Delivering his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of the challenges and opportunities facing his country and the world.
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Obama spoke of issues such as the American economy, labor market and healthcare, and then moved on to discuss the U.S.' standing in the international arena. Israel, however, did not make the cut and was absent from his speech.
Obama stressed that the United States must take a leading role in the fight against terror. "The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period," he said. "When it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead—they call us."
"The international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality. It’s up to us to help remake that system. And that means we have to set priorities.
"Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks," he said to a lengthy round of applause. "Both Al-Qaida and now ISIL [ISIS] pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage."
Obama refuted claims that the fight against Islamic State is leading a third world war. "They do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit," he said.
"We just need to call them what they are –killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. That’s exactly what we are doing. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology," he said.
"With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria," he added.
"If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote," Obama said.
"But the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment—or mine—to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.
"When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit," he said, receiving a standing ovation.
However, Obama spoke out against American military involvement in any international conflict. "We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq—and we should have learned it by now."
"Fortunately, there’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power. It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight," he said.
"That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war."
Speaking of the United States' strategy in handling world crises, Obama said that "American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world—except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling."
"Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right. It means seeing our foreign assistance as part of our national security, not charity," he stressed.
The president then returned to American domestic issues, and spoke of the atmosphere of mistrust in the political arena.
In an apparent dig at remarks made by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, Obama noted that "When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country."
"Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest," he said. "Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency—that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better."
"So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day," Obama said.