Obama: Congress Should Follow Military’s Example

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2012 — Wash­ing­ton politi­cians and all Amer­i­cans can accom­plish any­thing if they fol­low the exam­ple set by U.S. troops, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said dur­ing his State of the Union address tonight.

All of offi­cial Wash­ing­ton includ­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Leon Panet­ta and all the mem­bers of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — was in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to hear the president’s address.

In a speech dom­i­nat­ed by domes­tic con­cerns, Oba­ma began by extolling the exam­ple set by mem­bers of the armed ser­vices.

“Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and wel­comed home some of our last troops to serve in Iraq,” he said. “Togeth­er, we offered a final, proud salute to the col­ors under which more than a mil­lion of our fel­low cit­i­zens fought and sev­er­al thou­sand gave their lives.”

The gen­er­a­tion serv­ing in the mil­i­tary today has made the Unit­ed States safer and more respect­ed around the world, the pres­i­dent said. All Amer­i­can troops are out of Iraq, Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qae­da is on the run. In Afghanistan, U.S., NATO and Afghan forces have reversed the Taliban’s momen­tum and some U.S. troops are com­ing home, he not­ed.

“These achieve­ments are a tes­ta­ment to the courage, self­less­ness and team­work of America’s armed forces,” he said. “At a time when too many of our insti­tu­tions have let us down, they exceed all expec­ta­tions. They’re not con­sumed with per­son­al ambi­tion. They don’t obsess over their dif­fer­ences. They focus on the mis­sion at hand. They work togeth­er.”

Oba­ma asked the Con­gress well known for its par­ti­san divide to imag­ine “what we could accom­plish if we fol­lowed their exam­ple.”

Work­ing togeth­er, Amer­i­cans could build a coun­try that is a leader in edu­ca­tion, in indus­try, in clean ener­gy and in high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing, Oba­ma said. Work­ing togeth­er, Amer­i­cans could put in place “an econ­o­my built to last, where hard work pays off, and respon­si­bil­i­ty is reward­ed,” he added.

With the Iraq war over, the Unit­ed States has struck deci­sive blows against al-Qai­da. “From Pak­istan to Yemen, the al-Qai­da oper­a­tives who remain are scram­bling, know­ing that they can’t escape the reach of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca,” he said.

The strat­e­gy in Afghanistan is pay­ing off and 33,000 U.S. troops will leave that coun­try by the end of the sum­mer. More and more, Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces are assum­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for pro­tect­ing their own land, their own peo­ple, the pres­i­dent said.

“This tran­si­tion to Afghan lead will con­tin­ue, and we will build an endur­ing part­ner­ship with Afghanistan, so that it is nev­er again a source of attacks against Amer­i­ca,” he said.

The Arab world is in a wave of change, Oba­ma said, and the clear­est exam­ple is in Libya. “A year ago, [Moam­mar] Gad­hafi was one of the world’s longest-serv­ing dic­ta­tors a mur­der­er with Amer­i­can blood on his hands,” he said. “Today, he is gone. And in Syr­ia, I have no doubt that the [Bashar] Assad regime will soon dis­cov­er that the forces of change can’t be reversed, and that human dig­ni­ty can’t be denied.”

How this whole tide of change from Tunisia to Syr­ia and beyond will end is uncer­tain, the pres­i­dent said. The peo­ple of the region must make the deci­sions, but the Unit­ed States will work with all to advo­cate “those val­ues that have served our own coun­try so well,” he said.

“We will stand against vio­lence and intim­i­da­tion. We will stand for the rights and dig­ni­ty of all human beings men and women; Chris­tians, Mus­lims, and Jews,” he con­tin­ued. “We will sup­port poli­cies that lead to strong and sta­ble democ­ra­cies and open mar­kets, because tyran­ny is no match for lib­er­ty.”

The Unit­ed States will work to iso­late those who seek to dis­turb the peace, Oba­ma said, not­ing increased eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Iran for its nuclear pro­gram. “The regime is more iso­lat­ed than ever before; its lead­ers are faced with crip­pling sanc­tions, and as long as they shirk their respon­si­bil­i­ties, this pres­sure will not relent,” he said.

All cards are on the table for stop­ping Iran from hav­ing nuclear weapons, the pres­i­dent added. “Let there be no doubt: Amer­i­ca is deter­mined to pre­vent Iran from get­ting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” he said. “But a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of this issue is still pos­si­ble, and far bet­ter, and if Iran changes course and meets its oblig­a­tions, it can rejoin the com­mu­ni­ty of nations.”

The pres­i­dent said America’s world­wide lead­er­ship has been renewed and coun­tries look to its steady hand and influ­ence. “Our old­est alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever,” he said. “Our ties to the Amer­i­c­as are deep­er. Our iron-clad com­mit­ment to Israel’s secu­ri­ty has meant the clos­est mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion between our two coun­tries in his­to­ry. We’ve made it clear that Amer­i­ca is a Pacif­ic pow­er, and a new begin­ning in Bur­ma has lit a new hope.”

Those who say that Amer­i­ca is in decline “don’t know what they’re talk­ing about,” Oba­ma said. “Yes, the world is chang­ing. No, we can’t con­trol every event. But Amer­i­ca remains the one indis­pens­able nation in world affairs and as long as I’m pres­i­dent, I intend to keep it that way.”

Oba­ma once more promised to main­tain the finest mil­i­tary in the world. Amer­i­can free­dom has endured because men and women in uni­form fought for it, he said.

“As they come home, we must serve them as well as they served us,” he said. “That includes giv­ing them the care and ben­e­fits they have earned which is why we’ve increased annu­al VA spend­ing every year I’ve been pres­i­dent. And it means enlist­ing our vet­er­ans in the work of rebuild­ing our nation.”

Oba­ma end­ed his address where it start­ed using the exam­ple of U.S. ser­vice mem­bers for Con­gress. “Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn from the ser­vice of our troops,” he said. “When you put on that uni­form, it does­n’t mat­ter if you’re black or white, Asian or Lati­no, con­ser­v­a­tive or lib­er­al, rich or poor, gay or straight.

“When you’re march­ing into bat­tle, you look out for the per­son next to you, or the mis­sion fails,” he con­tin­ued. “When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serv­ing one nation, leav­ing no one behind.”

Oba­ma said one of his proud­est pos­ses­sions is the U.S. flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mis­sion to get bin Laden. “On it are each of their names,” he said. “Some may be Democ­rats. Some may be Repub­li­cans. But that does­n’t mat­ter. Just like it did­n’t mat­ter that day in the Sit­u­a­tion Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates a man who was George Bush’s defense sec­re­tary; and Hillary Clin­ton, a woman who ran against me for pres­i­dent.

“All that mat­tered that day was the mis­sion. No one thought about pol­i­tics. No one thought about them­selves. One of the young men involved in the raid lat­er told me that he did­n’t deserve cred­it for the mis­sion. It only suc­ceed­ed, he said, because every sin­gle mem­ber of that unit did their job.”

The same is so with Amer­i­ca, Oba­ma said. It took more than two cen­turies and mil­lions of peo­ple work­ing toward a com­mon goal. “This nation is great because we built it togeth­er,” he said. “This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each oth­ers’ backs.”

If Amer­i­cans remem­ber that truth, there is no chal­lenge too great, no mis­sion too hard, the pres­i­dent said. “As long as we’re joined in com­mon pur­pose, as long as we main­tain our com­mon resolve, our jour­ney moves for­ward, our future is hope­ful, and the state of our union will always be strong,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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