Obama to Congress: Authorize military force against ISIS

President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, which he began by joking that he would make his final address “a little shorter” than the previous ones.

The speech focused mostly on internal matters and Israel was not mentioned in it. Obama did, however, discuss the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and called on Congress to authorize the use of military force against the group.

“I understand that because this is an election season, expectations on what we will achieve this year are low,” Obama said, but noted he hopes that despite this being an election year, some bipartisan priorities could be worked on.

“Tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead,” continued Obama, who listed several issues to be worked on, including “protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work. Paid leave. Raising the minimum wage.”

“I don’t want to talk just about the next year. I want to focus on the next 5 years, 10 years, and beyond,” he added.

Americans must choose whether to respond to the changes of our times with fear or “with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for”.

There are four big questions the United States has to answer, regardless who the next president is, said Obama.

“First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy? Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to…challenges like climate change? Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman? Finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?” he continued.

“The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most stable economy in the world,” said Obama, noting the private-sector job creation, more than 14 million new jobs and a strong auto industry.

The President called “to make college affordable for every American” with a free community college plan and also called to strengthen Social Security and Medicare.

He acknowledged that “we won’t agree on health care anytime soon” but added, “I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers” without kids.

One of the initiatives Obama announced in his speech was a cure for cancer.

“Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer. Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done…I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control,” he said, adding, “For the loved ones we’ve all lost…let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

Turning to foreign policy, Obama refuted claims that America’s enemies are stronger and the United States is weaker, saying the United States is “the most powerful nation on earth. Period.”

“We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us,” he continued.

“In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia. Economic headwinds blow from a Chinese economy in transition. Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria – states they see slipping away from their orbit. And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality,” said Obama.

“It’s up to us to help remake that system. And that means we have to set priorities,” he added.

“Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. Both Al-Qaeda and now ISIL (the Islamic State or ISIS -ed.) pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies,” said Obama.

“But,” he added, “as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.”

Obama warned against echoing “the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are – killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.”

“That’s exactly what we are doing. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.”

Obama called on Congress to authorize the use of military force against ISIS in order to finally defeat the jihadist group.

“But the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment – or mine – to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden,” he warned.

“When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit,” Obama threatened the terrorists.

The President also called for a “smarter approach” in foreign policy, noting the United States “can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now.”

“Fortunately, there’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power. It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

“That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace,” he said.

“That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war,” said Obama.

“American leadership in the 21st century,” he stressed, “is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world – except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling. Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right. It means seeing our foreign assistance as part of our national security, not charity.”