WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2015 – In his State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama called on Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
In a speech largely focused on his domestic and economic agenda, Obama also touched on a myriad of topics related to the Defense Department, noting the start of the century “dawned with terror touching our shores.”
“We are 15 years into this new century — 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores — that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars. Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”
Six years ago, the president noted, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, he added, fewer than 15,000 remain.
“We salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 generation who has served to keep us safe,” Obama said. “We are humbled and grateful for your service.”
Costly Lessons Learned
Nation has learned some “costly” lessons over the last 13 years of combat, Obama said, and he detailed efforts to have Afghan forces take charge of their own country’s security.
“Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan,” Obama said, “we’ve trained their security forces who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honored our troops’ sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition.”
Partnerships have taken the place of unilateral action, Obama said, noting that instead of sending large numbers of ground forces overseas, he said, the United States now works in concert with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.
In Iraq and Syria, Obama said, American leadership, including military power, is stopping the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s advance.
“Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East,” he said, “we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.” The United States has a role in that effort, the president added, and he called on Congress to provide the authority to use force against ISIL.
“Tonight,” Obama said, “I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL,” he said. “We need that authority.”
Additionally, Obama noted, U.S. support to a moderate opposition in Syria not only can help in the effort there, but also can assist people everywhere who stand up to the “bankrupt” ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time and require focus, he added, but we he pledged success.
Smarter American Leadership
Obama praised U.S. military power for its role in what he called “smarter American leadership.”
“My first duty as commander in chief is to defend the United States of America,” he said. “In doing so, the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how.
“When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads — when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military — then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world,” he continued. “That’s what our enemies want us to do. I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership. We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy, leverage our power with coalition building and don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.”
The president said the United States must stand united with people around the world who have been targeted by terrorists — from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.
“We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks,” he said. “We reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we have done relentlessly since I took office, to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.”
The United States is demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy, Obama said, and is upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small. The nation is opposing Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine’s democracy while reassuring NATO allies, he added.
Turning to cybersecurity, the president said no foreign nation or hacker “should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.”
“We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism,” he said. The president urged Congress to pass legislation to increase cooperation between the government and the private sector “to better meet the evolving threat of cyberattacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.”
“If we don’t act,” Obama added, “we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.”
Other Global Challenges
Obama noted that U.S. troops, scientists, doctors, nurses and health care workers in West Africa are helping to fight the Ebola virus while, “saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.”
“I could not be prouder of them,” he said, thanking Congress for supporting their efforts.
“But the job is not yet done,” Obama added. “The world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development and eradicate extreme poverty.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, the president said, the United States is modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules in how they trade, resolve maritime disputes and participate in meeting common international challenges such as nonproliferation and disaster relief.
And no challenge, Obama said, poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.
“2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record,” he said. “Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”
Obama said while some people “dodge the evidence,” scientists at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others, are all “telling us that our activities are changing the climate.”
Top Pentagon officials say that climate change poses immediate risks to national security, Obama said. “We should act like it,” he added. “Over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy to the way we use it.”
A Brighter Future
The country has made it through some hard times, Obama said, and in this new century, has again begun the work of remaking America.
“We have laid a new foundation,” he said. “A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter together, and let’s start the work right now.”