Monday, March 14, 2011

There is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right.

BRUSSELS — NATO allies agreed Friday new rules under which they can withdraw their troops from Afghanistan as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates slammed "too much talk about leaving."
Alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the deal looking ahead to a 2014 deadline to pass control to Afghan security forces after Gates warned that early withdrawal would jeopardise the war effort just as the Taliban has lost the upper hand.
"Frankly, there is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right. Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about the fight," Gates said according to a text of his speech.
"Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy, and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave," he said.
"Ministers discussed and agreed principles by which we will (manage) transition," Rasmussen said after talks among the 28 NATO countries and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partners, not all of whom contribute soldiers.
He said that while the gradual "thinning out" of ISAF forces in particular provinces would accelerate, "redeployment and reinvestment ... remains a NATO responsibility."
Rasmussen said there had to be "coherence" so that "national decisions take into account overall force requirements."
That would mean "relocation" for some troops on active duty, although forces would remain in the line of fire "not a day longer" than needed, and "reconfiguration" for others, whereby "combat forces could be moved into training."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said earlier this week that "five to six places" would be handed over initially.
"The final decision will be made by President Karzai," Rasmussen said of the formal announcement due on March 21, the first day of the Afgahn New Year.
"I have seen a lot of speculation in the media but we fully respect the procedure laid out," Rasmussen added of areas that could include three cities -- Lashkar Gah, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif -- and two provinces, Bamiyan and Panshir, plus the capital region of Kabul minus Surobi.
According to a NATO European military official, early withdrawal plans by Canada and the Netherlands gave "a very poor signal" and Germany has already made known it is likely to follow next year.
There are currently around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan, around two-thirds of them from the United States.
Washington plans to start withdrawing some of its troops in July at the same time as Afghan forces begin to take over security.
Out of the roughly 140,000 troops in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, 97,000 are American, with the war costing the United States $10 billion a month.
"America is willing to shoulder the lion's share of the burden but we cannot do it alone," Gates said in his speech.
He acknowledged that the more than 40 countries in the coalition fighting the Taliban had suffered higher casualties in 2010 than in any other year since the war began in 2001.
"These are the tragic costs of success but we bear them because it is in our shared security interests to do so.
"Let me be clear -- uncoordinated national drawdowns would risk the gains made to date," Gates insisted, saying forces had "dealt a heavy blow to the Taliban insurgency" in the past year and pushed the insurgents "out of vital areas in the south and east."
Afghan national security force numbers have built up to current levels of 140,000 soldiers and 100,000 police, trained and armed by the NATO allies.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

North Korea threatens South Korea with nuclear war

At the opening of the meeting, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer said "the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with the Republic of Korea and with the Korean people in the face of recent North Korean provocations," referring to South Korea by its formal name.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

If we want Americans—and America itself—to succeed in the 21st century, we need to offer all of our young people the best education the world has to offer.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Iran has helped terrorists in Afghanistan

"Understandably, Israel is very concerned when the president of a country, a large country near them, states that they should be wiped off the face of the earth," Obama said, referring to comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Obama said Iran could play a constructive role in stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan and that the United States was willing to work with Tehran toward that goal. But also said, "Behind the scenes, we see evidence that occasionally, they have, actually, helped insurgents in ways that end up harming our troops (in Afghanistan)."

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks "offensive" and "hateful."

Mr. Obama also commented on Iran's nuclear program in the interview.  He told the BBC  there are a "host of options" available if Iran does not cooperate with nuclear regulators.

He also commented on Iran's apparent repression of opposition activists following last year's disputed presidential election.  Mr. Obama said the U.S. has no interest in "meddling in the rights of people to choose their own government."  But he said the U.S will speak out "forcefully" when it sees a government abusing and oppressing its own people.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We will call out those who suppress ideas, and serve as a voice for the voiceless

United Nations, Sep 23 (IANS) Hailing India for peacefully throwing off colonialism and establishing a 'thriving democracy' of over a billion people, US President Barack Obama has pledged to support free flow of information to promote democracy around the world.

'There is no right more fundamental than the ability to choose your leaders and determine your destiny,' he said at the opening of the UN General Assembly here Thursday but stressed democracy would not succeed because America dictates it.

'Make no mistake: the ultimate success of democracy in the world won't come because the United States dictates it; it will come because individual citizens demand a say in how they are governed,' the president said.

At the same time, he believed 'There is no soil where this notion cannot take root, just as every democracy reflects the uniqueness of a nation,' said Obama citing several examples including India, that he is set to visit in early November.

'Later this fall, I will travel to Asia. I will visit India, which peacefully threw off colonialism and established a thriving democracy of over a billion people,' he told the annual gathering of world leaders.

'I will continue to Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, which binds together thousands of islands through the glue of representative government and civil society.

'I will join the G-20 meetings on the Korean peninsula, which provides the world's clearest contrast between a society that is dynamic and open, and one that is imprisoned and closed,' he said.

'I will conclude my trip in Japan, an ancient culture that found peace and extraordinary development through democracy.'

'Each of these countries gives life to democratic principles in their own way,' said Obama describing civil society as 'the conscience of our communities'.

Vowing to always extend American 'engagement abroad with citizens beyond the halls of government', Obama said: 'We will call out those who suppress ideas, and serve as a voice for the voiceless,' said.

'We will promote new tools of communication, so people are empowered to connect with one another - and, in repressive societies, to do so with security,' he said.

The United States 'will support a free and open Internet, so individuals have the information to make up their own minds,' said Obama calling it a 'time to embrace - and effectively monitor - norms that advance the rights of civil society, and guarantee its expansion within and across borders.'

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Right education might one day allow us to overcome barriers, to let every child fulfill their God-given potential.

We also want to keep strengthening HBCUs, which is why we’re investing $850 million in these institutions over the next 10 years.  (Applause.)  And as I said in February, strengthening your institutions isn’t just a task for our advisory board or for the Department of Education; it’s a job for the entire federal government.  And I expect all agencies to support this mission. 
Now, none of this is going to be easy.  I know -- I’m sure you know that.  As leaders of these institutions, you are up against enormous challenges, especially during an economic crisis like the one that we are going through.  But we all have to try. We have to try.  We have to remain determined.  We have to persevere.
That's what the first founders of HBCUs did.  They knew that even if they succeeded, that inequality would persist for a very, very long time.  They knew that the barriers in our laws, the barriers in our hearts would not vanish overnight.  But they also recognized a larger and distinctly American truth, and that is that the right education might one day allow us to overcome barriers, to let every child fulfill their God-given potential.  They recognized, as Frederick Douglass once put it, that education means emancipation.  And they recognized that education is how America and its people might fulfill our promise.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.

Text of President Obama's Address on Iraq


 Good evening. Tonight, I’d like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home.

I know this historic moment comes at a time of great uncertainty for many Americans. We have now been through nearly a decade of war. We have endured a long and painful recession. And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we are trying to build for our nation – a future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity may seem beyond our reach.

But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment.  It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.

From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.

These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America’s longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst those shifting tides. At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As Commander-in-Chief, I am proud of their service. Like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.

The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people; trained Iraqi Security Forces; and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians –and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people – Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.

This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq’s Security Forces and support its government and people. That is what we have done. We have removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.  We have closed or transferred hundreds of bases to the Iraqis. And we have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.

This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security. U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq’s cities last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens. Even as Iraq continues to suffer terrorist attacks, security incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war began. And Iraqi forces have taken the fight to al Qaeda, removing much of its leadership in Iraqi-led operations.

This year also saw Iraq hold credible elections that drew a strong turnout. A caretaker administration is in place as Iraqis form a government based on the results of that election. Tonight, I encourage Iraq’s leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people. And when that government is in place, there should be no doubt: the Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States. Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.

Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians –diplomats, aid workers, and advisors –are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.

This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq–one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest– it is in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people –a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.

As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.

Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there. But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake. As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders –and hundreds of Al Qaeda's extremist allies–have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who–under the command of General David Petraeus –are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power –including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America’s example –to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes –a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time.

Today, old adversaries are at peace, and emerging democracies are potential partners. New markets for our goods stretch from Asia to the Americas. A new push for peace in the Middle East will begin here tomorrow. Billions of young people want to move beyond the shackles of poverty and conflict. As the leader of the free world, America will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred and destruction –we will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity for all people.

That effort must begin within our own borders. Throughout our history, America has been willing to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its link to our own liberty and security. But we have also understood that our nation’s strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class.

Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.

And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it is our turn. Now, it is our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for –the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.

Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs. This will be difficult. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as President.

Part of that responsibility is making sure that we honor our commitments to those who have served our country with such valor. As long as I am President, we will maintain the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. This is a sacred trust. That is why we have already made one of the largest increases in funding for veterans in decades. We are treating the signature wounds of today’s wars post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, while providing the health care and benefits that all of our veterans have earned. And we are funding a post-9/11 GI Bill that helps our veterans and their families pursue the dream of a college education. Just as the GI Bill helped those who fought World War II- including my grandfather- become the backbone of our middle class, so today’s servicemen and women must have the chance to apply their gifts to expand the American economy. Because part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it.

Two weeks ago, America’s final combat brigade in Iraq –the Army’s Fourth Stryker Brigade –journeyed home in the pre-dawn darkness. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles made the trip from Baghdad, the last of them passing into Kuwait in the early morning hours. Over seven years before, American troops and coalition partners had fought their way across similar highways, but this time no shots were fired. It was just a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.

Of course, the soldiers left much behind. Some were teenagers when the war began. Many have served multiple tours of duty, far from their families who bore a heroic burden of their own, enduring the absence of a husband’s embrace or a mother’s kiss. Most painfully, since the war began fifty-five members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice –part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq. As one staff sergeant said, “I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot.”
Those Americans gave their lives for the values that have lived in the hearts of our people for over two centuries. Along with nearly 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq, they fought in a faraway place for people they never knew. They stared into the darkest of human creations –war –and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.

In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation. Every American who serves joins an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar – Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own. Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.

Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America, and all who serve her.


Monday, August 16, 2010

We will defeat terrorism on the strength of our values

Last night, President Obama continued the White House tradition of hosting an Iftar - the meal that breaks the day of fasting - celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room.  During his remarks at the Iftar dinner, President Obama reflected on the importance of religious freedom as one of the founding principles of our Nation: 
Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion.  In the Virginia Act of Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”  The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land.  And that right has been upheld ever since.
Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose -– including the right to believe in no religion at all.  And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious -– a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere around the globe.
Now, that's not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly New York.  Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan.  The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country.  And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable.  So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders.  And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.
But let me be clear.  As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.  (Applause.)  And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.  This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -– from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for.  Our enemies respect no religious freedom.  Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam.  These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children.  In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -– and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
So that's who we’re fighting against.  And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms -– it is the strength of our values.  The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish.  The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status.  Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us –- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.
 The President also reflected on the many contributions Muslim Americans have made to our country:
Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here.  They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories.  They helped lay the railroads.  They helped to build America.  They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s.  They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota.  And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America —- still in use today —- is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans.  They excel in every walk of life.  Muslim American communities —- including mosques in all 50 states —- also serve their neighbors.  Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders.  Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it.  And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery. 
These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend on, and the freedoms that we cherish.  They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected -– our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability slowly but surely to perfect our union.