Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 2112: President Obama Signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012 Into Law!
Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 2112
On Friday, November 18, 2011, the President signed into law:
H.R. 2112, the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012,” provides FY 2012 full-year appropriations through September 30, 2012, for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services’, Food and Drug Administration, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Transportation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and other small agencies. In addition, it provides for continuing FY 2012 appropriations through December 16, 2011, for the remaining projects and activities of the Federal Government.
WEEKLY ADDRESS: Remarks Of President Barack Obama: Honoring our Veterans for their Service and Sacrifice
WEEKLY ADDRESS: Honoring our Veterans for their Service and Sacrifice
WASHINGTON—In this week’s address, President Obama spoke from the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego during Veterans Day, and he called on all Americans to rededicate themselves to serving our brave men and women in uniform as well as they have served us. Today, there are more than 850,000 veterans unemployed, which is why the President issued a challenge to private companies to hire or train more than 100,000 post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by 2013, and he was pleased to see the Senate pass proposals in his American Jobs Act on Thursday to give businesses tax credits for hiring veterans. President Obama told veterans that just as they have fought for us, he will continue to fight for jobs and opportunities for them, and that the United States will always honor their service and sacrifice.
The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, November 12, 2011.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
San Diego, California
Saturday, November 12, 2011
I’m speaking to you from the bridge of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. This is one of the biggest ships in the Navy, and on Friday it was home to one of the most unique college basketball games I’ve ever seen. It also gave members of our military and our veterans a chance to unwind a little bit, and on this Veterans Day, I want to take this opportunity to thank all our men and women in uniform for their service and their sacrifice.
But this day isn’t just about thanking our veterans. It’s about rededicating ourselves to serving our veterans as well as they’ve served us. And right now, that’s more important than ever.
Last month, I announced that, as promised, we will end the war in Iraq by the end of the year. Many of our military families will be welcoming loved ones home for the holidays. At the same time, we’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan. And in the next five years, over a million servicemembers will transition back into civilian life – joining the 3 million who have already done so over the last decade.
These are men and women who have served with distinction in some of the most dangerous places on the planet. But for many of them, the challenges don’t end when they take off the uniform. Today, more than 850,000 veterans remain unemployed. And too many are struggling to find a job worthy of their talents and experience.
That’s not right. We ask these men and women to leave their families and their jobs and risk their lives to fight for our country. The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they get home.
To give our veterans the opportunities they’ve earned, I’ve directed the federal government to lead by example – and already, we’ve hired 120,000 veterans. We’ve also challenged private companies to hire or train 100,000 post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. So far, many patriotic companies have answered the call, hiring more than 16,000 Americans. And yesterday, thanks to the hard work of Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden, companies announced their commitment to train or hire 125,000 more over the next two years.
But we need to do more. That’s why, as part of the American Jobs Act, I called on Congress to pass a Returning Heroes Tax Credit, which would give businesses a tax break for each unemployed veteran they hire; and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit, which would give businesses a tax break for hiring an unemployed veteran with a disability related to their service in uniform.
These proposals will go a long way towards putting our veterans back to work. And on Thursday, I was pleased to see the Senate put partisanship aside and come together to pass these tax credits. After all, standing up for our veterans isn’t a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility – it’s an American responsibility. It’s one that all of us have an obligation to meet. And the House should pass this bill as soon as possible so I can sign it into law.
As Commander-in-Chief, I want every veteran to know that America will always honor your service and your sacrifice – not just today, but every day. And just as you fought for us, we’re going to keep fighting for you – for more jobs, for more security, for the opportunity to keep your families strong and America competitive in the 21st century.
So to all our veterans – thank you for your service. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT THE MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. MEMORIAL DEDICATION
The National Mall
11:51 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Please be seated.
An earthquake and a hurricane may have delayed this day, but this is a day that would not be denied.
For this day, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s return to the National Mall. In this place, he will stand for all time, among monuments to those who fathered this nation and those who defended it; a black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals, a man who stirred our conscience and thereby helped make our union more perfect.
And Dr. King would be the first to remind us that this memorial is not for him alone. The movement of which he was a part depended on an entire generation of leaders. Many are here today, and for their service and their sacrifice, we owe them our everlasting gratitude. This is a monument to your collective achievement. (Applause.)
Some giants of the civil rights movement –- like Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height, Benjamin Hooks, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth –- they’ve been taken from us these past few years. This monument attests to their strength and their courage, and while we miss them dearly, we know they rest in a better place.
And finally, there are the multitudes of men and women whose names never appear in the history books –- those who marched and those who sang, those who sat in and those who stood firm, those who organized and those who mobilized –- all those men and women who through countless acts of quiet heroism helped bring about changes few thought were even possible. “By the thousands,” said Dr. King, “faceless, anonymous, relentless young people, black and white…have taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” To those men and women, to those foot soldiers for justice, know that this monument is yours, as well.
Nearly half a century has passed since that historic March on Washington, a day when thousands upon thousands gathered for jobs and for freedom. That is what our schoolchildren remember best when they think of Dr. King -– his booming voice across this Mall, calling on America to make freedom a reality for all of God’s children, prophesizing of a day when the jangling discord of our nation would be transformed into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
It is right that we honor that march, that we lift up Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech –- for without that shining moment, without Dr. King’s glorious words, we might not have had the courage to come as far as we have. Because of that hopeful vision, because of Dr. King’s moral imagination, barricades began to fall and bigotry began to fade. New doors of opportunity swung open for an entire generation. Yes, laws changed, but hearts and minds changed, as well.
Look at the faces here around you, and you see an America that is more fair and more free and more just than the one Dr. King addressed that day. We are right to savor that slow but certain progress -– progress that’s expressed itself in a million ways, large and small, across this nation every single day, as people of all colors and creeds live together, and work together, and fight alongside one another, and learn together, and build together, and love one another.
So it is right for us to celebrate today Dr. King’s dream and his vision of unity. And yet it is also important on this day to remind ourselves that such progress did not come easily; that Dr. King’s faith was hard-won; that it sprung out of a harsh reality and some bitter disappointments.
It is right for us to celebrate Dr. King’s marvelous oratory, but it is worth remembering that progress did not come from words alone. Progress was hard. Progress was purchased through enduring the smack of billy clubs and the blast of fire hoses. It was bought with days in jail cells and nights of bomb threats. For every victory during the height of the civil rights movement, there were setbacks and there were defeats.
We forget now, but during his life, Dr. King wasn’t always considered a unifying figure. Even after rising to prominence, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was vilified by many, denounced as a rabble rouser and an agitator, a communist and a radical. He was even attacked by his own people, by those who felt he was going too fast or those who felt he was going too slow; by those who felt he shouldn’t meddle in issues like the Vietnam War or the rights of union workers. We know from his own testimony the doubts and the pain this caused him, and that the controversy that would swirl around his actions would last until the fateful day he died.
I raise all this because nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our work, Dr. King’s work, is not yet complete. We gather here at a moment of great challenge and great change. In the first decade of this new century, we have been tested by war and by tragedy; by an economic crisis and its aftermath that has left millions out of work, and poverty on the rise, and millions more just struggling to get by. Indeed, even before this crisis struck, we had endured a decade of rising inequality and stagnant wages. In too many troubled neighborhoods across the country, the conditions of our poorest citizens appear little changed from what existed 50 years ago -– neighborhoods with underfunded schools and broken-down slums, inadequate health care, constant violence, neighborhoods in which too many young people grow up with little hope and few prospects for the future.
Our work is not done. And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles. First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination. It took a full decade before the moral guidance of Brown v. Board of Education was translated into the enforcement measures of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but those 10 long years did not lead Dr. King to give up. He kept on pushing, he kept on speaking, he kept on marching until change finally came. (Applause.)
And then when, even after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed, African Americans still found themselves trapped in pockets of poverty across the country, Dr. King didn’t say those laws were a failure; he didn’t say this is too hard; he didn’t say, let’s settle for what we got and go home. Instead he said, let’s take those victories and broaden our mission to achieve not just civil and political equality but also economic justice; let’s fight for a living wage and better schools and jobs for all who are willing to work. In other words, when met with hardship, when confronting disappointment, Dr. King refused to accept what he called the “isness” of today. He kept pushing towards the “oughtness” of tomorrow.
And so, as we think about all the work that we must do –- rebuilding an economy that can compete on a global stage, and fixing our schools so that every child — not just some, but every child — gets a world-class education, and making sure that our health care system is affordable and accessible to all, and that our economic system is one in which everybody gets a fair shake and everybody does their fair share, let us not be trapped by what is. (Applause.) We can’t be discouraged by what is. We’ve got to keep pushing for what ought to be, the America we ought to leave to our children, mindful that the hardships we face are nothing compared to those Dr. King and his fellow marchers faced 50 years ago, and that if we maintain our faith, in ourselves and in the possibilities of this nation, there is no challenge we cannot surmount.
And just as we draw strength from Dr. King’s struggles, so must we draw inspiration from his constant insistence on the oneness of man; the belief in his words that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” It was that insistence, rooted in his Christian faith, that led him to tell a group of angry young protesters, “I love you as I love my own children,” even as one threw a rock that glanced off his neck.
It was that insistence, that belief that God resides in each of us, from the high to the low, in the oppressor and the oppressed, that convinced him that people and systems could change. It fortified his belief in non-violence. It permitted him to place his faith in a government that had fallen short of its ideals. It led him to see his charge not only as freeing black America from the shackles of discrimination, but also freeing many Americans from their own prejudices, and freeing Americans of every color from the depredations of poverty.
And so at this moment, when our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of Dr. King’s teachings. He calls on us to stand in the other person’s shoes; to see through their eyes; to understand their pain. He tells us that we have a duty to fight against poverty, even if we are well off; to care about the child in the decrepit school even if our own children are doing fine; to show compassion toward the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of us are only a few generations removed from similar hardships. (Applause.)
To say that we are bound together as one people, and must constantly strive to see ourselves in one another, is not to argue for a false unity that papers over our differences and ratifies an unjust status quo. As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as “divisive.” They’ll say any challenge to the existing arrangements are unwise and destabilizing. Dr. King understood that peace without justice was no peace at all; that aligning our reality with our ideals often requires the speaking of uncomfortable truths and the creative tension of non-violent protest.
But he also understood that to bring about true and lasting change, there must be the possibility of reconciliation; that any social movement has to channel this tension through the spirit of love and mutuality.
If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain. He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country — (applause) — with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.
In the end, that’s what I hope my daughters take away from this monument. I want them to come away from here with a faith in what they can accomplish when they are determined and working for a righteous cause. I want them to come away from here with a faith in other people and a faith in a benevolent God. This sculpture, massive and iconic as it is, will remind them of Dr. King’s strength, but to see him only as larger than life would do a disservice to what he taught us about ourselves. He would want them to know that he had setbacks, because they will have setbacks. He would want them to know that he had doubts, because they will have doubts. He would want them to know that he was flawed, because all of us have flaws.
It is precisely because Dr. King was a man of flesh and blood and not a figure of stone that he inspires us so. His life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don’t give up. He would not give up, no matter how long it took, because in the smallest hamlets and the darkest slums, he had witnessed the highest reaches of the human spirit; because in those moments when the struggle seemed most hopeless, he had seen men and women and children conquer their fear; because he had seen hills and mountains made low and rough places made plain, and the crooked places made straight and God make a way out of no way.
And that is why we honor this man –- because he had faith in us. And that is why he belongs on this Mall -– because he saw what we might become. That is why Dr. King was so quintessentially American — because for all the hardships we’ve endured, for all our sometimes tragic history, ours is a story of optimism and achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this Earth. And that is why the rest of the world still looks to us to lead. This is a country where ordinary people find in their hearts the courage to do extraordinary things; the courage to stand up in the face of the fiercest resistance and despair and say this is wrong, and this is right; we will not settle for what the cynics tell us we have to accept and we will reach again and again, no matter the odds, for what we know is possible.
That is the conviction we must carry now in our hearts. (Applause.) As tough as times may be, I know we will overcome. I know there are better days ahead. I know this because of the man towering over us. I know this because all he and his generation endured — we are here today in a country that dedicated a monument to that legacy.
And so with our eyes on the horizon and our faith squarely placed in one another, let us keep striving; let us keep struggling; let us keep climbing toward that promised land of a nation and a world that is more fair, and more just, and more equal for every single child of God.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
Statement by the President on Zambia’s Elections
On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the people of Zambia on the historic September 20 presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, and I commend you for building on your commitment to multiparty democracy. Zambia’s Electoral Commission, political leaders, civil society, and above all its citizens all contributed to this important accomplishment. The United States looks forward to working with President Michael Sata, members of parliament, and representatives of all of Zambia’s political parties to build on the long-standing partnership between our two nations. I also acknowledge former President Rupiah Banda’s contributions to Zambia’s democratic development, including his three years of distinguished leadership and his admirable acceptance of the will of the Zambian people. The hard work of a living democracy does not end when the votes are tallied and the winners announced; instead it offers the chance to reconcile and to advance greater security and prosperity for its people. Today is a day for Zambia to celebrate their democratic achievement. I hope that all Zambians will find common ground as you address the challenges and seize the opportunities facing your country and our world.
Remarks of President Barack Obama in an
Address to a Joint Session of Congress
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and fellow Americans:
Tonight we meet at an urgent time for our country. We continue to face an economic crisis that has left millions of our neighbors jobless, and a political crisis that has made things worse.
This past week, reporters have been asking “What will this speech mean for the President? What will it mean for Congress? How will it affect their polls, and the next election?”
But the millions of Americans who are watching right now: they don’t care about politics. They have real life concerns. Many have spent months looking for work. Others are doing their best just to scrape by – giving up nights out with the family to save on gas or make the mortgage; postponing retirement to send a kid to college.
These men and women grew up with faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off. They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share – where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits; maybe a raise once in awhile. If you did the right thing, you could make it in America.
But for decades now, Americans have watched that compact erode. They have seen the deck too often stacked against them. And they know that Washington hasn’t always put their interests first.
The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meetours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.
Those of us here tonight can’t solve all of our nation’s woes. Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers. But we can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people’s lives.
I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything.
The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away.
Everyone here knows that small businesses are where most new jobs begin. And you know that while corporate profits have come roaring back, smaller companies haven’t. So for everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for “job creators,” this plan is for you.
Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers’ wages. Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year. If you have 50 employees making an average salary, that’s an $80,000 tax cut. And all businesses will be able to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012.
It’s not just Democrats who have supported this kind of proposal. Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that’s in this plan. You should pass it right away.
Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America. Everyone here knows that we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over this country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world.
This is inexcusable. Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?
There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work. There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. A public transit project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of traffic in the country. And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school – and we can give it to them, if we act now.
The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows; installing science labs and high-speed internet in classrooms all across this country. It will rehabilitate homes and businesses in communities hit hardest by foreclosures. It will jumpstart thousands of transportation projects across the country. And to make sure the money is properly spent and for good purposes, we’re building on reforms we’ve already put in place. No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere. We’re cutting the red tape that prevents some of these projects from getting started as quickly as possible. And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the economy.
This idea came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat. The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by America’s largest business organization and America’s largest labor organization. It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike. You should pass it right away.
Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work. These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher. But while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves. It’s unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours. And it has to stop. Pass this jobs bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong.
Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get extra tax credits if they hire America’s veterans. We ask these men and women to leave their careers, leave their families, and risk their lives to fight for our country. The lastthing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home.
Pass this bill, and hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged young people will have the hope and dignity of a summer job next year. And their parents, low-income Americans who desperately want to work, will have more ladders out of poverty.
Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than six months looking for a job. We have to do more to help the long-term unemployed in their search for work. This jobs plan builds on a program in Georgia that several Republican leaders have highlighted, where people who collect unemployment insurance participate in temporary work as a way to build their skills while they look for a permanent job. The plan also extends unemployment insurance for another year. If the millions of unemployed Americans stopped getting this insurance, and stopped using that money for basic necessities, it would be a devastating blow to this economy. Democrats and Republicans in this Chamber have supported unemployment insurance plenty of times in the past. At this time of prolonged hardship, you should pass it again – right away.
Pass this jobs bill, and the typical working family will get a fifteen hundred dollar tax cut next year. Fifteen hundred dollars that would have been taken out of your paycheck will go right into your pocket. This expands on the tax cut that Democrats and Republicans already passed for this year. If we allow that tax cut to expire – if we refuse to act – middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time. We cannot let that happen. I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.
This is the American Jobs Act. It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, teachers, veterans, first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed. It will provide tax credits to companies that hire new workers, tax relief for small business owners, and tax cuts for the middle-class. And here’s the other thing I want the American people to know: the American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for. And here’s how:
The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I’m asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan – a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.
This approach is basically the one I’ve been advocating for months. In addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts I’ve already signed into law, it’s a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts; by making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid; and by reforming our tax code in a way that asks the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share. What’s more, the spending cuts wouldn’t happen so abruptly that they’d be a drag on our economy, or prevent us from helping small business and middle-class families get back on their feet right away.
Now, I realize there are some in my party who don’t think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid, and I understand their concerns. But here’s the truth. Millions of Americans rely on Medicare in their retirement. And millions more will do so in the future. They pay for this benefit during their working years. They earn it. But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. And if we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it.
I’m also well aware that there are many Republicans who don’t believe we should raise taxes on those who are most fortunate and can best afford it. But here is what every American knows. While most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets. Right now, Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary – an outrage he has asked us to fix. We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake, and everybody pays their fair share. And I believe the vast majority of wealthy Americans and CEOs are willing to do just that, if it helps the economy grow and gets our fiscal house in order.
I’ll also offer ideas to reform a corporate tax code that stands as a monument to special interest influence in Washington. By eliminating pages of loopholes and deductions, we can lower one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Our tax code shouldn’t give an advantage to companies that can afford the best-connected lobbyists. It should give an advantage to companies that invest and create jobs here in America.
So we can reduce this deficit, pay down our debt, and pay for this jobs plan in the process. But in order to do this, we have to decide what our priorities are. We have to ask ourselves, “What’s the best way to grow the economy and create jobs?”
Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can’t afford to do both.
This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math. These are real choices that we have to make. And I’m pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It’s not even close. And it’s time for us to do what’s right for our future.
The American Jobs Act answers the urgent need to create jobs right away. But we can’t stop there. As I’ve argued since I ran for this office, we have to look beyond the immediate crisis and start building an economy that lasts into the future – an economy that creates good, middle-class jobs that pay well and offer security. We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere. If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build, out-educate, and out-innovate every other country on Earth.
This task, of making America more competitive for the long haul, is a job for all of us. For government and for private companies. For states and for local communities – and for every American citizen. All of us will have to up our game. All of us will have to change the way we do business.
My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own. For example, if you’re a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we’re going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do now. We’re also planning to cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly-growing start-up companies from raising capital and going public. And to help responsible homeowners, we’re going to work with Federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4% — a step that can put more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocket, and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices.
Other steps will require Congressional action. Today you passed reform that will speed up the outdated patent process, so that entrepreneurs can turn a new idea into a new business as quickly as possible. That’s the kind of action we need. Now it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea – while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition. If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers. I want to see more products sold around the world stamped with three proud words: “Made in America.”
And on all of our efforts to strengthen competitiveness, we need to look for ways to work side-by-side with America’s businesses. That’s why I’ve brought together a Jobs Council of leaders from different industries who are developing a wide range of new ideas to help companies grow and create jobs.
Already, we’ve mobilized business leaders to train 10,000 American engineers a year, by providing company internships and training. Other businesses are covering tuition for workers who learn new skills at community colleges. And we’re going to make sure the next generation of manufacturing takes root not in China or Europe, but right here, in the United States of America. If we provide the right incentives and support – and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules – we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that are sold all over the world. That’s how America can be number one again. That’s how America will be number one again.
Now, I realize that some of you have a different theory on how to grow the economy. Some of you sincerely believe that the only solution to our economic challenges is to simply cut most government spending and eliminate most government regulations.
Well, I agree that we can’t afford wasteful spending, and I will continue to work with Congress to get rid of it. And I agree that there are some rules and regulations that put an unnecessary burden on businesses at a time when they can least afford it. That’s why I ordered a review of all government regulations. So far, we’ve identified over 500 reforms, which will save billions of dollars over the next few years. We should have no more regulation than the health, safety, and security of the American people require. Every rule should meet that common sense test.
But what we can’t do – what I won’t do – is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that’s a race we can win.
In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own – that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.
Yes, we are rugged individualists. Yes, we are strong and self-reliant. And it has been the drive and initiative of our workers and entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and envy of the world.
But there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.
We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. But in the middle of a Civil War, he was also a leader who looked to the future – a Republican president who mobilized government to build the transcontinental railroad; launch the National Academy of Sciences; and set up the first land grant colleges. And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set.
Ask yourselves – where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways and our bridges; our dams and our airports? What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges? Millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, had the opportunity to go to school because of the GI Bill. Where would we be if they hadn’t had that chance?
How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? What kind of country would this be if this Chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? How many Americans would have suffered as a result?
No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. Members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities.
Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight is the kind that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past. Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight will be paid for. And every proposal is designed to meet the urgent needs of our people and our communities.
I know there’s been a lot of skepticism about whether the politics of the moment will allow us to pass this jobs plan – or any jobs plan. Already, we’re seeing the same old press releases and tweets flying back and forth. Already, the media has proclaimed that it’s impossible to bridge our differences. And maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box.
But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here – the people who hired us to work for them – they don’t have the luxury of waiting fourteen months. Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.
I don’t pretend that this plan will solve all our problems. It shouldn’t be, nor will it be, the last plan of action we propose. What’s guided us from the start of this crisis hasn’t been the search for a silver bullet. It’s been a commitment to stay at it – to be persistent – to keep trying every new idea that works, and listen to every good proposal, no matter which party comes up with it.
Regardless of the arguments we’ve had in the past, regardless of the arguments we’ll have in the future, this plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country. I also ask every American who agrees to lift your voice and tell the people who are gathered here tonight that you want action now. Tell Washington that doing nothing is not an option. Remind us that if we act as one nation, and one people, we have it within our power to meet this challenge.
President Kennedy once said, “Our problems are man-made – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.”
These are difficult years for our country. But we are Americans. We are tougher than the times that we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let’s meet the moment. Let’s get to work, and show the world once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Readout of the President’s Meeting with Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League, and Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP
Readout of the President’s Meeting with Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League, and Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP
This afternoon, President Obama met with civil rights leaders Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, and Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, in the Oval Office. During their meeting, the President discussed the continued efforts his administration is making to spur job creation and economic growth, and reiterated the urgency of moving forward on a balanced approach to deficit reduction to avoid defaulting on our obligations.
The President stressed that such an agreement must involve shared sacrifice and reaffirmed that we cannot afford to balance the budget on the back of the most vulnerable Americans including the middle class, low-income families, seniors, and students.
The President also reiterated that reducing unemployment, which disproportionately burdens the African-American community at 16.2%, remains a top priority for him and his Administration.
The President also spoke with the two civil rights leaders about dramatic efforts his Administration has already made to address urban economic development through initiatives such as Strong Cities, Strong Communities, a program that acts to spur economic growth in urban centers while ensuring taxpayer dollars are used wisely and efficiently; the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions fund; and the Minority Business Development Agency at the Department of Commerce.
The President has worked tirelessly since entering office to bring economic relief and equal opportunity to all Americans, and he looks forward to a continued partnership with civil rights organizations like the National Urban League and the NAACP.
The President also congratulated the leaders on their upcoming conventions.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 6:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. I wanted to give you an update on the current situation around the debt ceiling. I just got a call about a half hour ago from Speaker Boehner who indicated that he was going to be walking away from the negotiations that we’ve been engaged in here at the White House for a big deficit reduction and debt reduction package. And I thought it would be useful for me to just give you some insight into where we were and why I think that we should have moved forward with a big deal. Essentially what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense.
We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. We believed that it was possible to shape those in a way that preserved the integrity of the system, made them available for the next generation, and did not affect current beneficiaries in an adverse way.
In addition, what we sought was revenues that were actually less than what the Gang of Six signed off on. So you had a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans who are in leadership in the Senate, calling for what effectively was about $2 trillion above the Republican baseline that they’ve been working off of. What we said was give us $1.2 trillion in additional revenues, which could be accomplished without hiking taxes — tax rates, but could simply be accomplished by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process that could have lowered rates generally while broadening the base.
So let me reiterate what we were offering. We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed. And we were calling for modifications to entitlement programs, would have saved just as much over the 10-year window.
In other words, this was an extraordinarily fair deal. If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue. But in the interest of being serious about deficit reduction, I was willing to take a lot of heat from my party — and I spoke to Democratic leaders yesterday, and although they didn’t sign off on a plan, they were willing to engage in serious negotiations, despite a lot of heat from a lot of interest groups around the country, in order to make sure that we actually dealt with this problem.
It is hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal. And, frankly, if you look at commentary out there, there are a lot of Republicans that are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done. In fact, there are a lot of Republican voters out there who are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done. Because the fact of the matter is the vast majority of the American people believe we should have a balanced approach.
Now, if you do not have any revenues, as the most recent Republican plan that’s been put forward both in the House and the Senate proposed, if you have no revenues at all, what that means is more of a burden on seniors, more drastic cuts to education, more drastic cuts to research, a bigger burden on services that are going to middle-class families all across the country. And it essentially asks nothing of corporate jet owners, it asks nothing of oil and gas companies, it asks nothing from folks like me who’ve done extremely well and can afford to do a little bit more.
In other words, if you don’t have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families. And the majority of Americans don’t agree on that approach. So here’s what we’re going to do. We have now run out of time. I told Speaker Boehner, I’ve told Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, I’ve told Harry Reid, and I’ve told Mitch McConnell I want them here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. We have run out of time. And they are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default. And they can come up with any plans that they want and bring them up here and we will work on them.
The only bottom line that I have is that we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election, into 2013. And the reason for it is we’ve now seen how difficult it is to get any kind of deal done. The economy is already weakened. And the notion that five or six or eight months from now we’ll be in a better position to try to solve this problem makes no sense. In addition, if we can’t come up with a serious plan for actual deficit and debt reduction, and all we’re doing is extending the debt ceiling for another six, seven, eight months, then the probabilities of downgrading U.S. credit are increased, and that will be an additional cloud over the economy and make it more difficult for us and more difficult for businesses to create jobs that the American people so desperately need.
So they will come down here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. I expect them to have an answer in terms of how they intend to get this thing done over the course of the next week. The American people expect action. I continue to believe that a package that is balanced and actually has serious debt and deficit reduction is the right way to go. And the American people I think are fed up with political posturing and an inability for politicians to take responsible action as opposed to dodge their responsibilities.
With that, I’m going to take some questions. Ben.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said you want the leaders back here at 11:00 a.m. to give you an answer about the path forward. What is your answer about the path forward? What path do you prefer, given what’s just happened? And also, sir, quickly, what does this say about your relationship with Speaker Boehner?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, with respect to my relationship with Speaker Boehner, we’ve always had a cordial relationship. We had very intense negotiations — I’m going to have my team brief you exactly on how these negotiations proceeded. Up until sometime early today when I couldn’t get a phone call returned, my expectation was that Speaker Boehner was going to be willing to go to his caucus and ask them to do the tough thing but the right thing. I think it has proven difficult for Speaker Boehner to do that. I’ve been left at the altar now a couple of times. And I think that one of the questions that the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is can they say yes to anything? Can they say yes to anything? I mean, keep in mind it’s the Republican Party that has said that the single most important thing facing our country is deficits and debts. We’ve now put forward a package that would significantly cut deficits and debt. It would be the biggest debt reduction package that we’ve seen in a very long time. And it’s accomplished without raising individual tax rates. It’s accomplished in a way that’s compatible with the “no tax” pledge that a whole bunch of these folks signed on to — because we were mindful that they had boxed themselves in and we tried to find a way for them to generate revenues in a way that did not put them in a bad spot. And so the question is, what can you say yes to? Now, if their only answer is what they’ve presented, which is a package that would effectively require massive cuts to Social Security, to Medicare, to domestic spending, with no revenues whatsoever, not asking anything from the wealthiest in this country or corporations that have been making record profits — if that’s their only answer, then it’s going to be pretty difficult for us to figure out where to go. Because the fact of the matter is that’s what the American people are looking for, is some compromise, some willingness to put partisanship aside, some willingness to ignore talk radio or ignore activists in our respective bases, and do the right thing. And to their credit, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the Democratic leadership, they sure did not like the plan that we are proposing to Boehner, but they were at least willing to engage in a conversation because they understood how important it is for us to actually solve this problem. And so far I have not seen the capacity of the House Republicans in particular to make those tough decisions. And so then the question becomes, where’s the leadership? Or, alternatively, how serious are you actually about debt and deficit reduction? Or do you simply want it as a campaign ploy going into the next election? Now, in terms of where we go next, here’s the one thing that we’ve got to do. At minimum, we’ve got to increase the debt ceiling. At minimum. I think we need to do more than that. But as I’ve said before, Republican Leader McConnell in the Senate put forward a plan that said he’s going to go ahead and give me the responsibility to raise the debt ceiling. That way folks in Congress can vote against it, but at least it gets done. I’m willing to take the responsibility. That’s my job. So if they want to give me the responsibility to do it, I’m happy to do it. But what we’re not going to do is to continue to play games and string this along for another eight, nine months, and then have to go through this whole exercise all over again. That we’re not going to do. Jessica Yellin.
Q Standing here tonight, Mr. President, can you assure the American people that they will get their Social Security checks on August 3rd? And if not, who’s to blame?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, when it comes to all the checks, not just Social Security — veterans, people with disabilities — about 70 million checks are sent out each month — if we default then we’re going to have to make adjustments. And I’m already consulting with Secretary Geithner in terms of what the consequences would be. We should not even be in that kind of scenario. And if Congress — and in particular, the House Republicans — are not willing to make sure that we avoid default, then I think it’s fair to say that they would have to take responsibility for whatever problems arise in those payments. Because, let me repeat, I’m not interested in finger-pointing and I’m not interested in blame, but I just want the facts to speak for themselves. We have put forward a plan that is more generous to Republican concerns than a bipartisan plan that was supported by a number of Republican senators, including at least one that is in Republican leadership in the Senate. Now, I’ll leave it up to the American people to make a determination as to how fair that is. And if the leadership cannot come to an agreement in terms of how we move forward, then I think they will hold all of us accountable. But that shouldn’t even be an option. That should not be an option. I’m getting letters from people who write me and say, at the end of every month I have to skip meals. Senior citizens on Social Security who are just hanging on by a thread. Folks who have severe disabilities who are desperate every single month to try to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet. But it’s not just those folks. You’ve got business contractors who are providing services to the federal government, who have to wonder are they going to be able to get paid and what does that do in terms of their payrolls. You’ve got just a huge number of people who, in one way or another, interact with the federal government. And even if you don’t, even if you’re not a recipient of Social Security, even if you don’t get veterans’ benefits or disabilities, imagine what that does to the economy when suddenly 70 million checks are put at risk. I mean, if you’re a business out there, that is not going to be good for economic growth. And that’s the number one concern of the American people. So we’ve got to get it done. It is not an option not to do it.
Q And your degree of confidence?
THE PRESIDENT: I am confident simply because I cannot believe that Congress would end up being that irresponsible that they would not send a package that avoids a self-inflicted wound to the economy at a time when things are so difficult. Scott Horsley.
Q Mr. President, can you explain why you were offering a deal that was more generous than the Gang of Six, which you seemed to be embracing on Tuesday when you were here?
THE PRESIDENT: Because what had become apparent was that Speaker Boehner had some difficulty in his caucus. There are a group of his caucus that actually think default would be okay and have said that they would not vote for increasing the debt ceiling under any circumstances. And so I understand how they get themselves stirred up and the sharp ideological lines that they’ve drawn. And ultimately, my responsibility is to make sure that we avoid extraordinary difficulties to American people and American businesses. And so, unfortunately, when you’re in these negotiations you don’t get 100 percent of what you want. You may not even get 60 or 70 percent of what you want. But I was willing to try to persuade Democratic leadership as well as Democratic members of Congress that even a deal that is not as balanced as I think it should be is better than no deal at all. And I was willing to persuade Democrats that getting a handle on debt and deficit reduction is important to Democrats just as much as it’s important to Republicans — and, frankly, a lot of Democrats are persuaded by that. As I said in the last press conference, if you’re a progressive you should want to get our fiscal house in order, because once we do, it allows us to then have a serious conversation about the investments that we need to make — like infrastructure, like rebuilding our roads and our bridges and airports, like investing more in college education, like making sure that we’re focused on the kinds of research and technology that’s going to help us win the future. It’s a lot easier to do that when we’ve got our fiscal house in order. And that was an argument that I was willing to go out and make to a lot of skeptical Democrats, as you saw yesterday. But ultimately, that’s what we should expect from our leaders. If this was easy it would have already been done. And I think what a lot of the American people are so disappointed by is this sense that all the talk about responsibility, all the talk about the next generation, all the talk about making sacrifices, that when it comes to actually doing something difficult folks walk away. Last point I’ll make here. I mean, I’ve gone out of my way to say that both parties have to make compromises. I think this whole episode has indicated the degree to which at least a Democratic President has been willing to make some tough compromises. So when you guys go out there and write your stories, this is not a situation where somehow this was the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans. A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically. So we’ve shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue that Republicans ran on. Norah.
Q Mr. President, there seems to be an extraordinary breakdown of trust involved here. And I wonder if you could address what we’re hearing from Republicans, which is that there was a framework and a deal that was agreed with your chief of staff, with the Treasury Secretary, about a certain number of revenues, that the Republicans had agreed to that. And then after you brought that to your party and the discussion of that, the goal line was moved. Is this an example of where the goal line has moved and that that’s what has led to this breakdown in trust?
THE PRESIDENT: Norah, what I’ll do is we’ll do a tick-tock, we’ll go through all the paper. We’ll walk you through this process. What this came down to was that there doesn’t seem to be a capacity for them to say yes. Now, what is absolutely true is we wanted more revenue than they had initially offered. But as you’ll see, the spending cuts that we were prepared to engage in were at least as significant as the spending cuts that you’ve seen in a whole range of bipartisan proposals, and we had basically agreed within $10 billion, $20 billion — we were within that range. So that wasn’t the reason this thing broke down. We were consistent in saying that it was going to be important for us to have at least enough revenue that we could protect current beneficiaries of Social Security, for example, or current beneficiaries of Medicare; that we weren’t slashing Medicaid so sharply that states suddenly were going to have to throw people off the health care rolls. And we were consistent in that. So I want to be clear. I’m not suggesting that we had an agreement that was signed, sealed and delivered. The parties were still apart as recently as yesterday. But when you look at the overall package, there’s no changing of the goalposts here. There has been a consistency on our part in saying we’re willing to make the tough cuts and we’re willing to take on the heat for those difficult cuts, but that there’s got to be some balance in the process. What I’ve said publicly is the same thing that I’ve said privately. And I’ve done that consistently throughout this process. Now, with respect to this breakdown in trust, I think that we have operated aboveboard consistently. There haven’t been any surprises. I think the challenge really has to do with the seeming inability, particularly in the House of Representatives, to arrive at any kind of position that compromises any of their ideological preferences. None. And you’ve heard it. I mean, I’m not making this up. I think a number of members of that caucus have been very clear about that.
Q But they were willing to move on some revenues, apparently.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. But what you saw — and, again, you’ll see this from the description of the deal — essentially what they had agreed to give on is to get back to a baseline — this starts getting technical, but there were about $800 billion in revenue that were going to be available. And what we said was when you’ve got a ratio of $4 in cuts for every $1 of revenue, that’s pretty hard to stomach. And we think it’s important to make sure that whatever additional revenue is in there covers the amount of money that’s being taken out of entitlement programs. That’s only fair. If I’m saying to future recipients of Social Security or Medicare that you’re going to have to make some adjustments, it’s important that we’re also willing to make some adjustments when it comes to corporate jet owners, or oil and gas producers, or people who are making millions or billions of dollars. Wendell. Where’s Wendell? Wendell is not here. Lesley. Is Lesley here?
Q Yes, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: There you are.
Q Thank you. You’ve said that your bottom line has been the big deal; that’s not going to happen. Are you going to be willing to go back to just raising the debt ceiling still?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I’ve been consistently saying here in this press room and everywhere that it is very important for us to raise the debt ceiling. We don’t have an option on that. So if that’s the best that Congress can do, then I will sign a extension of the debt ceiling that takes us through 2013. I don’t think that’s enough. I think we should do more. That’s the bare minimum; that’s the floor of what the American people expect us to do. So I’d like to see us do more. And when I meet with the leadership tomorrow I’m going to say let’s do more. But if they tell me that’s the best they can do, then I will sign an extension that goes to 2013, and I will make the case to the American people that we’ve got to continue going out there and solving this problem. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s time to do it. We can’t keep on putting it off.
Q You suggested that Speaker Boehner didn’t return phone calls this afternoon. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I’m less concerned about me having to wait for my phone call returned than I am the message that I received when I actually got the phone call. I’m going to make this the last question. Go ahead.
Q Yes, the markets are closed right now, obviously. What assurances can you give people on Wall Street? Are you going to be reaching out to some people on Wall Street so that when Monday comes we don’t see a reaction to the news that’s developing right now?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s very important that the leadership understands that Wall Street will be opening on Monday, and we better have some answers during the course of the next several days.
Q What can you say to people who are watching who work on Wall Street who might find this news a bit alarming, perhaps?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think what you should say — well, here’s what I’d say: I remain confident that we will get an extension of the debt limit and we will not default. I am confident of that. I am less confident at this point that people are willing to step up to the plate and actually deal with the underlying problem of debt and deficits. That requires tough choices. That’s what we were sent here to do. I mean, the debt ceiling, that’s a formality. Historically, this has not even been an issue. It’s an unpleasant vote but it’s been a routine vote that Congress does periodically. It was raised 18 times when Ronald Reagan was President. Ronald Reagan said default is not an option, that it would be hugely damaging to the prestige of the United States and we shouldn’t even consider it. So that’s the easy part. We should have done that six months ago. The hard part is actually dealing with the underlying debt and deficits, and doing it in a way that’s fair. That’s all the American people are looking for — some fairness. I can’t tell you how many letters and emails I get, including from Republican voters, who say, look, we know that neither party is blameless when it comes to how this deft and deficit developed — there’s been a lot of blame to spread around — but we sure hope you don’t just balance the budget on the backs of seniors. We sure hope that we’re not slashing our commitment to make sure kids can go to college. We sure hope that we’re not suddenly throwing a bunch of poor kids off the Medicaid rolls so they can’t get basic preventative services that keep them out of the emergency room. That’s all they’re looking for, is some fairness. Now, what you’re going to hear, I suspect, is, well, if you — if the Senate is prepared to pass the cap, cut and balance bill, the Republican plan, then somehow we can solve this problem — that’s serious debt reduction. It turns out, actually, that the plan that Speaker Boehner and I were talking about was comparable in terms of deficit reduction. The difference was that we didn’t put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves, who don’t have lobbyists in this town, who don’t have lawyers working on the tax code for them — working stiffs out there, ordinary folks who are struggling every day. And they know they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re mad at everybody about it. They’re mad at Democrats and they’re mad at Republicans, because they know somehow, no matter how hard they work, they don’t seem to be able to keep up. And what they’re looking for is somebody who’s willing to look out for them. That’s all they’re looking for. And for us not to be keeping those folks in mind every single day when we’re up here, for us to be more worried about what some funder says, or some talk radio show host says, or what some columnist says, or what pledge we signed back when we were trying to run, or worrying about having a primary fight — for us to be thinking in those terms instead of thinking about those folks is inexcusable. I mean, the American people are just desperate for folks who are willing to put aside politics just for a minute and try to get some stuff done. So when Norah asked or somebody else asked why was I willing to go along with a deal that wasn’t optimal from my perspective, it was because even if I didn’t think the deal was perfect, at least it would show that this place is serious, that we’re willing to take on our responsibilities even when it’s tough, that we’re willing to step up even when the folks who helped get us elected may disagree.
And at some point, I think if you want to be a leader, then you got to lead.
Thank you very much.
OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFERS ADDITIONAL MORTGAGE RELIEF TO UNEMPLOYED HOMEOWNERS
Adjustments to FHA and MHA requirements to allow 12-month Forbearances
(Washington, DC)- Today, the Obama Administration announced adjustments to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) requirements that will require servicers to extend the forbearance period for unemployed homeowners to 12 months. The Administration also intends to require servicers participating in the Making Home Affordable Program (MHA) to extend the minimum forbearance period to 12 months wherever possible under regulator and investor guidelines. These adjustments will provide much needed assistance for unemployed homeowners trying to stay in their homes while seeking re-employment. These changes are intended to set a standard for the mortgage industry to provide more robust assistance to unemployed homeowners in the economic downturn.
The changes to FHA’s Special Forbearance Program announced today will require servicers to extend the forbearance period for FHA borrowers who qualify for the program from four months to 12 months and remove upfront hurdles to make it easier for unemployed borrowers to qualify.
“The current unemployment forbearance programs have mandatory periods that are inadequate for the majority of unemployed borrowers,” U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said. “Today, 60 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than three months and 45 percent have been out of work for more than six. Providing the option for a year of forbearance will give struggling homeowners a substantially greater chance of finding employment before they lose their home.”
Changes to MHA’s Home Affordable Unemployment Program (UP) will require participating servicers to extend the minimum forbearance period from 3 months to 12 months for eligible unemployed homeowners, whenever possible subject to investor and regulator guidance for each mortgage loan. Additionally, forbearance under UP will become available to borrowers who are seriously delinquent.
All FHA-approved servicers must participate in FHA’s Loss Mitigation Program, which includes the Special Forbearance program. In addition to extending the forbearance period and removing the up-front hurdles for borrowers, the FHA also reemphasized its requirement that servicers conduct a review at the end of the forbearance period to evaluate the borrower for all additional, applicable foreclosure assistance programs and notify the borrower in writing whether or not he/she qualifies for any other available option. If the borrower does not qualify for any foreclosure assistance option, the servicer must provide the borrower with the reason for denial and allow the borrower at least seven calendar days to submit additional information that may impact the servicer’s evaluation.
These reforms build on successful Administration initiatives to support unemployed borrowers through the $7.6 billion Hardest Hit Fund and the $1 billion Emergency Homeowner Loan Program (EHLP). The Hardest Hit Fund, first announced in February 2010, provides support to 18 states and the District of Columbia, which represent the areas hardest hit by steep home price declines and unemployment, to design and implement programs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. Participating states have dedicated approximately seventy percent of program funds toward programs to help homeowners struggling with unemployment or underemployment. As of this month, each participating state is accepting applications from borrowers and providing direct mortgage assistance to those that qualify.
The EHLP program complements the Hardest Hit Fund, by serving the remaining 32 states and Puerto Rico. Congress provided $1 billion dollars to HUD, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to implement the recently launched program. EHLP assists homeowners who have experienced a reduction in income and are at risk of foreclosure due to involuntary unemployment, underemployment due to economic conditions or a medical condition. EHLP is expected to aid up to 30,000 distressed borrowers, with an average loan of approximately $35,000.
BREAKING NEWS: PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA ON WITHDRAWING TROOPS FROM AFGHANISTAN: “TIME TO FOCUS ON NATION BUILDING AT HOME”
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
On the Way Forward in Afghanistan
June 22, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery—
Good evening. Nearly ten years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor. This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security – one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives.
In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, our focus shifted. A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there. By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda, and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.
Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11. One soldier summed it up well. “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”
The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain. Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda has been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that have been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam – thereby draining more widespread support. Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.
In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds. Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country. Afghan Security Forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we have already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people. In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.
Of course, huge challenges remain. This is the beginning – but not the end – of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we drawdown our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government. And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.
We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement. So as we strengthen the Afghan government and Security Forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. Our position on these talks is clear: they must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution. But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.
The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies. We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people; and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace. What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures – one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.
Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan. No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.
My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country. We have learned anew the profound cost of war — a cost that has been paid by the nearly 4500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1500 who have done so in Afghanistan – men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended. Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the field of battle, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.
Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We have ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.
As they do, we must learn their lessons. Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world. Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America over-extend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.
We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force – but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action, which we are doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their destiny.
In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power – it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep and no horizon is beyond our reach.
America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf. To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care, and benefits, and opportunity that you deserve.
I met some of those patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell. A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden. Standing in front of a model of bin Laden’s compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost – brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten. This officer – like so many others I have met with on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital – spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one – depending on each other, and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril.
That’s a lesson worth remembering – that we are all a part of one American family. Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish. Now, let us finish the work at hand. Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story. With confidence in our cause; with faith in our fellow citizens; and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America – for this generation, and the next. May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
London, United Kingdom
3:47 P.M. BST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
My Lord Chancellor, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Prime Minister, my lords, and members of the House of Commons:
I have known few greater honors than the opportunity to address the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster Hall. I am told that the last three speakers here have been the Pope, Her Majesty the Queen, and Nelson Mandela — which is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke. (Laughter.)
I come here today to reaffirm one of the oldest, one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known. It’s long been said that the United States and the United Kingdom share a special relationship. And since we also share an especially active press corps, that relationship is often analyzed and overanalyzed for the slightest hint of stress or strain.
Of course, all relationships have their ups and downs. Admittedly, ours got off on the wrong foot with a small scrape about tea and taxes. (Laughter.) There may also have been some hurt feelings when the White House was set on fire during the War of 1812. (Laughter.) But fortunately, it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
The reason for this close friendship doesn’t just have to do with our shared history, our shared heritage; our ties of language and culture; or even the strong partnership between our governments. Our relationship is special because of the values and beliefs that have united our people through the ages.
Centuries ago, when kings, emperors, and warlords reigned over much of the world, it was the English who first spelled out the rights and liberties of man in the Magna Carta. It was here, in this very hall, where the rule of law first developed, courts were established, disputes were settled, and citizens came to petition their leaders.
Over time, the people of this nation waged a long and sometimes bloody struggle to expand and secure their freedom from the crown. Propelled by the ideals of the Enlightenment, they would ultimately forge an English Bill of Rights, and invest the power to govern in an elected parliament that’s gathered here today.
What began on this island would inspire millions throughout the continent of Europe and across the world. But perhaps no one drew greater inspiration from these notions of freedom than your rabble-rousing colonists on the other side of the Atlantic. As Winston Churchill said, the “…Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.”
For both of our nations, living up to the ideals enshrined in these founding documents has sometimes been difficult, has always been a work in progress. The path has never been perfect. But through the struggles of slaves and immigrants, women and ethnic minorities, former colonies and persecuted religions, we have learned better than most that the longing for freedom and human dignity is not English or American or Western –- it is universal, and it beats in every heart. Perhaps that’s why there are few nations that stand firmer, speak louder, and fight harder to defend democratic values around the world than the United States and the United Kingdom.
We are the allies who landed at Omaha and Gold, who sacrificed side by side to free a continent from the march of tyranny, and help prosperity flourish from the ruins of war. And with the founding of NATO –- a British idea –- we joined a transatlantic alliance that has ensured our security for over half a century.
Together with our allies, we forged a lasting peace from a cold war. When the Iron Curtain lifted, we expanded our alliance to include the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, and built new bridges to Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union. And when there was strife in the Balkans, we worked together to keep the peace.
Today, after a difficult decade that began with war and ended in recession, our nations have arrived at a pivotal moment once more. A global economy that once stood on the brink of depression is now stable and recovering. After years of conflict, the United States has removed 100,000 troops from Iraq, the United Kingdom has removed its forces, and our combat mission there has ended. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum and will soon begin a transition to Afghan lead. And nearly 10 years after 9/11, we have disrupted terrorist networks and dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader –- Osama bin Laden.
Together, we have met great challenges. But as we enter this new chapter in our shared history, profound challenges stretch before us. In a world where the prosperity of all nations is now inextricably linked, a new era of cooperation is required to ensure the growth and stability of the global economy. As new threats spread across borders and oceans, we must dismantle terrorist networks and stop the spread of nuclear weapons, confront climate change and combat famine and disease. And as a revolution races through the streets of the Middle East and North Africa, the entire world has a stake in the aspirations of a generation that longs to determine its own destiny.
These challenges come at a time when the international order has already been reshaped for a new century. Countries like China, India, and Brazil are growing by leaps and bounds. We should welcome this development, for it has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty around the globe, and created new markets and opportunities for our own nations.
And yet, as this rapid change has taken place, it’s become fashionable in some quarters to question whether the rise of these nations will accompany the decline of American and European influence around the world. Perhaps, the argument goes, these nations represent the future, and the time for our leadership has passed.
That argument is wrong. The time for our leadership is now. It was the United States and the United Kingdom and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive. And even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will remain indispensable to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just.
At a time when threats and challenges require nations to work in concert with one another, we remain the greatest catalysts for global action. In an era defined by the rapid flow of commerce and information, it is our free market tradition, our openness, fortified by our commitment to basic security for our citizens, that offers the best chance of prosperity that is both strong and shared. As millions are still denied their basic human rights because of who they are, or what they believe, or the kind of government that they live under, we are the nations most willing to stand up for the values of tolerance and self-determination that lead to peace and dignity.
Now, this doesn’t mean we can afford to stand still. The nature of our leadership will need to change with the times. As I said the first time I came to London as President, for the G20 summit, the days are gone when Roosevelt and Churchill could sit in a room and solve the world’s problems over a glass of brandy -– although I’m sure that Prime Minister Cameron would agree that some days we could both use a stiff drink. (Laughter.) In this century, our joint leadership will require building new partnerships, adapting to new circumstances, and remaking ourselves to meet the demands of a new era.
That begins with our economic leadership.
Adam Smith’s central insight remains true today: There is no greatergenerator of wealth and innovation than a system of free enterprise that unleashes the full potential of individual men and women. That’s what led to the Industrial Revolution that began in the factories of Manchester. That is what led to the dawn of the Information Age that arose from the office parks of Silicon Valley. That’s why countries like China, India and Brazil are growing so rapidly — because in fits and starts, they are moving toward market-based principles that the United States and the United Kingdom have always embraced.
In other words, we live in a global economy that is largely of our own making. And today, the competition for the best jobs and industries favors countries that are free-thinking and forward-looking; countries with the most creative and innovative and entrepreneurial citizens.
That gives nations like the United States and the United Kingdom an inherent advantage. For from Newton and Darwin to Edison and Einstein, from Alan Turing to Steve Jobs, we have led the world in our commitment to science and cutting-edge research, the discovery of new medicines and technologies. We educate our citizens and train our workers in the best colleges and universities on Earth. But to maintain this advantage in a world that’s more competitive than ever, we will have to redouble our investments in science and engineering, and renew our national commitments to educating our workforces.
We’ve also been reminded in the last few years that markets can sometimes fail. In the last century, both our nations put in place regulatory frameworks to deal with such market failures – safeguards to protect the banking system after the Great Depression, for example; regulations that were established to prevent the pollution of our air and water during the 1970s.
But in today’s economy, such threats of market failure can no longer be contained within the borders of any one country. Market failures can go global, and go viral, and demand international responses.
A financial crisis that began on Wall Street infected nearly every continent, which is why we must keep working through forums like the G20 to put in place global rules of the road to prevent future excesses and abuse. No country can hide from the dangers of carbon pollution, which is why we must build on what was achieved at Copenhagen and Cancun to leave our children a planet that is safer and cleaner.
Moreover, even when the free market works as it should, both our countries recognize that no matter how responsibly we live in our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff may strike any one of us. And so part of our common tradition has expressed itself in a conviction that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security -– health care if you get sick, unemployment insurance if you lose your job, a dignified retirement after a lifetime of hard work. That commitment to our citizens has also been the reason for our leadership in the world.
And now, having come through a terrible recession, our challenge is to meet these obligations while ensuring that we’re not consuming — and hence consumed with — a level of debt that could sap the strength and vitality of our economies. And that will require difficult choices and it will require different paths for both of our countries. But we have faced such challenges before, and have always been able to balance the need for fiscal responsibility with the responsibilities we have to one another.
And I believe we can do this again. As we do, the successes and failures of our own past can serve as an example for emerging economies -– that it’s possible to grow without polluting; that lasting prosperity comes not from what a nation consumes, but from what it produces, and from the investments it makes in its people and its infrastructure.
And just as we must lead on behalf of the prosperity of our citizens, so we must safeguard their security. Our two nations know what it is to confront evil in the world. Hitler’s armies would not have stopped their killing had we not fought them on the beaches and on the landing grounds, in the fields and on the streets. We must never forget that there was nothing inevitable about our victory in that terrible war. It was won through the courage and character of our people.
Precisely because we are willing to bear its burden, we know well the cost of war. And that is why we built an alliance that was strong enough to defend this continent while deterring our enemies. At its core, NATO is rooted in the simple concept of Article Five: that no NATO nation will have to fend on its own; that allies will stand by one another, always. And for six decades, NATO has been the most successful alliance in human history.
Today, we confront a different enemy. Terrorists have taken the lives of our citizens in New York and in London. And while al Qaeda seeks a religious war with the West, we must remember that they have killed thousands of Muslims -– men, women and children -– around the globe. Our nations are not and will never be at war with Islam. Our fight is focused on defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies. In that effort, we will not relent, as Osama bin Laden and his followers have learned. And as we fight an enemy that respects no law of war, we will continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard -– by living up to the values, the rule of law and due process that we so ardently defend.
For almost a decade, Afghanistan has been a central front of these efforts. Throughout those years, you, the British people, have been a stalwart ally, along with so many others who fight by our side.
Together, let us pay tribute to all of our men and women who have served and sacrificed over the last several years -– for they are part of an unbroken line of heroes who have borne the heaviest burden for the freedoms that we enjoy. Because of them, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum. Because of them, we have built the capacity of Afghan security forces. And because of them, we are now preparing to turn a corner in Afghanistan by transitioning to Afghan lead. And during this transition, we will pursue a lasting peace with those who break free of al Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution and lay down arms. And we will ensure that Afghanistan is never a safe haven for terror, but is instead a country that is strong, sovereign, and able to stand on its own two feet.
Indeed, our efforts in this young century have led us to a new concept for NATO that will give us the capabilities needed to meet new threats — threats like terrorism and piracy, cyber attacks and ballistic missiles. But a revitalized NATO will continue to hew to that original vision of its founders, allowing us to rally collective action for the defense of our people, while building upon the broader belief of Roosevelt and Churchill that all nations have both rights and responsibilities, and all nations share a common interest in an international architecture that maintains the peace.
We also share a common interest in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Across the globe, nations are locking down nuclear materials so they never fall into the wrong hands — because of our leadership. From North Korea to Iran, we’ve sent a message that those who flaunt their obligations will face consequences -– which is why America and the European Union just recently strengthened our sanctions on Iran, in large part because of the leadership of the United Kingdom and the United States. And while we hold others to account, we will meet our own obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and strive for a world without nuclear weapons.
We share a common interest in resolving conflicts that prolong human suffering and threaten to tear whole regions asunder. In Sudan, after years of war and thousands of deaths, we call on both North and South to pull back from the brink of violence and choose the path of peace. And in the Middle East, we stand united in our support for a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine.
And we share a common interest in development that advances dignity and security. To succeed, we must cast aside the impulse to look at impoverished parts of the globe as a place for charity. Instead, we should empower the same forces that have allowed our own people to thrive: We should help the hungry to feed themselves, the doctors who care for the sick. We should support countries that confront corruption, and allow their people to innovate. And we should advance the truth that nations prosper when they allow women and girls to reach their full potential.
We do these things because we believe not simply in the rights of nations; we believe in the rights of citizens. That is the beacon that guided us through our fight against fascism and our twilight struggle against communism. And today, that idea is being put to the test in the Middle East and North Africa. In country after country, people are mobilizing to free themselves from the grip of an iron fist. And while these movements for change are just six months old, we have seen them play out before -– from Eastern Europe to the Americas, from South Africa to Southeast Asia.
History tells us that democracy is not easy. It will be years before these revolutions reach their conclusion, and there will be difficult days along the way. Power rarely gives up without a fight -– particularly in places where there are divisions of tribe and divisions of sect. We also know that populism can take dangerous turns -– from the extremism of those who would use democracy to deny minority rights, to the nationalism that left so many scars on this continent in the 20th century.
But make no mistake: What we saw, what we are seeing in Tehran, in Tunis, in Tahrir Square, is a longing for the same freedoms that we take for granted here at home. It was a rejection of the notion that people in certain parts of the world don’t want to be free, or need to have democracy imposed upon them. It was a rebuke to the worldview of al Qaeda, which smothers the rights of individuals, and would thereby subject them to perpetual poverty and violence.
Let there be no doubt: The United States and United Kingdom stand squarely on the side of those who long to be free. And now, we must show that we will back up those words with deeds. That means investing in the future of those nations that transition to democracy, starting with Tunisia and Egypt -– by deepening ties of trade and commerce; by helping them demonstrate that freedom brings prosperity. And that means standing up for universal rights -– by sanctioning those who pursue repression, strengthening civil society, supporting the rights of minorities.
We do this knowing that the West must overcome suspicion and mistrust among many in the Middle East and North Africa -– a mistrust that is rooted in a difficult past. For years, we’ve faced charges of hypocrisy from those who do not enjoy the freedoms that they hear us espouse. And so to them, we must squarely acknowledge that, yes, we have enduring interests in the region -– to fight terror, sometimes with partners who may not be perfect; to protect against disruptions of the world’s energy supply. But we must also insist that we reject as false the choice between our interests and our ideals; between stability and democracy. For our idealism is rooted in the realities of history -– that repression offers only the false promise of stability, that societies are more successful when their citizens are free, and that democracies are the closest allies we have.
It is that truth that guides our action in Libya. It would have been easy at the outset of the crackdown in Libya to say that none of this was our business -– that a nation’s sovereignty is more important than the slaughter of civilians within its borders. That argument carries weight with some. But we are different. We embrace a broader responsibility. And while we cannot stop every injustice, there are circumstances that cut through our caution -– when a leader is threatening to massacre his people, and the international community is calling for action. That’s why we stopped a massacre in Libya. And we will not relent until the people of Libya are protected and the shadow of tyranny is lifted.
We will proceed with humility, and the knowledge that we cannot dictate every outcome abroad. Ultimately, freedom must be won by the people themselves, not imposed from without. But we can and must stand with those who so struggle. Because we have always believed that the future of our children and grandchildren will be better if other people’s children and grandchildren are more prosperous and more free -– from the beaches of Normandy to the Balkans to Benghazi. That is our interests and our ideals. And if we fail to meet that responsibility, who would take our place, and what kind of world would we pass on?
Our action -– our leadership -– is essential to the cause of human dignity. And so we must act -– and lead -– with confidence in our ideals, and an abiding faith in the character of our people, who sent us all here today.
For there is one final quality that I believe makes the United States and the United Kingdom indispensable to this moment in history. And that is how we define ourselves as nations.
Unlike most countries in the world, we do not define citizenship based on race or ethnicity. Being American or British is not about belonging to a certain group; it’s about believing in a certain set of ideals — the rights of individuals, the rule of law. That is why we hold incredible diversity within our borders. That’s why there are people around the world right now who believe that if they come to America, if they come to New York, if they come to London, if they work hard, they can pledge allegiance to our flag and call themselves Americans; if they come to England, they can make a new life for themselves and can sing God Save The Queen just like any other citizen.
Yes, our diversity can lead to tension. And throughout our history there have been heated debates about immigration and assimilation in both of our countries. But even as these debates can be difficult, we fundamentally recognize that our patchwork heritage is an enormous strength — that in a world which will only grow smaller and more interconnected, the example of our two nations says it is possible for people to be united by their ideals, instead of divided by their differences; that it’s possible for hearts to change and old hatreds to pass; that it’s possible for the sons and daughters of former colonies to sit here as members of this great Parliament, and for the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British Army to stand before you as President of the United States. (Applause.)
That is what defines us. That is why the young men and women in the streets of Damascus and Cairo still reach for the rights our citizens enjoy, even if they sometimes differ with our policies. As two of the most powerful nations in the history of the world, we must always remember that the true source of our influence hasn’t just been the size of our economies, or the reach of our militaries, or the land that we’ve claimed. It has been the values that we must never waver in defending around the world — the idea that all beings are endowed by our Creator with certain rights that cannot be denied.
That is what forged our bond in the fire of war — a bond made manifest by the friendship between two of our greatest leaders. Churchill and Roosevelt had their differences. They were keen observers of each other’s blind spots and shortcomings, if not always their own, and they were hard-headed about their ability to remake the world. But what joined the fates of these two men at that particular moment in history was not simply a shared interest in victory on the battlefield. It was a shared belief in the ultimate triumph of human freedom and human dignity -– a conviction that we have a say in how this story ends.
This conviction lives on in their people today. The challenges we face are great. The work before us is hard. But we have come through a difficult decade, and whenever the tests and trials ahead may seem too big or too many, let us turn to their example, and the words that Churchill spoke on the day that Europe was freed:
“In the long years to come, not only will the people of this island but…the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in [the] human heart, look back to what we’ve done, and they will say ‘do not despair, do not yield…march straightforward’.”
With courage and purpose, with humility and with hope, with faith in the promise of tomorrow, let us march straightforward together, enduring allies in the cause of a world that is more peaceful, more prosperous, and more just.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
FACT SHEET: “A Moment of Opportunity” in the Middle East and North Africa
“So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
President Barack Obama
May 19, 2011 Washington, DC
Today, recognizing the irreversible changes that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, President Obama announced a new approach to promoting democratic reform, economic development, and peace and security across the region.
Aligning Our Interests and Our Values: The President reaffirmed his commitment to a set of core principles that have guided the U.S. response to events in the Middle East and North Africa for the past six months. First, the United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. Second, we support a set of universal rights including free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; equality for men and women under the rule of law; the right to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination; and the right to choose your own leaders through democratic elections. Third, we support political and economic change in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the people throughout the region.
Our support for these principles is a top priority and central to the pursuit of other interests in the region. The U.S. will marshal all our diplomatic, economic, and strategic tools to support these principles. The status quo is not fair, nor stable. And it can no longer secure the core interests of the United States. Ultimately, our values and our interests will be better advanced by a region that is more democratic and prosperous.
Promoting Democratic Reform: It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy. Real and durable democratic change in Tunisia and Egypt could have a transformative effect on the region and beyond. We will support free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society,basic rights to speak your mind and access information, and strong democratic institutions in both nations. We will empower women as drivers of peace and prosperity, supporting their right to run for office and meaningfully participate in decision-making because, around the world, history shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are more empowered. And we will deliver an economic program that reinforces our strong support for the transitions that are now underway.
The United States will also stand up for human rights and democracy in those countries where transitions have yet to take place. We will make the case to our partners that reform is in our shared interest. We will be a strong voice for democratic reform – a message we will deliver consistently, at high-levels, and across the U.S. government. We will strengthen and protect advocates for reform. Our message to governments in the region will be simple and clear: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the support and partnership of the United States.
A New Chapter of American Diplomacy: As the U.S. continues to work with governments, we will broaden and elevate our engagement with the people of the region. Building on our efforts since Cairo, our engagement will reach beyond elites and extend beyond capitals, cultivating reformist voices both inside and outside government. We will engage with and listen to those that will shape the future, particularly young people and women. Across the region, we will provide assistance to legitimate and independent groups, including some not officially recognized by governments. And we will expand and deepen our ties with entrepreneurs, and our cooperation on science and technology. We will engage, too, with all groups that reject violence, support democratic practices, and respect the rights of minorities, even if we don’t agree with them. Using the same connective technologies that helped power the protests, we will connect and listen to the people of the region and factor the concerns of all these individuals and groups into our policy choices.
Making this strategic shift in our own approach will not always be easy. It demands that we renew and reshape our partnerships with governments in the region, and forge a deeper connection to a new generation that is desperate for a new beginning. President Obama will issue a Presidential Directive in the coming weeks to direct his Cabinet and national security team to put this new approach into action.
The United States is already putting this approach into practice across the region:
- Bahrain: The United States is committed to Bahrain’s security. However, we believe that reform is the only path to enduring stability in Bahrain and that both sides must compromise to forge a just future for all Bahrainis. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
- Egypt: The United States supports an orderly, peaceful, and legitimate transition to a representative and responsive government committed to democratic principles in Egypt. It is important to empower positive models, and Egypt is critical as the largest Arab country and an enduring partner of the United States. We are encouraged by some of the steps that the interim government has taken on the political front, and we support a fully transparent and inclusive process moving forward. The U.S. is working with the international community to identify ways to stabilize Egypt’s economy in the short-term and promote economic policies for the medium and long-term that will help ensure economic prosperity accompanies the transition.
- Jordan: The United States is committed to our long-standing partnership with Jordan – a regional leader on political and economic reform. We recognize the government’s efforts to respond to the legitimate demands of citizens through the National Dialogue Committee, and urge Jordan’s leadership to seize this opportunity to advance meaningful reforms. U.S economic assistance supports Jordan’s economic growth and development and promotes political, economic, and social reforms though programs in judicial reform, education, public health, job creation, and youth empowerment. We are also working with non-governmental partners is Jordan to cultivate a vibrant civil society. The United States also remains committed to Jordan’s security and continues to provide security assistance aimed at, among other things, modernizing the Jordanian military and enhancing border security.
- Libya: The United States led an international effort to intervene in Libya to stop a massacre – joining with with our allies at the UN Security Council to pass a historic resolution that authorized a no-fly zone and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people. At the start of the air campaign, the President pledged to the American people that U.S. military action would be limited in duration and scope and that we would ultimately transition from a U.S. to a coalition lead. The President has made good on that pledge. Now that we have transitioned to a NATO lead, we will continue to play an important role in the international community’s effort to put pressure on Col. Qaddafi and to protect innocent civilians that his regime continues to attack. The President has made clear, Qaddafi has lost the confidence of the Libyan people and he must go. At the same time, the United States is engaging and assisting the Transitional National Council, a legitimate and credible interlocutor, which is committed to an inclusive, democratic political transition in Libya. We are also working to address humanitarian needs in Libya and along its borders.
- Morocco: The United States supports Morocco’s efforts to promote ongoing democratic development through constitutional, judicial, and political reforms. We recognize the Moroccan government’s efforts to respond the demands of its citizens and we urge the government to implement these crucial reforms. We are working with the people and the government of Morocco to support their efforts to consolidate the rule of law, protect human rights, improve governance, empower youth, and works towards meaningful constitutional reform. This includes a robust dialogue on human rights and political freedom.
- Syria: The United States condemns the Syrian government’s murder and mass arrests of its people. We have imposed additional sanctions on the regime, including on President Assad and his inner circle. We stand by the Syrian people who have shown their courage in demanding dignity and a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.
- Tunisia: The United States is committed to supporting the Tunisian people as they build the stronger democratic foundations needed for long-term stability and broad-based economic growth. We welcome the significant steps that have been taken to advance the democratic transition, and will support Tunisians inside and outside of government as they hold democratic elections, craft a new constitution, and implement a broad-based reform agenda. We will support a new partnership between Tunisian civil society groups and technology companies in order to get more information, communications capacity available broadly throughout society.
- Yemen: The United States supports the aspirations of the Yemeni people for a more stable, unified, and prosperous nation, and we are committed to assisting them in this courageous pursuit. We are also committed to assisting Yemen to eradicate the security threat from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. We support a peaceful and orderly transfer of power that begins immediately.
Supporting Economic Development: To ensure that democratic change is reinforced by increasing economic opportunity, the President laid out a new economic vision for the region to support nations that commit to transition to democracy. We will also focus on rooting out corruption and other barriers to progress. Our efforts will create incentives for nations to pursue a path to democracy and modern economies and will also help tap the enormous potential of the region’s young people. Our approach is based around four key pillars – support for economic policy formulation, support for economic stability, support for economic modernization, and the development of a framework for trade integration and investment.
- Support for Better Economic Management: We will offer concrete support to foster improved economic policy formulation and management alongside our democratization efforts. We will focus not only on promoting economic fundamentals, but also transparency and the prevention of corruption. We will use our bilateral programs to support economic reform preparations, including outreach and technical assistance from our governments, universities, and think tanks to regional governments that have embraced reform, individuals, and NGOs. We will mobilize the knowledge and expertise of international financial institutions to support home grown reforms that increase accountability.
- Support for Economic Stability: Egypt and Tunisia have begun their transitions. Their economic outlooks were positive before recent events, but they are now facing a series of economic dislocations.
o Galvanizing Financial Support: We are galvanizing financial support from international financial institutions and Egypt and Tunisia’s regional partners to help meet near term financial needs.
o Turning the Debts of the Past Into Investments in the Future: The United States will relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt by designing a debt swap arrangement, and swap it in a way that allows Egypt to invest these resources in creating jobs and fostering entrepreneurship.
- Support for Economic Modernization: We realize that the modernization of the economies in Middle East and North Africa will require a stronger private sector. To address that, we are committed to working with our international counterparts to support a reorientation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support countries in the region. The Bank played a crucial role in supporting democratization and economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe and can make a great contribution in Middle East and North Africa as well. We also seek to establish Egyptian-American and Tunisian-American Enterprise Funds to stimulate private sector investment, to promote projects and procedures that support competitive markets, and to encourage public/private partnerships. And as Secretary Clinton announced in Cairo, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will provide up to $2 billion dollars in financial support for private sectors throughout the MENA region.
- Develop a Framework for Trade Integration and Investment: The United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. We will work with the European Union as we launch step-by-step initiatives that will facilitate more robust trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote greater integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.
(For more detail, see the Economic Support for the Middle East and North Africa Fact Sheet, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/18/factsheet-economic-support-middle-east-and-north-africa)
Promoting Peace and Security: Even as we change our policy approach in response to political and economic changes in region, the United States maintains its commitment to pursue peace and stability in the region. We remain committed to our non-proliferation agenda in the region and worldwide and continue to demand that Iran meets its international obligation to halt its nuclear weapons program. Our counterterrorism agenda is as robust as ever, as evidenced by the recent takedown of Osama bin Laden. We will continue to take the fight to al Qa`ida and its affiliates wherever they are.
The Broad Outlines of Middle East Peace: The President seeks to shape an environment in which negotiations can restart when the parties are ready. He intends to do this laying out principles on territorial borders and security.
On territory, the boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. On security the Palestinian state must be non-militarized, and the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces would be geared to the ability of Palestinian security forces and other arrangements as agreed to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; stop the infiltration of weapons; and provide effective border security. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and may vary for different areas like borders. But it must be sufficient to demonstrate the effectiveness and credibility of security arrangements. Once Palestinians can be confident in the outlines of their state, and Israelis are confident that the new Palestinian state will not imperil its security, the parties will be in a position to grapple with the core issues of refugees and Jerusalem.
Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
Ending the Combat Mission in Iraq, Building a Strategic Partnership: President Obama kept his commitment to responsibly end our combat mission in Iraq, bringing home 100,000 troops and transitioning to a full Iraqi lead for security in the country. Consistent with the 2008 Security Agreement, the United States intends to withdraw our remaining troops by the end of the year, while our civilians strengthen an enduring partnership with the Iraqi people and government in economic, diplomatic, cultural, and security fields.
Surged in Afghanistan: The strategy in Afghanistan is working. With the addition of 30,000 U.S. forces, nearly 10,000 coalition forces, and almost 1000 civilians, the surge is achieving its intended effect. We have arrested the Taliban’s momentum and placed the insurgency under significant military pressure. Increasingly, our collective efforts are focused intensely on providing trainers and funding for Afghan National Security Forces to support their assuming lead security responsibility, significantly growing the Afghan Security Forces to nearly 300,000. Even as we begin to reduce our U.S. combat forces this July, and increasingly focus on advising and assisting the Afghan security forces, we are working toward completion of a renewed partnership agreement with the Afghans that will affirm our enduring commitment to stability in Afghanistan. Finally, we are equally committed to an Afghan-led political process toward a peaceful resolution.
Focused on Al Qa`ida: We have applied unprecedented pressure to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qa`ida and its adherents. We have disrupted plots at home, and increased military, intelligence, and diplomatic support to expand the capacity of our partners from Pakistan to Yemen; from Southeast Asia to Somalia. Over half of Al Qa`ida’s top leadership has been killed or captured, including, most recently, Al Qa`ida’s leader, Osama bin Laden. As the President noted in announcing Bin Laden’s death to the American people, his demise does not mark the end of our effort, as al-Qa`ida remains intent on and capable of striking the United States and our partners.
Political Change in the Middle East and North Africa: The United States has demonstrated with its response to the political change in the Middle East and North Africa that promoting representative, responsive governance is a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy and directly contributes to our counterterrorism goals. Governments that place the will of their people first and encourage peaceful change through their policies, systems, and actions directly contradict the al-Qa`ida ideology, which at its core advocates for violent change and dismisses the right of the people to choose how they will be governed. Effective governance reduces the traction and space for al-Qa`ida, limiting its resonance and contributing to what it most fears—irrelevance.
Standing Up for Universal Rights in Iran: The Administration has strongly condemned Iran’s violent repression at home and will continue to call on the government of Iran to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble and communicate. Just as we hold Iran accountable for its defiance of its international obligations on the nuclear program, we will continue to take actions to hold the Iranian government accountable for its gross human rights violations, including by designating Iranian officials and entities engaged in such violations. We will continue to provide capacity building training and new media tools to help Iranian citizens and civil society make their voices heard in calling for greater freedoms, transparency, and rule of law from their government.
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
“A Moment of Opportunity”
U.S. Department of State
May 19, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery –
I want to thank Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark – one million frequent flyer miles. I count on Hillary every day, and I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.
The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change take place in the Middle East and North Africa. Square by square; town by town; country by country; the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith.
Today, I would like to talk about this change – the forces that are driving it, and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security. Already, we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader – Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy – not what he could build.
Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents. But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.
That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia. On December 17, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart. This was not unique. It is the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world – the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity. Only this time, something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaint, this young man who had never been particularly active in politics went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.
Sometimes, in the course of history, the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands. And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home – day after day, week after week, until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.
The story of this Revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise. The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not. In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of the few. In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn – no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.
This lack of self determination – the chance to make of your life what you will – has applied to the region’s economy as well. Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge and innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.
In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression. Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.
But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and diversion won’t work anymore. Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world – a world of astonishing progress in places like India, Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.
In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”
In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”
In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”
In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”
Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of non-violence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.
Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily. In our day and age – a time of 24 hour news cycles, and constant communication – people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks. But it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days, and bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual. And as we have seen, calls for change may give way to fierce contests for power.
The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.
We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to peoples’ hopes; they are essential to them. We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks. People everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut off in energy supplies. As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.
Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind. Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our own interests at their expense. Given that this mistrust runs both ways – as Americans have been seared by hostage taking, violent rhetoric, and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens – a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and Muslim communities.
That’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then – and I believe now – that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self determination of individuals. The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.
So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
As we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It is not America that put people into the streets of Tunis and Cairo – it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and must determine their outcome. Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short term interests do not align perfectly with our long term vision of the region. But we can – and will – speak out for a set of core principles – principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:
The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.
We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran.
And finally, we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.
Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest– today I am making it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.
Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.
That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high –as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab World’s largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections; a vibrant civil society; accountable and effective democratic institutions; and responsible regional leadership. But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.
Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have been answered by violence. The most extreme example is Libya, where Moammar Gaddafi launched a war against his people, promising to hunt them down like rats. As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to impose regime change by force – no matter how well-intended it may be.
But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: keep power by killing as many people as it takes. Now, time is working against Gaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council. And when Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.
While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it is not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power. Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens. The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime – including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.
The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests; release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests; allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad
Thus far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. This speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet suppresses its people at home. Let us remember that the first peaceful protests were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory. And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.
Our opposition to Iran’s intolerance – as well as its illicit nuclear program, and its sponsorship of terror – is well known. But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles that I have outlined today. That is true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that is true, today, in Bahrain.
Bahrain is a long-standing partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. Nevertheless, we have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy. There, the Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence for a democratic process, even as they have taken full responsibility for their own security. Like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. As they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.
So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region. Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we will need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future – particularly young people.
We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo – to build networks of entrepreneurs, and expand exchanges in education; to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths. And we will use the technology to connect with – and listen to – the voices of the people.
In fact, real reform will not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard – whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger. In the 21st century, information is power; the truth cannot be hidden; and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.
Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them. We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion – not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and respect for the rights of minorities.
Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion. In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” America will work to see that this spirit prevails – that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them. In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.
What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women. History shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are empowered. That is why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men – by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office. For the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential.
Even as we promote political reform and human rights in the region, our efforts cannot stop there. So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that transition to democracy.
After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family. Too many in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, and perhaps the hope that their luck will change. Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from them.
The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people. In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google. That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street. Just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.
Drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; and investment, not just assistance. The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness; the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young. America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy – starting with Tunisia and Egypt.
First, we have asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G-8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruption of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year. And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.
Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.
Third, we are working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. These will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region. And we will work with allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.
Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. If you take out oil exports, this region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland. So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. Just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.
Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress – the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect. We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts anti-corruption; by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to hold government accountable.
Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.
For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, prosperity, and empowerment to ordinary people.
My Administration has worked with the parties and the international community for over two years to end this conflict, yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on for decades, and sees a stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward.
I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.
Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.
I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. He said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” And we see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate…Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow”
That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.
For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful. In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests. In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, ‘peaceful,’ ‘peaceful.’ In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known. Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.
For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful civil war that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of non-violence as a way to perfect our union – organizing, marching, and protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”
Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa – words which tell us that repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. It will not be easy. There is no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.
When President Barack Obama announced to the world late Sunday that Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid of his compound in Abbottadad, Pakistan, an air of suspicion was born. The doubters and conspiracy theorists have concocted full narratives as to the ‘true’ story of the demise of Bin Laden. Some say Osama Bin Laden died in 2007 from complications of kidney failure. Others say he was killed around 2006. Still, several days after DNA confirmation, a small but growing segment of Americans and world watchers alike are doubtful of the U.S. government’s proclamation that Bin Laden is dead and was buried at sea. They want evidence. Photographic proof.
It appears that the Obama White House is caving in to the pressure to release death photos of Osama Bin Laden. CIA Director Leon Panetta said that the administration knows that it has to “reveal to the rest of the world” photographic documentation of Osama Bin Laden in death. However, sources note that Osama Bin Laden was shot in the head, near the left eye with a powerful, technologically advanced firearm. What does that mean? That perhaps the whole side of Bin Laden’s head was obliterated?
Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the administration is “taking into consideration” the release of the Bin Laden death photos even though these could be “inflammatory.” Carney also admitted that the photos are “gruesome” and that “there are sensitivities here in the terms of the appropriateness of releasing photos of Osama Bin Laden after the fire fight and the sensitivities involved.”
However, the press is hot on the trail of those death pictures. If these are as “gruesome” as the White House would have the public believe, why is there an outcry to see them? Maybe it is the craving for senastionalism that the media has nurtured in the minds of the public. The desire to feed off of violence is thoroughly ingrained in the psyche of Americans due to insidious, horrifically violent movies thick with grotesque killings and murders. Prime time tv is filled to the brim with CSI dramas and programming about rogue medical examiners. And this is not the “Quincy” or “Kojak” type of fare either. Crime on television shows have gone high tech and very graphic. There are scenes of dead bodies, decomposing in the alley or the park. Television crime is more visual than ever before. Local news stations are notorious for the adoption of the mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” five and six o’clock daily news broadcasts. YouTube, cable news websites, and blogs all feature uncanny fascination stories about the dead. Such as the story about a Puerto Rican man standing at his own funeral. Or video surveillance of a man being shot to death outside a neighborhood store while talking on his cell phone. Crime sites awash with fresh spilled blood on the sidewalk or floor of a home, splattered blood on a terrorist bombed bus, the video cam operator can not resist. Or is it really the appetite of the public?
With this in mind, is it really a stretch of the imagination that the world and the press want to see a dead Osama Bin Laden in all his blown out head glory? If the White House concedes that the death photos are “gruesome,” will the pictures be subjected to photo-shopping? If the decision of photo-shopping or cropping is done, won’t that affect the authenticity of the death shot that the public and Al Qaeda want to view? Will those who scream ‘conspiracy!’ or ‘Osama is alive!’ be satisfied with the release of the death photo of Bin Laden? Will Al Qaeda throw its’ hands up and scatter like rats into a hole, giving up on their murderous philosophy because their leader was killed? Probably not. So why should the White House even consider releasing these pictures? Why did the White House consider and release President Obama’s long form birth certificate only to have the President admit that the whole matter was “silly” to begin with?
The Washington Review and Commentary will not be among those blogs and news outlets who will run the death pictures of Osama Bin Laden. That is, if the Obama administration decides to release these photos. There is too much hatred, anger, and all around hostility in the world today against America for the justification of publishing such “gruesome” pictures. Also, what earthly good will publishing pictures of a dead Osama Bin Laden with a huge, gapping hole in his head, possibly no face or eyes, do for the media and the public? For the press and the media in general, high ratings and millions of hits for blogs and websites. For the public? A freak show, free for all frenzy to gaze upon death without emotion or understanding causing an even more intense case of desensitizing. No matter how it is viewed through the prism of ethics, politics, religion, and morality, the decision to release the death pictures of Osama Bin Laden, or not, should be a no brainer.
If the Obama administration concedes to this demand, like it conceded to Donald Trump with the release of President Obama’s long form birth certificate, what does that really say? That the Obama White House can be bullied into more “silliness” and has become a part of the “side show” that it claims to detest.
WHITE HOUSE ON OSAMA BIN LADEN’S DEATH: “If We Had The Opportunity To Take Him Alive, We Would Have Done That”
At a press briefing held Monday afternoon, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism advisor John Brennan suggested that Pakistanian officials were aware that they were harboring Osama Bin Laden in “plain sight.” Brennan acknowledged ” I think it’s inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time.” This brings up rather significant doubt as to whether the Pakistan government will cooperate fully with the U.S. in its’ efforts to destroy Al Qaeda cells throughout the Middle East.
Osama Bin Laden was mortally wounded Sunday after a Navy Seal ambush on his compound in a city about 35 miles outside of Isalamabad, Pakistan. Osama Bin Laden and other family members were residing in a large, heavily guarded, mansion. The compound was built in 2005 on a large plot of rural land in Abbottabad, an affluent suburb of Islamabad.
Contrary to previous reports, the U.S. were prepared to capture Bin Laden alive. “If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that, ” Brennan revealed. But the general consensus was that Bin Laden would resist capture and be killed. Pictures of a dead Bin Laden may never be released to the public according to White House officials. Homeland Security and U.S. intelligence are careful to point out the importance of maintaining confidential information and documents as other terrorists are sought out and brought to justice.
Late Sunday evening, President Barack Obama announced to the nation and the world that U.S. forces discovered the hiding place of known world terrorist Osama Bin Laden and that he had been killed. The President remarked in his dramatic statement that at his direction “the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
President Obama was notified in September of last year by the CIA of the possible location of Osama Bin Laden. By mid-February, special operation forces had solid intelligence that confirmed Bin Laden was residing at a unique mansion compound thirty-five miles north of Islamabad. President Obama authorized the compound raid on Friday. The compound where Bin Laden was hiding was built in 2005 on a secluded plot of land. The mansion was eight times larger than any of the homes in the neighborhood and featured 12 – 18 foot walls with barbed wire. To provide extra privacy and security, the main structure of the compound mansion had internal walls that seperated different parts of the homes, two security gates, very few windows and a seven foot wall located outside of the terrace on the third floor. The compound, is said to be worth a million dollars, however there were no signs of a telephone, Internet service, or wealth. The compound was obviously “custom built to hide someone of significance,” White House officials acknowledge.
Living at the compound were various members of the Bin Laden family, including two of Osama Bin Laden’s brothers, and his youngest wife. Sunday afternoon, Navy Seals conducted a helicopter raid on the Bin Laden compound. The raid on the compound lasted for forty minutes and three men were killed in addition to Bin Laden, who was shot in the head. Two are believed to be couriers and the third was Bin Laden’s son. Two women were injured and one was killed when she was used as a human shield. Children were also found living at the compound.
Senior administration officials noted early Monday morning that the U.S. did not share the intelligence on Osama Bin Laden with any other country because “we believed it was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel. In fact, only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance.”
Osama Bin Laden was the leader of Al Qaeda, a militant extremist Islamic organization responsible for murderous terrorist activities throughout the world. Al Qaeda unleashed a horrific attack upon the United States on September 11, 2001 when 19 Al Qaeda members hijacked several airplanes, crashing two into the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed into a rural field near Pennsylvania. There were a total of 2,996 deaths as a result. 246 victims from the plane crashes, 2,606 in the Twin Towers and emergency rescue workers, and 125 deaths at the Pentagon. To date, the identity of 1,629 victims of the attack have been identified.
Osama Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea. U.S. officials remarked solemnly that “we are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. This is something that we take very seriously. And so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.”
Senior administration officials told reporters that the raid was a “kill mission” not a capture mission. “There’s also no doubt that the death of Osama bin Laden marks the single greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda. It is a major and essential step in bringing about al Qaeda’s eventual destruction,” the White House stated Monday via teleconference.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON OSAMA BIN LADEN
11:35 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.
And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.
On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.
We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda — an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.
Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort. We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.
Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.
And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.
Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.
For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.
So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.
Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.
Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.
And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.
The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
WEEKLY ADDRESS: “Reducing Spending While Still Investing in the Future is Just Common Sense”
WASHINGTON – In his weekly address, President Obama praised the agreement reached to avert a government shutdown, which will invest in the country’s future while making the largest annual spending cut in history. Just as both parties were able to find common ground on the tax cuts the President signed into law a few months ago, they worked through their differences on this budget. Politicians in Washington have the responsibility to continue to come together as they face the many difficult challenges that lie ahead – from creating jobs and growing our economy to educating our children and reducing our long-term deficits.
The audio of the address is and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, April 9, 2011.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Last night, after weeks of long and difficult negotiations over our national budget, leaders of both parties came together to avert a government shutdown, cut spending, and invest in our future.
This is good news for the American people. It means that small businesses can get the loans they need, our families can get the mortgages they applied for, folks can visit our national parks and museums, and hundreds of thousands of Americans will get their paychecks on time – including our brave men and women in uniform.
This is an agreement to invest in our country’s future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. Like any compromise, this required everyone to give ground on issues that were important to them. I certainly did. Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful – programs people rely on will be cut back; needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances. But we also prevented this important debate from being overtaken by politics and unrelated disagreements on social issues. And beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect the investments that will help America compete for new jobs – investments in our kids’ education and student loans; in clean energy and life-saving medical research.
Reducing spending while still investing in the future is just common sense. That’s what families do in tough times. They sacrifice where they can, even if it’s hard, to afford what’s really important.
A few months ago, I was able to sign a tax cut for American families because both parties worked through their differences and found common ground. Now, the same cooperation has made it possible for us to move forward with the biggest annual spending cut in history. And it’s my sincere hope that we can continue to come together as we face the many difficult challenges that lie ahead – from creating jobs and growing our economy to educating our children and reducing our long-term deficits.
That’s our responsibility. That’s what the American people expect us to do. And it’s what the American people deserve.