The United States is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and will take no options off the table to achieve that goal, U.S. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Obama said a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear dispute is still possible if Iran changes course and meets international obligations. He said Iran's 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."
While Obama could not engage in the same personal attacks that have characterized the Republican primaries debates, his words were unmistakably marked by the election-year. He began by reminding American citizens that he has fulfilled his elections promises, including bringing troops back from Iraq, and reminding them of one of the most symbolic accomplishments of his administration: killing al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.
"For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq," he said. "For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al-Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home."
He praised U.S. troops and compared their teamwork to the current condition of U.S. society.
"Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example," he said.
"Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded."
Iron-clad commitment to Israel
Israel was mentioned briefly in the speech. While speaking about U.S. leadership around the globe, Obama said U.S. ties with its oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are deeper and stronger than ever. "Our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history," he said.
"Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world, all of whom are eager to work with us."
Obama promised that, despite planned cuts in the military budget, his strategy would ensure the U.S. maintains the "finest military in the world."
Ultimately, Arab fate is in hands of the people
Speaking on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Egyptian uprising that led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak two weeks later, Obama also discussed the Arab Spring.
Regarding Syria, he said he has "no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change can’t be reversed, and that human dignity can’t be denied," but warned that it was still uncertain what the end of this "incredible transformation" will be.
"We have a huge stake in the outcome," admitted Obama, "And while it is ultimately up to the people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those values that have served our own country so well. 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. We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty."
The Republican candidates' sloganeering has referred to "restoring" America, "fighting for America" or calling to "Believe in America." Obama went for the same tone on Tuesday night.
"We can do this", he said. "I know we can, because we’ve done it before. At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known. My grandfather, a veteran of Patton’s Army, got the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. My grandmother, who worked on a bomber assembly line, was part of a workforce that turned out the best products on Earth."
Obama, whose speech was intercepted several times by lengthy standing ovations, spoke about American optimism and promise.
"The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important," he said.
"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them."
Rebuilding the economic house of cards
Obama reminded Americans of how the U.S. got into its current economic situation, when in 2008 "the house of cards collapsed."
"We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them. Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money. Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior. It was wrong." he said.
"It was irresponsible," he added, "And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag."
"In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect," he pointed out. Then, Obama - who has been accused by one of his rivals as being a "food stamp president" - said that "in the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s."
"Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like that never happens again."
Obama discussed how the U.S. auto industry was on the verge of collapse when he took office, but said that now, "General Motors is back on top as the world’s number one automaker. Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any other major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs."
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