of the 2012 presidential campaign, the bill is likely to be a precursor to a broader effort by President Obama to overhaul the nation’s labyrinthine tax code and begin tackling the long-term deficit…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Dems fight over 3 percent of the tax deal: Congressional Democrats are making noise over the estate tax cuts, though they’re only 3 percent of the total cuts. These cuts are deep and deficit-funded, but so is the rest of the agreement. The Senate is about to pass the full tax cut “compromise,” but House Democrats are trying to hold out for a more fiscally responsible option. The strong Senate vote also appeared to have weakened resolve among House Democrats to block the measure when it comes to the floor this week. After meeting for two hours with rank-and-file lawmakers late Tuesday, senior Democrats said the House is likely to stage votes to change the terms of a revived estate tax that many Democrats view as overly generous to the wealthy. Outraged by the agreement to exempt individual estates worth as much as $5 million from taxation, senior Democrats said they would press to lower the threshold to $3.5 million. They also want to impose a stiffer tax on larger estates, by setting the rate at 45 percent rather than the 35 percent demanded by Republicans and agreed to by Obama….. – CS Monitor, 12-15-10
  • Executives Look for Place on the Obama Team: Terry McGraw, the chairman and chief executive officer of the McGraw-Hill Companies, said he had been “very pleasantly surprised” by President Obama’s recent efforts to promote the interests of American business. But Mr. Obama could do better, he added, if he had a high-powered adviser with more of a business bent in the White House.
    “You’ve got to strengthen the team,” Mr. McGraw said in an interview on Tuesday. “You’ve got to get some gravitas.” Nearly halfway through Mr. Obama’s term, the dearth of business and Wall Street types in his administration rankles many executives, if only as a proxy for their unhappiness with his policies and occasional antibusiness political speech. And the White House has struggled to find such a person to fill the one spot about to open in Mr. Obama’s inner circle, the director of the National Economic Council, the job being vacated this month by Lawrence H. Summers.
    The president’s uneasy and somewhat distant relationship with the worlds of business and finance will hang over his meeting on Wednesday with the chiefs of about 20 corporations, among them Google, American Express, UPS and Intel. While Mr. Obama has held such roundtables in the past, this one is part of a new effort by the administration to build closer ties over the next two years, officials say. Relations have improved since the big Republican gains in the midterm elections: Mr. Obama has concluded a free-trade agreement with South Korea, negotiated a tax-cut package with Congressional Republicans and delayed antipollution emissions regulations, all steps applauded by business constituencies…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Govt sues BP, 8 other companies in Gulf oil spill: The Justice Department on Wednesday sued BP and eight other companies in the Gulf oil spill disaster in an effort to recover billions of dollars from the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. The Obama administration’s lawsuit asks that the companies be held liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.
    “We intend to prove these violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill,” Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference. The amount of damages and the extent of injuries sustained by the United States as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Spill are not yet fully known, the lawsuit states…. – AP, 12-15-10
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal goes to Senate again. Has anything changed?: Last week, Senate Republicans blocked a repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Now the House has passed the repeal in a different form. But the result in the Senate could be the same.
    The House today passed a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, but it’s not clear that the Senate can muster the time or political will to move it to the floor before the end of the 111th Congress.
    Only last week, Senate Republicans blocked a bid to repeal of the Clinton-era ban as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. Democrats fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. The House has now decoupled the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal from the defense authorization bill in the hopes that the repeal might pass on its own in the Senate. House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland called the 250-to-175 vote for repeal “a very strong statement that it is time to move forward.”…. – CS Monitor, 12-15-10
  • US House votes to lift military gay ban: The US House of Representatives voted to end the US military ban on gays serving openly, leaving it to the Senate to seize what backers of repeal say may be their last chance for years. US President Barack Obama, in a statement shortly after the vote, called ending the prohibition “the right thing to do” and said all those who risk their lives for their country must be “treated fairly and equally.”
    By a 250-175 margin, the House approved a stand-alone bill to scrap the 1993 policy, popularly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” that requires gays to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face dismissal.
    “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ doesn’t contribute to our national security and it contravenes our American values,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, charging the policy had led to the ouster of 13,000 US troops. “Fighter pilots, infantry officers, Arabic translators and other specialists have been discharged at a time when our nation is fighting two wars,” in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said on the floor of the House…. – AFP, 12-15-10
  • Obama review cements troop withdrawal, challenges: President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan war review will conclude the United States has made enough security gains to begin withdrawing troops in July, but the findings will also emphasize lasting troubles, from Afghanistan’s ability to serve its people to Pakistani havens for extremists.
    In a detailed preview of statements Obama will make Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the yearlong review of Obama’s war plan will, essentially, offer no surprise. The president plans to stick with his pledge to start drawing home troops next summer after ordering one year ago that 30,000 more troops be sent to Afghanistan to blunt the Taliban’s momentum. The goal of coalition forces is to shift control to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
    A summary of the classified war report is expected to be released Thursday, when Obama will speak about the effort from the White House…. – AP, 12-14-10
  • Lifting gay ban could endanger US Marines: general: The chief of the US Marine Corps said Tuesday that ending a ban on openly gay troops in the military could jeopardize the lives of Marines in combat by undermining closely knit units. General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and an opponent of lifting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibition, cited a Pentagon study saying Marines fighting in Afghanistan were worried that permitting gays to serve openly could disrupt “unit cohesion.”
    “When your life hangs on a line, on the intuitive behavior of the young man … who sits to your right and your left, you don’t want anything distracting you,” Amos told reporters at the Pentagon. “I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda (hospital) with no legs,” he said.
    He added that “mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines’ lives. That’s the currency of this fight.” His comments were the toughest yet on the issue, after he testified at a congressional hearing that he opposed lifting the ban in a time of war. Amos said Marines in combat in Afghanistan sent a “very strong message” in the Pentagon’s study released earlier this month, expressing opposition to repealing the ban in a survey. “I have to listen to that,” he said…. – AP, 12-14-10
  • Veteran U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke dies in Washington hospital, according to the Associated Press: Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, died in Washington Monday after undergoing surgery to repair a tear in his aorta, according to the Associated Press. He was 69.
  • Diplomat Richard Holbrooke dies at 69: President Obama’s emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan began his career as a junior Foreign Service officer during the Vietnam War.
    Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan and one of the most celebrated American diplomats of the last half-century, died Monday. He was 69.
    Holbrooke died at George Washington University Hospital, where he had undergone surgery after doctors discovered a tear in his aorta on Friday.
    Holbrooke, who began his career as a junior Foreign Service officer in the Vietnam War and ended it helping lead the battle to overcome militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, shaped the narrative of U.S. diplomacy as an advisor to presidents, secretaries of State and Democratic presidential candidates.
    A 6-foot-2, barrel-chested man, he was renowned for his ruthless negotiating style, which earned him such nicknames as “The Bulldozer” and “Raging Bull.” His most important achievement came in 1995 when he intimidated Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic and brokered the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian War.
    Holbrooke served every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy, and was a contender to be secretary of State for two decades, though he never accomplished the goal. But he was the only person to be assistant secretary of State for two regions — East Asia and Europe — and was also U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as well as ambassador to Germany.
    In adding him to his administration two days after his inauguration, President Obama praised Holbrooke as “one of the most talented diplomats of his generation.”…. – LAT, 12-13-10
  • In region he oversaw, a mixed review for Holbrooke: In Kabul, he was seen as out of touch and too combative to forge a partnership with Afghan leaders. But in Islamabad, he is called a seasoned envoy who tried to strengthen U.S. ties with Pakistan.
    Richard C. Holbrooke is being praised in the United States after his death as a giant of diplomacy, but in South Asia, the turbulent region that constituted his last assignment, his legacy received mixed reviews. In Kabul, he was regarded as out of touch with the society and too combative to forge a meaningful partnership with Afghanistan’s leadership. But in Islamabad, Pakistan, he was lauded as a seasoned envoy who earnestly tried to strengthen Washington’s fragile alliance with the country…. – LAT, 12-14-10
  • Tax-Cut Package Passes Crucial Test in Senate: With robust bipartisan support, the Senate on Monday advanced the tax-cut package negotiated by President Obama and Congressional Republicans, increasing pressure on House Democrats to set aside their opposition.
    The vote, to cut off debate and end any filibuster, assured that the Senate would approve the $858 billion package on Tuesday and send it to the House, where Democrats are still demanding changes to a provision granting a generous tax exemption to wealthy estates.
    The Senate vote was 83 to 15, with 45 Democrats and 37 Republicans in favor. Opposed were nine Democrats, five Republicans and Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont…. – NYT, 12-13-10
  • Has Obama won the tax cut staredown of 2010?: Both the left and right are mad about the tax-cut bill. Does that mean President Obama will benefit from appearing to stand at the center of American politics?
    The tax-cut bill agreed to by President Obama and congressional Republicans should start to move through Congress this week. Many D.C. vote-counters think it’s likely the legislation will eventually pass, but liberals still don’t like it. Many Democrats remain unhappy over its continuation of tax breaks for the wealthy.
    There has been “much consternation” among Democratic House members about parts of the bill, said House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland on Monday at the National Press Club.
    That said, there is grumbling about the effort on the right as well. Some in the GOP think Republican leaders gave away too much to get an across-the-board Bush tax cut extension.
    Both the left and right are mad. Does that mean Mr. Obama will benefit from appearing to stand at the center of American politics?… – CS Monitor, 12-13-10
  • Obama signs anti-hunger, anti-obesity school lunch bill: US President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill that will fight childhood hunger and bolster his wife’s project to roll back obesity in kids by making school meals healthier.
    “Right now, across the country, too many children don’t have access to school meals and often the food that’s being offered isn’t as healthy as it should be,” Obama said at a signing ceremony for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act at an elementary school in Washington.
    The new law would help reverse the worrying trend of doctors diagnosing what used to be considered adult conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes — in increasingly fatter American children, and would do so “without adding a dime to the deficit,” Obama said.
    The new law, which pledges 4.5 billion dollars over 10 years to child nutrition programs, will give thousands more US children access to school meals and allow the Department of Agriculture to set nutrition guidelines for food sold in schools, including in vending machines. It comes at a time when 17 million US children live in households that have to sometimes skip meals to make ends meet, and one in three US kids is obese or overweight.
    Childhood hunger and obesity were “two sides of the same coin,” Michelle Obama said at the signing ceremony. AP, 12-13-10

111TH & 112TH CONGRESS

The President signs the tax cut compromise

  • With era ending, Patrick Kennedy embraces new opportunities: Representative Patrick Kennedy stepped carefully around a clutter of half-packed cardboard boxes, overstuffed luggage, and several open bags of potato chips at his Capitol Hill apartment. It seemed more like a scene of a college student heading home than the end of a 64-year political legacy. But Kennedy’s upcoming retirement will break a bond between the nation’s capital and Camelot. When the new House is seated in January, it will mark the first time since 1947 — the year a 29-year-old John F. Kennedy was sworn in as a Massachusetts congressman — that no member of the Kennedy family will be serving in the House, Senate, or White House.
    The House is scheduled to end its session today, but late bills may delay the wrapup. Patrick Kennedy, 43, an eight-term Democrat from Rhode Island and the son of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is bracing for entry into a world he has never known, away from the public spotlight.
    “I feel liberated to try to live a life as foreign to me as anything — a life outside of politics,” Kennedy said in an interview. “I’m actually for the first time in my life venturing out on my own. This is unfamiliar territory.”… – Boston Globe, 12-17-10
  • Key senator: ‘We’ve got the votes’ to repeal ‘don’t ask’: A leading Senate force behind repeal of the ban on gay people serving openly in the military says there are the votes to pass the measure. The Senate will vote Saturday on a procedural move to break a logjam on a bill to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that has been in place since 1993. The Pentagon was taking steps Friday to implement repeal. “We’ve got the votes. It’s time to get it done,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. Lieberman’s comments came in an interview with CNN’s John King, which will air Friday night.
    The senator said there are more than 60 votes for the procedural move, which would signal the bill would easily pass when it comes up for a separate vote. Final passage could occur as early as Saturday, if senators agree to move ahead with debate.
    Lieberman told CNN that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be remembered as a historic civil rights achievement. “This will allow gay and lesbian Americans to be called … what they want to be called, which is Americans — not gays or lesbians — who want to serve our country,” Lieberman said…. – USA Today, 12-17-10
  • Senate plans showdown votes Saturday on 2 big issues: The Senate plans crucial votes Saturday on two of the year’s most incendiary political issues: repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays and lesbians and revamping immigration laws to help put children of illegal aliens on a path to citizenship.
    Opponents have blocked both measures for months. The Senate will try to cut off debate on each bill, a maneuver that requires the votes of 60 of the 100 senators. Should either bill fail to get 60, it’s dead, probably for years to come, since Republicans will control the House of Representatives for two years starting next month. Both measures were campaign promises of President Barack Obama, and neither is expected to get many GOP votes.
    Many Republicans were outraged that the votes were even being taken. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., protested that the action is “clearly in keeping with the other side’s political agenda.”
    The “don’t ask, don’t tell” bill is the better bet to move ahead. The House of Representatives passed the measure Wednesday by a largely partisan 250-175 vote. The bill’s Senate co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said he was confident he had the votes to end debate and move to a final vote, since at least three Republicans are expected to join virtually all the Senate’s 56 Democrats and two independents who support it. A previous Senate effort to end debate on the question failed, but this is a new version of the legislation and three Republicans say they’re ready to back it now.
    The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, aimed at changing immigration law, faces more opposition. The bill would allow illegal immigrants younger than 30 who entered the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five years without committing serious crimes, graduated from high school and attended college or joined the military to be eligible for legal residency after meeting other criteria. A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the act would help 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants….. – McClatchy Newspapers, 12-17-10
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich drops Oversight Committee bid: Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich is dropping his bid to be top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and will support the candidacy of Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings. The committee’s current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, announced today that he won’t seek the committee’s top Democratic job when Republicans take over Congress next year. Cummings and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York are now vying for the spot. Kucinich says Cummings would provide a strong Democratic counterpoint to the next GOP chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa. Although Issa represents California in Congress, he happens to be a native Clevelander. Kucinich said Issa will likely make “unsubstantiated charges” against the Obama administration that will need to be challenged.
    “My bid has never been about my own personal advancement,” Kucinich said in a press statement. “It has been about protecting the oversight process from abuse. Mr. Cummings is well prepared for the challenge. Tomorrow, I will recommend to the Steering and Policy Committee and to the Democratic Caucus that they choose Mr. Cummings as Ranking Member.” – The Plain Dealer, 12-14-10
  • Dreaming of a Post-Christmas Congress: The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said on Tuesday that Democrats were not prepared to give up any of their priorities and would work as long as it takes – right up until the end of the 111th Congress on Jan. 4 – to deal with their punch list of major items: the tax package; the New START arms control treaty with Russia; a huge spending bill; a bill to authorize repeal of the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy; and an immigration measure that would create a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants brought to the United States as young children.
    “I hate to report all this to you,” Mr. Reid told reporters at a news conference at the Capitol, “but you know, there’s still Congress after Christmas. So if the Republicans think that they can stall and stall and stall that we take a break, we’re through, we’re not through. Congress ends on January 4th. So we’re going to continue working on this stuff until we get it done, or we have up-and-down votes and find that it can’t happen that way.”… – NYT, 12-14-10
  • House Democrats to Make Final Push on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: House Democratic leaders have decided to make one last push to repeal the military’s ban on gays serving openly before the end of the lame-duck Congress.
    Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader, said he and Representative Patrick Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania, would bring a standalone repeal of the ban to the floor as early as Wednesday. The House move comes in response to the Senate’s failure last week to break a Republican filibuster against a broader Pentagon measure that would have lifted the ban.
    Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, urged Senate leaders to try to pass a separate measure ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule, untangling the issue from the broader military policy measure.
    “I look forward to bringing this bill to the House floor soon, and I hope the Senate will swiftly take action as well so that the bill can be signed into law as soon as possible,” Mr. Hoyer said Tuesday. “This discriminatory and harmful policy has weakened America’s security by depriving us of the work of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops who have served their country honorably. And it has severely compromised our armed forces’ core value of integrity…. – NYT, 12-14-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Getting a Head Start on the 2012 Presidential-Debate Drinking Games: With the notable exception of Barack Obama, not a single politician has publicly confirmed his or her intentions to run for president in 2012. As the home page of Politico will insist day after day after day, this does not mean that the 2012 presidential race is not already well underway. To wit: so far there are five scheduled debates: ABC News and WMUR-TV’s Republican-primary debate in New Hampshire, the CNN–WMUR-TV–New Hampshire Union Leader primary debate, NBC News and Politico’s Republican-primary debate at the Reagan Presidential Library, Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party’s debate, and, as of today, the widely necessary CNN/Tea Party Express debate. “The Tea Party movement is a fascinating, diverse, grassroots force,” deadpanned Sam Feist, CNN’s political director. He added, “Undecided voters turn to CNN to educate themselves during election cycles, so it is a natural fit for CNN to provide a platform for the diverse perspectives within the Republican Party, including those of the Tea Party.” Tampa, Florida, the global cradle of the hard-core death-metal persuasion, will host the debate, as well as the cycle’s Republican National Convention…. – Vanity Fair, 12-17-10
  • CNN and Tea Party team up for debate: CNN and the Tea Party Express (a political action committee) are teaming up to co-host a presidential primary debate for the 2012 Republican contenders. The showdown will take in Tampa, Fla. around Labor Day in 2011.
    “If you’re producing a debate that is for Republican candidates that is intended to try and raise issues important to Republican primary voters – you would be remiss in not thinking about the Tea Party,” CNN Political Director Sam Feist told MediaBiz today.
    Feist said news organizations “regularly partner” with groups that are part of a political party’s coalition and he pointed out that CNN partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus in 2008 for a debate.
    “We have all sponsored debates with Republican state party organizations. Primary debates are for primary voters. Primary voters are Republican voters, and the Tea Party is a big part of the Republican coalition,” Feist said. Feist added that it’s “not at all unusual” for debates to be sponsored with groups that have political agendas.
    “In this case, they have an agenda that is of particular interest to Republican voters and because this is a Republican primary, we thought it would be the right group to partner with,” Feist said…. – Boston Herald, 12-17-10
  • As Republicans’ Power Grows, So Do Rifts: What do Republicans stand for? As the first half of President Obama?s term comes to a close, three political realities are forcing Republicans to confront that question more directly, and producing interesting conflicts along the way. The first reality is the assumption of power by Republicans in the House next year. After two years of being a political minority in Congress, the party’s lawmakers are showing signs of the disagreement that comes with the responsibility to lead. The second reality is the presidential campaign that begins in earnest for Republicans as soon as Washington returns from the holidays next month. The search for a challenger to Mr. Obama is designed to highlight the differences among Republicans, and it’s already beginning to do so…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Fox News, CNN Announce Dates Of First Presidential Debates: On Monday, CNN announced that it will host a Republican debate in New Hampshire on June 7, in collaboration with the Manchester Union-Leader and television station WMUR. It will be the first debate of the 2012 cycle to take place in the pivotal state.
    On Wednesday, Fox News announced that it will host two Republican debates in South Carolina. The first will take place on May 5, 2011, and the second will take place sometime in 2012.
    ABC and NBC News also announced debates this week. ABC said this Wednesday that it will host a debate in early 2012, between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
    NBC News will host the first debate of the overall cycle. It will take place in the spring of 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. – Huff Post, 12-15-10
  • Tax Deal Is Shaping 2012 GOP Campaign: The tax deal now before Congress has kicked off the first real debate of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, with several prospective candidates heralding the package as a victory for taxpayers and others criticizing it as a costly stimulus bill in disguise.
    Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have both come out sharply against the measure, which President Barack Obama hammered out last week with Senate Republican leaders. Both cite the deal’s price tag, with Mr. Romney saying it will heap billions more onto the nation’s debt load. Supporting the package are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all of whom praise the deal as good for the economy and the only way to spare Americans the jolt of a sudden tax increase that otherwise would take effect on Jan. 1.
    The debate suggests an early line of cleavage among the potential 2012 Republican aspirants on the key issues of taxes and government spending.
    The tax package was expected to win final passage in the Senate Tuesday night or Wednesday and advance to the House, which could take it up as early as Wednesday afternoon.
    In opposing the deal, Ms. Palin and Mr. Romney are aligning themselves with several large tea-party groups that see the tax deal as a betrayal of the Republican Party’s pledge during the last election to slash spending and attack the deficit. By opposing their party’s own leaders in Congress, who negotiated the package with Mr. Obama, the two also appear intent on shoring up their outsider, anti-Washington credentials…. – WSJ, 12-14-10
  • Bloomberg for president? Nolabels.org could be just the vehicle: New York’s mayor is says he is not – ‘no way, no how’ – running for president. But his role in the nonpartisan political movement Nolabels.org raises speculation…. – CS Monitor, 12-13-10
  • GOP National Chairman Michael Steele to run again: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he will run for a second term. The news was posted on the Twitter account of Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan GOP party chairman who is among several candidates seeking to oust Steele. The RNC will pick its chairman next month.
    Steele outlined his record during a conference call tonight with the 168-member committee. “I’m asking tonight for your support, I’m asking for another term,” Steele said, according to an ABC News blog post…. – USA Today, 12-13-10

QUOTES

President Obama speaks on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review

  • The President on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010: “An Historic Step”: Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.
    As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.
    I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law. – WH, 12-18-10
  • Weekly Address: START is About the Safety and Security of America; Not Scoring Political Points
    Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery Weekly Address The White House December 18, 2010:

    This week, Congress passed – and I signed into law – an essential economic package that will help grow our economy, spur businesses, and jumpstart job creation.
    Instead of a New Years Day tax hike on the vast majority of Americans, two million Americans who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own will now know with certainty that they won’t lose their emergency unemployment insurance at the end of the month. Eight million college students who’d otherwise face a tuition hike next semester will continue having access to the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Twelve million families with twenty-four million children will benefit from extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And millions of entrepreneurs who’ve been waiting to invest in their businesses will receive new tax incentives to help them expand, buy new equipment, or make upgrades, freeing up money to hire new workers.
    This package, which is so important for our economy at this pivotal time, was the product of hard negotiations. Like any negotiations, there was give and take on both sides. But I’m heartened by our ability to come together to do what’s best for middle class families across this country, and our economy as a whole.
    Before going away for the holiday break, I’m hopeful we can also come together on another urgent national priority – and that is, the new START treaty that will reduce the world’s nuclear arsenals and make America more secure. Twenty- five years ago, the Soviet Union and United States each had about 25,000 nuclear weapons. In the decades since, that number has been reduced by over 70 percent, and we have had on-site inspections of Russian nuclear facilities. That progress would not have been possible without strategic arms control treaties….
    We have taken the time to get this right. The START treaty has now been under review by the Senate for over seven months. It’s gone through 18 hearings. Nearly 1,000 questions have been asked – and answered. Several Republican Senators have come out in support of ratification. Meanwhile, further delay comes at a cost. Every minute we drag our feet is a minute that we have no inspectors on the ground at those Russian nuclear sites.
    It’s time to get this done. It’s time to show the same spirit of common purpose on our security that we showed this week on our economy. It’s time to remember the old saying that politics stops at the water’s edge. That saying was coined by a Republican Senator, Arthur Vandenberg, who partnered with a Democratic President, Harry Truman, to pass landmark national security measures at the dawn of the Cold War. Today, over sixty years later, when we’re threatened not only by nuclear weapons, but an array of other dangers, that’s a principle we must continue to uphold. Thank you, and have a nice weekend…. – WH, 12-18-10Mp4Mp3
  • Biden Says Tax-Cut Deal Reflects Bipartisan Aims: Vice President Joseph Biden said the administration’s effort to work with Republicans on issues such as extending tax cuts shows a conscious effort by the White House to respond to the voter discontent displayed in November’s mid- term elections.
    “We understand that the message is the American public wants us to cooperate, wants us to work together,” Mr. Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Americans “want us to reasonably compromise to move the business of the nation forward,” he said.
    “We got to the end, we couldn’t get it done and we had to make a decision,” Mr. Biden said. He said the tax-cut extensions were important to middle-income Americans and businesses, and so the administration wanted to preserve them. But the administration was still committed to eventually ending the tax cuts for top earners, he said.
    “The one target for us in two years is no longer extending the upper-income tax credit for millionaires and billionaires,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re coming back and going at it again.”… – WSJ, 12-19-10
  • The President Signs the Tax Cut & Unemployment Insurance Compromise: “Some Good News for the American People this Holiday Season”: First and foremost, the legislation I’m about to sign is a substantial victory for middle-class families across the country. They’re the ones hit hardest by the recession we’ve endured. They’re the ones who need relief right now. And that’s what is at the heart of this bill.
    This bipartisan effort was prompted by the fact that tax rates for every American were poised to automatically increase on January 1st. If that had come to pass, the average middle-class family would have had to pay an extra $3,000 in taxes next year. That wouldn’t have just been a blow to them — it would have been a blow to our economy just as we’re climbing out of a devastating recession.
    I refused to let that happen. And because we acted, it’s not going to. In fact, not only will middle-class Americans avoid a tax increase, but tens of millions of Americans will start the New Year off right by opening their first paycheck to see that it’s actually larger than the one they get right now. Over the course of 2011, 155 million workers will receive tax relief from the new payroll tax cut included in this bill -– about $1,000 for the average family.
    This is real money that’s going to make a real difference in people’s lives. And I would not have signed this bill if it didn’t include other extensions of relief that were also set to expire -– relief that’s going to help families cover the bills, parents raise their children, students pay for college, and business owners to take the reins of the recovery and propel this economy forward.
    As soon as I sign this legislation, 2 million Americans looking for work who lost their jobs through no fault of their own can know with certainty that they won’t lose their emergency unemployment insurance at the end of this month. Over the past few weeks, 600,000 Americans have been cut off from that lifeline. But with my signature, states can move quickly to reinstate their benefits –- and we expect that in almost all states, they’ll get them in time for Christmas.
    Eight million college students who otherwise would have faced a tuition hike as soon as next semester will instead continue to have access to a $2,500 tax credit to afford their studies.
    Twelve million families with 24 million children will benefit from extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And when combined with the payroll tax cut, 2 million American families who otherwise would have lived in poverty next year will instead be lifted out of it. (Applause.)
    And millions of entrepreneurs who have been waiting to invest in their businesses will receive new tax incentives to help them expand, buy new equipment, or make upgrades — freeing up other money to hire new workers.
    Putting more money in the pockets of families most likely to spend it, helping businesses invest and grow — that’s how we’re going to spark demand, spur hiring, and strengthen our economy in the New Year. WH, 12-17-10Mp4Mp3
  • President Obama on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review: “A Very Difficult Endeavor” but “Significant Progress”: I want to be clear. This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
    It’s important to remember why we remain in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan where al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks that murdered 3,000 innocent people. It is the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border from which terrorists have launched more attacks against our homeland and our allies. And if an even wider insurgency were to engulf Afghanistan, that would give al Qaeda even more space to plan these attacks.
    And that’s why, from the start, I’ve been very clear about our core goal. It’s not to defeat every last threat to the security of Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it is Afghans who must secure their country. And it’s not nation-building, because it is Afghans who must build their nation. Rather, we are focused on disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
    In pursuit of our core goal we are seeing significant progress. Today, al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago. Senior leaders have been killed. It’s harder for them to recruit; it’s harder for them to travel; it’s harder for them to train; it’s harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down. It will take time to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake — we are going to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist organization.
    In Afghanistan, we remain focused on the three areas of our strategy: our military effort to break the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan forces so they can take the lead; our civilian effort to promote effective governance and development; and regional cooperation, especially with Pakistan, because our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border.
    Indeed, for the first time in years, we’ve put in place the strategy and the resources that our efforts in Afghanistan demand. And because we’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, and brought home nearly 100,000 of our troops from Iraq, we’re in a better position to give our forces in Afghanistan the support and equipment they need to achieve their missions. And our drawdown in Iraq also means that today there are tens of thousands fewer Americans deployed in harm’s way than when I took office. With those additional forces in Afghanistan, we are making considerable gains toward our military objectives. The additional military and civilian personnel that I ordered in Afghanistan are now in place, along with additional forces from our coalition, which has grown to 49 nations. Along with our Afghan partners, we’ve gone on the offensive, targeting the Taliban and its leaders and pushing them out of their strongholds….
    We’re going to have to continue to stand up. We’ll continue to give our brave troops and civilians the strategy and resources they need to succeed. We will never waver from our goal of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda. We will forge enduring partnerships with people who are committed to progress and to peace. And we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the security and the safety of the American people. – WH, 12-16-10Mp4Mp3
  • Obama: Significant Progress In Fighting al-Qaida, Taliban: President Barack Obama says the U.S.-led coalition is making progress in fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president talked with reporters Thursday about his administration’s annual review of its policy in the region.
    “This continues to be a very difficult endeavor,” said President Obama. “But I can report that, thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.”
    “Senior leaders have been killed,” said Obama. “It is harder for them to recruit. It is harder for them to travel. It is harder for them to train. It is harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al-Qaida is hunkered down.”
    “In many places, the gains we have made are still fragile and reversible,” he said. “But there is no question we are clearing more areas from Taliban control, and more Afghans are reclaiming their communities.”
    “Now, our review confirms, however, that for these security gains to be sustained over time, there is an urgent need for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Obama.
    “Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough,” he said. “So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with. At the same time, we need to support the economic and political development that is critical to Pakistan’s future.”… VOA, 12-16-10
  • Meet The Next House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner Lesley Stahl Profiles The Ohio Republican Who Will Be Third In Line For The Presidency: John Boehner is about to replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House, and become the most powerful Republican in the country – and third in line to the presidency. He was swept in with the biggest Republican landslide in the house since 1938.
    As “60 Minutes” and correspondent Lesley Stahl set off to meet him, we had two questions: Which John Boehner will show up as speaker? The compromiser that he’s been in the past, or the more hard-line conservative of late, who’s aligned himself with the Tea Party that helped bring him and his party back into power…. – CBS News, 12-13-10
  • Huckabee: Obama self-destructed defending tax cuts: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) harshly criticized President Obama in an interview, saying the president “has shown no appetite for compromise with Republicans, zero.” Huckabee, who is a possible 2012 presidential candidate, said Obama to “some degree, he still has his head in the sand.” He added: “He is a very ideologically left-of-center person who wants to take the country in a very dramatic direction, and I don’t think that’s what people wanted.”
    In the interview with National Journal, Huckabee said the tax-cut extension Obama worked out with congressional Republicans was “the best anyone can hope for” but said he was shocked that it was only two years. “Politically, I was shocked it was going to be two not three, because it puts this whole thing in the very center, the bullseye of the 2012 presidential election,” the former governor said. “The most bizarre part of the whole process was watching President Obama self-destruct at the podium [Dec. 7th]. I was just stunned — I really couldn’t believe that a man that was elected president was as amateurish as he was and essentially launched from the podium at some of his own, taking aim and mowing down everybody in D.C. and walking away having not understood that he just lost a lot of people.”… – The Hill, 12-13-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Julian E. Zelizer: Obama tax deal: why estate tax is the new sticking point: House Democratic leaders set very tight rules for debate of the Obama tax deal Thursday, and rank-and-file Democrats revolted. Their main frustration now: the estate tax.
    “That’s how you prevent a deal from being undone in Congress,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Speaker Pelosi is obviously deeply disappointed with this bill, which gives up on one of the Democrats’ major promises in 2008 to oppose tax breaks for the wealthy, but there’s almost no wiggle room in this deal between Republicans and the president,” he adds. “By limiting amendments, the Speaker is bowing to the president.”… – CS Monitor, 12-19-10
  • With era ending, Patrick Kennedy embraces new opportunities: Boston Globe, 12-17-10
  • CNN and Tea Party team up for debate: Boston University political professor Tom Whalen said it hasn’t taken long for the Tea Party to go “big time.” “Maybe they’re going to loose their moorings, at least what they profess to be their moorings, of being close with the people and not to be bought by anyone,” Whalen said. “They’re supposed to be common people – now they’re aligning themselves with this mega-media company,” Whalen added. “It just seems like old style, power politics.” Boston Herald, 12-17-10
  • Julian E. Zelizer: Why George W. Bush must be smiling: Somewhere in Texas, former President George W. Bush must be smiling. When President Obama and the Republican leadership reached a deal on extending all of the Bush tax cuts, including a generous exemption for estate taxes, the current president ratified a key policy from the former administration.
    While Obama ran as the candidate who would fight to overturn Bush’s record, a huge number of his policies remain in place. This says a lot about President Bush. One of the key measures that we have to evaluate the success of a president is not simply how many of his proposals pass through Congress but also how many of his policies outlast his time in office. Many of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s programs, including Social Security and the Wagner Act, survive into our time…. – CNN, 12-13-10
  • Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Tradition: “We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program,” said one prominent critic of the new health care law. It is socialized medicine, he argued. If it stands, he said, “one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
    The health care law in question was Medicare, and the critic was Ronald Reagan. He made the leap from actor to political activist, almost 50 years ago, in part by opposing government-run health insurance for the elderly. Today, the supposed threat to free enterprise is a law that’s broader, if less radical, than Medicare: the bill Congress passed this year to create a system of privately run health insurance for everyone. On Monday, a federal judge ruled part of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will probably need to settle the matter in the end.
    We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed. The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez- faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like…. – NYT, 12-14-10
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