By Jim Garamone
The United States will reach out to countries around the world to deal with shared threats, President Barack Obama said during the State of the Union speech tonight.
Terrorism remains a threat to Americans, but it is just one of many. And in each, working with other nations is key to neutralizing them.
Obama declared that al-Qaida, the terror group that killed 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, is a shadow of its former self. America, working with allies in many parts of the globe, has taken out key leaders and has the terror organization on the run.
But the al-Qaida ‘brand’ continues. “Different al-Qaida affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa,” he said. “The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali.”
Still, the United States will take direct action where it is needed, the president said.
At the same time, he said Americans must adhere to the values for which the nation stands. The administration has worked to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide U.S. counterterrorism operations. “I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way,” Obama said. “So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
North Korea and Iran are dangers to America and its allies, with each believed by U.S. officials to be heading down the road toward nuclear weapons. “The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations,” the president said.
Tuesday, North Korea said it carried out another underground nuclear test. “Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats,” he said.
There is still time for diplomacy to work with Iran, Obama said, but it is dwindling. The United States is working with a coalition “demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” he said.
The president promised to continue working with Russia to reduce both nations’ nuclear arsenals, and said the United States will continue leading the effort to stop nuclear materials from falling in to the wrong hands.
The president also promised progress in countering the growing threat of cyber-attacks. “We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail,” he said. “We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions and our air traffic control systems.”
He called these attacks real threats to America’s economy and security. “That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy,” he said. “Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.”
Freedom is the birthright of all people, the president said. “In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia,” he said. “In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy.”
North Africa and the Middle East will remain problematic, but the United States will remain committed and engaged. “The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people,” the president said.
In Syria, the United States will keep the pressure on a regime that has murdered its own people and turned millions of others into refugees. The United States will support Syrian opposition leaders that respect the rights of all citizens.
The United States will continue its strong stand with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.
“All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers and the men and women of the United States armed forces,” he said. “As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending.”
The president vowed to ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. “We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat,” he said. “We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.”
The president thanked his wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for championing the needs and capabilities of military personnel, veterans and their families.