Obama calls for war authorization, touts military policy
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday to again urge Congress to pass an authorization for war against the Islamic State.
The newest request from Obama comes more than five months after U.S. and allied forces began a concerted air campaign in Iraq and Syria to "degrade and ultimately defeat" Islamic State militants. So far, lawmakers have approved billions of dollars to pay for the offensive and green-lighted an administration plan to train moderate Syrian rebels but have not weighed in with guidelines on how the war should be waged.
Obama made the request for an authorization, touted successes against Russia and urged the hiring of veterans during his sixth State of the Union speech, which called 2014 a “breakthrough year for America” and focused heavily on reducing income inequality.
The president said the United States and the coalition are stopping the Islamic State’s advance but called for patience.
“It will require focus, but we will succeed,” Obama said. “And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority.”
The White House maintained after the start of operations in Iraq and Syria in August that the war could be waged without approval from Congress by relying on earlier war authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002 to fight al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.
The president appeared to change course in November after Democrats lost in the midterm elections and said he would welcome an updated authorization. But the White House and lawmakers have been at odds over whether the process should begin with a formal detailed request from the president.
Foreign military policy working
Obama said Tuesday night that the U.S. has learned “costly lessons” in the wars launched after 9/11. But he said the current military strategy of avoiding a new ground war against the Islamic State through steady bombing and a proxy army is succeeding.
“Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group,” he said. “We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.”
The U.S. is using similar strategies of partnering with countries around the world “from South Asia to North Africa” and backing local forces against terrorists instead of sending large combat forces abroad, Obama said.
“Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we’ve trained their security forces, who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honored our troops’ sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition,” he said.
The administration’s economic policies are also winning the struggle with a recalcitrant Russia, which last year annexed Crimea and helped fuel a civil war in neighboring Ukraine under President Vladimir Putin, Obama said.
“Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies … Mr. Putin’s aggression, it was suggested, was a masterful display of strategy and strength,” he said. “Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.”
In the days leading up to the speech, veterans groups said they were hoping to hear the president speak on health care improvements. Obama said the country is working to ensure vets have access to the highest quality care and also gave a nod to veteran employment.
“Already, we’ve made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care,” he said. “We’re slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need, and we’re making it easier for vets to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs.”
But the president made no direct reference to the troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs national system of hospitals and clinics and a massive overhaul bill he signed in August.
Instead, he mentioned that an initiative called Joining Forces headed by first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden helped almost 700,000 vets and military spouses find jobs.
“So to every CEO in America, let me repeat: If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a veteran,” he said.