“When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said President Barack Obama, who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq before his election to the Senate from Illinois yet has executed a hard-charging ground and drone war against terrorist forces in and around Afghanistan. “Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan.”
Now, the question is what becomes of the U.S. guarantee of Afghan security, the president noted in his State of the Union address tonight.
“After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future,” he said. “ If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counter-terrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country. ”
“The fact is, that danger remains,” said the president who authorized the mission to capture, and ultimately kill, Osama bin Laden, architect of the 9/11 attacks, at his hideout in Pakistan. “While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world.”
There was no mention of bin Laden here, though.
The president who wanted to muster congressional support for a limited strike against Syria for its use of chemical weapons pledged to avoid new wars.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office,” he said. “But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.”
“American must move off a permanent war footing.”
After five years in office, the president also called tonight for something he pledged at the start of his first term:
“With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” he said. “Because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.”
And he put in no uncertain terms his intentions for any congressional interference in the negotiations underway with Iran now.
“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible,” he said. “But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.”
Only veto threat in the speech — and it’s an explicit one — is promise to veto Iran sanctions bill. Little chance of much else passing
— Michael D. Shear (@shearm) January 29, 2014
The U.S. ultimately stands for peace in the world, Obama said.
“My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do,” he said. “On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might – but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.”
The president closed tonight with a chorus that no member of Congress could resist, a standing ovation for a gravely wounded soldier, Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, a veteran of Afghanistan who was in the hall.
“My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy,” the anti-war president said. “Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.”
“But if we work together,” he said in a passionate closing to a speech running an hour and six minutes long, “if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach. ”