WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama today announced to bring 34,000 American troops back home from war-torn Afghanistan in the next one year as he warned North Korea and Iran to meet the international obligations on their controversial nuclear programs or face firm action.
“This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan,” Obama said.
Obama’s move will reduce by more than half the current force level of 66,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The US, NATO and Afghanistan agreed in Lisbon in 2010, and affirmed in Chicago last year, that Kabul will assume full responsibility for its security by the end of 2014, he said.
Obama termed North Korea’s nuclear tests as “provocative” and vowed to take “firm action” against Pyongyang, a day after the reclusive Communist state conducted its third and most powerful nuclear explosion despite international sanctions.
“The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats,” he said.
He also told Iranian leaders it was time to end the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program, saying the diplomatic option for Islamic republic is still open.
“The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” he said. . “At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead,” Obama said.
Speaking forcefully about education and economic opportunity for all, Obama sought more investment in schools and clean energy; deficit reduction through spending cuts, tax increases and new measures to protect critical infrastructure from growing cyber threat from foreign enemies.
“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?” he said.
“Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing,” he said, adding that after shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.
Proposing a slew of measures to reduce the nation’s deficit, Obama called for saving hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.
“The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together,” he said.
He also urged the Congress to increase the minimum wage.
“Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to USD 9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” he added. Assertive about America’s responsibilities in today’s bewildering world, Obama said that there is no need to send troops to occupy other nation and instead argued for helping countries like Yemen, Syria and Libya to stand on their own feet and fight successfully against terrorist.
He vowed to work with other nations towards global poverty elimination and an AIDS-free world.
Obama also announced that the US would enter into talks for a free trade agreement with the European Union.
In his speech that lasted for more than an hour, Obama asked the Congress to show bipartisanship and work with him to be the authors of the next great chapter of American story.
Speaking on climate change, Obama pledged to take unilateral action if the Congress refuses to back him, asserting that the country must “act before, it’s too late.”
“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” Obama said.
“We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy,” Obama said referring to the heroics shown by this Oak Tree Police officer who saved people during a Sikh Gurdwara shootout in Wisconsin last year.
“When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside, even as he lay bleeding from 12 bullet wounds. And when asked how he did that, Brian said, ‘That’s just the way we’re made’,” Obama said.
While the country has progressed a lot in the last four years, in terms of improvement in the economy, and the almost ending of the decade old war, Obama said: “Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the State of our Union is stronger.”
But there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded.
Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs — but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged, he noted.
“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class. It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from,” Obama said as he spelt out the agenda of his next four years.
Soon after the speech, Indian-American Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal blasted Democrat Obama for what he described doubling down on failed policies from the past while outlining his shortsighted vision for the future in his address.
41-year-old influential Republican leader Jindal, according to political experts is among the frontrunners for the party’s presidential nomination in the 2016 elections.
However, Obama’s speech received positive review from the media. While CBS’s Bob Schieffer called the speech much “better” than Obama’s inaugural address, which he said had come across as a “partisan lecture”, Fox News’ Charles Krauthammer, called it “effective it did what he had to do.”
“Obama’s broad second-term agenda is impressive,” The New York Times said.