WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama stressed during his State of the Union address Wednesday the importance of confronting terrorists who threaten the United States and of succeeding in Afghanistan while continuing a responsible military drawdown in Iraq.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress during an address that focused primarily on the economy, the president urged closer cooperation in doing “what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future — for America and the world.”
The United States has increased security to disrupt terror plots at home, while continuing to take the fight to the enemy, he said, noting that hundreds of al-Qaida members or affiliates have been captured or killed during the last year alone.
The United States has increased its troop commitment to Afghanistan and is training Afghan security forces so they can begin taking the lead in July 2011, the president said. At that point, he added, “our troops can begin to come home.”
Joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitments in Afghanistan, Obama said, the United States will strive to help Afghanistan build good governance, reduce corruption and support the rights of all its citizens.
The president acknowledged the challenges to be overcome. “There will be difficult days ahead,” he told Congress. “But I am absolutely confident we will succeed.”
While taking the fight to the terrorists, the United States “is responsibly leaving Iraq to its people,” Obama said. He emphasized that although combat troops will leave Iraq by Aug. 31, the U.S. commitment there will continue.
“We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity,” he said. “But make no mistake: This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”
In addition to terrorism, Obama recognized what he called “perhaps the greatest danger to the American people” — the threat of nuclear weapons. He emphasized the importance of international cooperation to keep them from falling into terrorists’ hands, and the need for continued pressure on North Korea and Iran to get them to abandon their nuclear weapons programs.
The president paid tribute to the men and women in uniform who have stood on the front lines around the world protecting U.S. security.
“They have to know that they have our respect, our gratitude and our full support,” he said. “Just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home.”
Obama noted resources dedicated to this continued commitment, including increased funding and program improvements at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a national commitment to support military families, forged by first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
In addition to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and the service chiefs, the invitation for this year’s State of the Union address included several military or former military members.