“Let’s Do This Right”

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by Julia Edwards, Roberta Rampton & Patricia Zengerle

Reuters via Yahoo News

October 22, 2015

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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama officially vetoed the $612 billion annual defense authorization bill on Thursday, returning the measure to Congress because of the way it uses money meant for war spending to avoid automatic budget cuts to military programs.

“I’m going to be sending it back to Congress and my message to them is very simple: ‘Let’s do this right,'” Obama told reporters.

“We’re in the midst of budget discussions. Let’s have a budget that properly funds our national security as well as economic security,” he said.

Obama and many of his fellow Democrats are pushing for a broader budget deal that would address mandatory cuts in domestic spending rather than only providing more funds for the Pentagon.

But Republicans, who control Congress, say Democrats are irresponsibly playing politics with national security in order to protect pet spending programs at a time when the United States faces rising threats around the world.

“By placing domestic politics ahead of our troops, President Obama has put America’s national security at risk,” John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement.

Republicans have vowed to override his veto, only the fifth of his presidency, which would require two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate. But Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, insists the chamber will sustain it.

Under congressional rules, the House will consider the veto before the Senate. A veto override vote has been scheduled in the chamber for Nov. 5.

The Democratic president is also unhappy with measures in the National Defense Authorization Act limiting moves toward closing the military prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

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http://news.yahoo.com/obama-vetoes-defense-bill-tells-congress-lets-200911716–business.html

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Obama On Leaving The War Behind Us

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US President Barack Obama

May 27, 2014

(entire text)

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THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  As you know, this weekend, I traveled to Afghanistan to thank our men and women in uniform and our deployed civilians, on behalf of a grateful nation, for the extraordinary sacrifices they make on behalf of our security.  I was also able to meet with our commanding General and Ambassador to review the progress that we’ve made.  And today, I’d like to update the American people on the way forward in Afghanistan and how, this year, we will bring America’s longest war to a responsible end.

The United States did not seek this fight.  We went into Afghanistan out of necessity, after our nation was attacked by al Qaeda on September 11th, 2001.  We went to war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies with the strong support of the American people and their representatives in Congress; with the international community and our NATO allies; and with the Afghan people, who welcomed the opportunity of a life free from the dark tyranny of extremism.

We have now been in Afghanistan longer than many Americans expected.  But make no mistake — thanks to the skill and sacrifice of our troops, diplomats, and intelligence professionals, we have struck significant blows against   al Qaeda’s leadership, we have eliminated Osama bin Laden, and we have prevented Afghanistan from being used to launch attacks against our homeland.  We have also supported the Afghan people as they continue the hard work of building a democracy.  We’ve extended more opportunities to their people, including women and girls.  And we’ve helped train and equip their own security forces.

Now we’re finishing the job we started.  Over the last several years, we’ve worked to transition security responsibilities to the Afghans.  One year ago, Afghan forces assumed the lead for combat operations.  Since then, they’ve continued to grow in size and in strength, while making huge sacrifices for their country.  This transition has allowed us to steadily draw down our own forces — from a peak of 100,000 U.S. troops, to roughly 32,000 today.

2014, therefore, is a pivotal year.  Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed that this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan. This is also a year of political transition in Afghanistan.  Earlier this spring, Afghans turned out in the millions to vote in the first round of their presidential election — defying threats in order to determine their own destiny.  And in just over two weeks, they will vote for their next President, and Afghanistan will see its first democratic transfer of power in history.

In the context of this progress, having consulted with Congress and my national security team, I’ve determined the nature of the commitment that America is prepared to make beyond 2014.  Our objectives are clear:  Disrupting threats posed by   al Qaeda; supporting Afghan security forces; and giving the Afghan people the opportunity to succeed as they stand on their own.

Here’s how we will pursue those objectives.  First, America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country.  American personnel will be in an advisory role.  We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys.  That is a task for the Afghan people.

Second, I’ve made it clear that we’re open to cooperating with Afghans on two narrow missions after 2014:  training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.

Today, I want to be clear about how the United States is prepared to advance those missions.  At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 98,000 U.S. — let me start that over, just because I want to make sure we don’t get this written wrong.  At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9,800 U.S. servicemembers in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half, and we will have consolidated our troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield.  One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we’ve done in Iraq.

Now, even as our troops come home, the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come.  But our relationship will not be defined by war — it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance, as well as our diplomatic support.  Our commitment to Afghanistan is rooted in the strategic partnership that we agreed to in 2012.  And this plan remains consistent with discussions we’ve had with our NATO allies.  Just as our allies have been with us every step of the way in Afghanistan, we expect that our allies will be with us going forward.

Third, we will only sustain this military presence after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the Bilateral Security Agreement that our two governments have already negotiated.  This Agreement is essential to give our troops the authorities they need to fulfill their mission, while respecting Afghan sovereignty.  The two final Afghan candidates in the run-off election for President have each indicated that they would sign this agreement promptly after taking office.  So I’m hopeful that we can get this done.

The bottom line is, it’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in harm’s way.  By the end of this year, we will have less than 10,000.  In addition to bringing our troops home, this new chapter in American foreign policy will allow us to redirect some of the resources saved by ending these wars to respond more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism, while addressing a broader set of priorities around the globe.

I think Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them.  Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century — not through signing ceremonies, but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who take the lead and ultimately full responsibility.  We remain committed to a sovereign, secure, stable, and unified Afghanistan.  And toward that end, we will continue to support Afghan-led efforts to promote peace in their country through reconciliation.  We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one.  The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans.  But what the United States can do — what we will do — is secure our interests and help give the Afghans a chance, an opportunity to seek a long, overdue and hard-earned peace.

America will always keep our commitments to friends and partners who step up, and we will never waver in our determination to deny al Qaeda the safe haven that they had before 9/11.  That commitment is embodied by the men and women in and out of uniform who serve in Afghanistan today and who have served in the past.  In their eyes, I see the character that sustains American security and our leadership abroad.  These are mostly young people who did not hesitate to volunteer in a time of war.  And as many of them begin to transition to civilian life, we will keep the promise we make to them and to all veterans, and make sure they get the care and benefits that they have earned and deserve.

This 9/11 Generation is part of an unbroken line of heroes who give up the comfort of the familiar to serve a half a world away — to protect their families and communities back home, and to give people they never thought they’d meet the chance to live a better life.  It’s an extraordinary sacrifice for them and for their families.  But we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re willing to make it.  That’s who we are as Americans.  That’s what we do.

Tomorrow, I will travel to West Point and speak to America’s newest class of military officers to discuss how Afghanistan fits into our broader strategy going forward.  And I’m confident that if we carry out this approach, we can not only responsibly end our war in Afghanistan and achieve the objectives that took us to war in the first place, we’ll also be able to begin a new chapter in the story of American leadership around the world.

Thanks very much.

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Obama Sneeks Into Afghanistan

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by Julie Pace

Associated Press

May 25, 1014

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BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) — President Barack Obama, on a surprise holiday visit to this sprawling military base, said Sunday he was close to a decision about the number of U.S. troops who will remain after year’s end in America’s longest war.

“We are aware of the sacrifices so many have made,” Obama said after a briefing by Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the top American commander in Afghanistan. “We’ll probably be announcing some decisions fairly shortly.”

The decision may come Wednesday when Obama delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

Air Force One landed at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, after an overnight flight from Washington. Obama was scheduled to spend just a few hours on the base and had no plans to travel to Kabul, the capital, to meet with Hamid Karzai, the mercurial president who has had a tumultuous relationship with the White House.

Obama’s surprise trip came as the U.S. and NATO withdraw most of their forces ahead of a year-end deadline.

Obama is seeking to keep a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to train Afghan security forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. But that plan is contingent on Karzai’s successor signing a bilateral security agreement that Karzai has refused to authorize.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said Obama had not finalized the troop decision and no announcement was expected during the Afghanistan visit.

At least 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded. There are still about 32,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000 in mid-2010, when as Obama sent in additional soldiers to quell escalating violence.

Obama said he saw a poster of the Twin Towers, downed in the 2001 terrorist attacks, when he arrived at the briefing building. “It’s a reminder of why we’re here,” he said.

This was Obama’s fourth visit to Afghanistan as president, but his first since winning re-election in 2012.

Rhodes said Obama was passing on a meeting with Karzai in order to avoid injecting himself into Afghanistan’s presidential elections. Karzai was given advance notice of Obama’s trip, Rhodes said, though it was unclear how far ahead of time.

In addition to the briefing by U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, Obama planned to speak to troops at Bagram and visit the injured being treated at a base hospital.

Obama was accompanied by a few advisers, including senior counselor John Podesta, whose son is serving in Afghanistan. Also along was country singer Brad Paisley, who was to perform for U.S. troops.

As is typical of recent presidential trips to war zones, the White House did not announce Obama’s visit in advance. Media traveling with Obama for the 13-hour flight had to agree to keep the trip secret until the president arrived at the air base.

Obama’s visit was taking place against the backdrop of growing outrage in the United States over the treatment of America’s war veterans. More than two dozen veterans’ hospitals across America are under investigation over allegations of treatment delays and deaths, putting greater scrutiny on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency already was struggling to keep up with the influx of forces returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama has staked much of his foreign policy philosophy on ending the two wars he inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The final American troops withdrew from Iraq in the closing days of 2011 after the U.S. and Iraq failed to reach a security agreement to keep a small American residual force in the country. In the years that have followed the American withdrawal, Iraq has been battered by resurgent waves of violence.

U.S. officials say they’re trying to avoid a similar scenario in Afghanistan. While combat forces are due to depart at the end of this year, Obama administration officials have pressed to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to continue training the Afghan security forces and undertake counterterrorism missions.

Pentagon officials have pushed for as many as 10,000 troops; others in the administration favor as few as 5,000 troops. Obama has insisted he will not keep any Americans in Afghanistan without a signed security agreement that would grant those forces immunity from Afghan law.

U.S. officials had hoped plans a post-2014 force would be well underway by this point. But Karzai stunned U.S. officials this year by saying he would not sign the security agreement even though he helped negotiate the terms. The move signaled that Karzai does not want his legacy to include a commitment to allow the deployment of international troops in his country any longer.

Karzai’s decision compounded his already tense relationship with officials in Washington who have grown increasingly frustrated by his anti-American rhetoric and decision to release prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials. Obama and Karzai have spoken just once in the past year.

Karzai, the only president Afghans have known since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban’s Islamic rule, was constitutionally barred from running for a third term this year. An election to choose his successor was held this month, with the top two candidates advancing to a June runoff.

Both of those candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have promised a fresh start with the West and pledged to move ahead with the security pact with the U.S.

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Bush

BushBarneyBW

George W.

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A Quote from the book

Decision Points ~ page 220

by George W. Bush:

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As I write in 2010, the war in Afghanistan continues…

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don't cry for me

Taliban

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The Taliban remain active and the Afghan government is struggling to gain full control of its country…

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aim

U.S. Soldier in north-eastern Afghanistan

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From the beginning, I knew it would take time to help the Afghan people build a functioning democracy consistent with its culture and traditions.  The task turned out to be even more daunting than I anticipated.  Our government was not prepared for nation building….

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rock road

High in Afghanistan…

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Over time we adapted our strategy and our capabilities.  Still, the poverty in Afghanistan is so deep, and the infrastructure is so lacking, that it will take many years to complete the work…

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young_barack_obama_smoking

Young Barack Obama

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I strongly believe the mission is worth the cost.  Fortunately, I am not the only one.  In the fall of 2009, President Obama stood up to critics by deploying more troops, announcing a new commitment to counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, and increasing the pressure on Pakistan to fight the extremists in the tribal areas…

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yesteryear

Young George W. Bush

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Ultimately, the only way the Taliban and al Qaeda can retake Afghanistan is if America abandons the country.  Allowing the extremists to reclaim power would force Afghan women back into subservience, remove girls from school, and betray all the gains of the past nine years.  It would also endanger our security.  After the Cold War, the United States gave up on Afghanistan.  The result was chaos, civil war, the Taliban takeover, sanctuary for al Queda, and the nightmare of 9/11.  To forget that lesson would be a dreadful mistake…

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nuristan-children-peek-a-boo

Children of Nuristan Province, Afghanistan

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George W. Bush Presidential Library:

http://www.georgewbushlibrary.smu.edu

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