By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
IIP Staff Writer
29 January 2014
President Obama, in his annual speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, cited the crucial role of strong and principled American diplomacy in a world of challenges and threats.
At the beginning of his sixth year in office, Obama described America’s global engagement as stronger than ever and as essential in strengthening peace and security. He called on Congress to support these global efforts, pass immigration reform, bolster the fight against terrorism, support Afghanistan’s security, and restore trust in the Middle East peace process.
“You see, in a world of complex threats, our security, our leadership depends on all elements of our power, including strong and principled diplomacy,” Obama said during his hourlong address to the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and a global television audience.
“American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles,” Obama said.
The president’s references to a more expansive U.S. global engagement echoed remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he told an audience of political, business and academic leaders that the United States has not stepped back from the world, but remains as much engaged as ever.
“Far from disengaging, America is proud to be more engaged than ever and, I believe, is playing as critical a role, perhaps as critical as ever, in pursuit of peace, prosperity and stability in various parts of the world,” Kerry told the Davos audience January 24.
Obama told Congress that America’s leadership is defined not just by defense against threats, but also by the enormous opportunities to do good, promote global understanding and greater cooperation, expand new markets and ultimately free people from fear and want.
“We do these things because they promote our long-term security, and we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation,” Obama said. “On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might, but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them.”
The president urged a divided Congress to heed the call from business, labor, faith and law enforcement groups to approve an immigration overhaul, in part because of the positive impact it will have on the U.S. economy, but also because of immigration’s strengthening power to enhance the United States.
“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades,” Obama said. “And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody.”
Obama told Congress that when he entered office in 2009 nearly 180,000 U.S. soldiers were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but today all combat troops are out of Iraq and more than 60,000 American soldiers have been withdrawn from Afghanistan.
With Afghan forces taking the lead for the nation’s security, U.S. and allied forces have moved into a support and training role, the president added. “Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over,” the president said.
The president also emphasized that the United States will begin moving away from a permanent war footing, limiting further the prudent use of drones in security operations and reforming the U.S. surveillance programs to ensure that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.
The United States will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future that the Syrian people deserve — “a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear,” Obama said.
“As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting the Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there, to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the state of Israel,” Obama said.