President Touts Security Advances, Praises Nation's Troops
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 29, 2009 President Obama addressed changes in security policy, challenges in Pakistan, torture policy and progress in Iraq, during a wide-ranging White House news conference tonight.
During the prime-time press conference marking the end of the administration’s first 100 days, he also praised American servicemembers for their sacrifice and can-do spirit.
He said he is proud of what his administration has accomplished, but he is not content.
The president said he is “gravely concerned” about Pakistan. The Taliban now rules the Swat Valley and is making inroads even closer to the capital of Islamabad. Obama said he is concerned not because he is afraid the Taliban will overrun the government, but because the government is weak and cannot gain the trust of the people.
He said he is confident that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is secure, and would not say what the United States would do if that arsenal were threatened.
“On the military side, you’re starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally,” he said. “You’re starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists.”
The president offered U.S. cooperation to combat the terrorist threat in the country. “We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge national security interests, in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don’t end up having a nuclear-armed militant state,” he said.
Obama discussed Iraq and the recent spate of bombings in the country. He said even with the spike in bombings the level of violence in the country is far below what it was last year. The Iraqi government continues to govern and extend its reach to the people on the streets.
Still the bombings point to the wisdom of adopting a go-slow approach in the country. “Part of the reason why I called for a gradual withdrawal … was precisely because more work needs to be done, on the political side, to further isolate whatever remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq still exist,” he said.
The Iraqi government still has much serious work to do to divide oil revenues and improve relationships among Kurds, Arab Sunnis and Arab Shia in the country, he said, adding that all sides must work together to settle these issues peacefully. “What we’ve done is we’ve provided sufficient time for them to get that work done, but we’ve got to keep the pressure up, not just on the military side but on the diplomatic and development sides as well,” the president said.
Obama is convinced that forbidding “enhanced interrogation practices” not only was the right thing to do, it makes America safer. He said such tactics as waterboarding are torture. He called the practices inconsistent with American values and ideals. Intelligence professionals could have gotten the information via other means without handing terror groups a recruiting tool, he noted.
Torture and acting contrary to American ideals “corrodes what’s best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country,” he said. “Part of what makes us … still a beacon to the world is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals, even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy.”
When a reporter asked the president what “enchanted” him in his first 100 days in office, Obama turned to the nation’s troops.
“When I meet our servicemen and -women, enchanted is probably not the word I would use,” he said. “But I am so profoundly impressed and grateful to them for what they do.
“They’re really good at their jobs,” he said. “They are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices on our behalf. And they do so without complaint. They are fiercely loyal to this country. And, you know, the more I interact with our servicemen and - women, from the top brass down to the lowliest private, I’m just grateful to them.”