WASHINGTON, January 13, 2016 — In his final State of the Union address to the nation, President Barack Obama said the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth.
“We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined,” Obama said. “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin.”
When the world faces problems — whether manmade or natural — the people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow for leadership, the president said.
“They call us,” he said.
The world is a dangerous place, but that’s not the result of a weakening American military or the rise of other world powers, Obama said.
“In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states,” he said.
The Middle East is in turmoil as nations there deal with disputes that date back millennia, Obama said. China is a growing power. Russia is rebuilding its military and using it in Ukraine and Syria. The international system born out of World War II is struggling, and the United States must work with allies to remake it, he said.
Terror Networks Present Threat
Terror networks like al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant pose a direct threat to the American people, “because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage,” the president said.
But he put the threat from these groups in perspective. “As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands,” he said. “Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.”
Such hyperbole plays into the hands of the terror groups, the president said.
“We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions,” Obama said. “We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.”
U.S.-Led Coalition Confronts ISIL
The U.S.-led coalition is working across all domains to confront and destroy ISIL, he said.
“For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters and stamp out their vicious ideology,” the president said. “With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps and their weapons.”
The U.S.-led coalition is training, arming and supporting forces that are reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria, Obama said.
“If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden,” the president said.
Putting Terror Groups on Notice
Terror groups should know that “when you come after Americans — we go after you,” he said. “It may take time, but we have long memories and our reach has no limit.”
The president said American security policy must look beyond current conflicts to prevent future conflicts. Instability is a curse in many parts of the world and some of these places could become havens for new terrorist ideologies.
“The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk,” Obama said.
But the United States can’t just take over and rebuild every unstable country or region, he said. “That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us,” he said. “It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.”
Using Patient, Disciplined Strategy
Obama said the nation must continue with the patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of American national power. That strategy allows the United States to act unilaterally when necessary, he said, but relies on mobilizing allies and partners on issues of global concern.
“That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace,” the president said.
This approach has worked in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, he added, and was used to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
“American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world except when we kill terrorists or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling,” he said. “Leadership means a wise application of military power and rallying the world behind causes that are right. It means seeing our foreign assistance as part of our national security, not charity.”
America leads by example, the president said.
“That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo,” he said. “It’s expensive. It’s unnecessary. And it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”