In Tampa today, Obama to talk of successes, ongoing challenges in counterterrorism
WASHINGTON - President Obama will use speech in Tampa today to assess his role in fighting terrorism, taking credit for withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan while acknowledging the challenges of the Islamic State.
He will also send an implied warning to Donald Trump against what a top adviser deemed “poor decisions” brought by overstating the threat.
The speech at MacDill Air Force Base, scheduled to begin about 4:10 p.m., is Obama’s final address on national security and will be preceded by a private visit with active duty service members and public thanks for their efforts.
Obama’s policies have come under sustained criticism from Republicans and some members of his own party, but he will argue he has left things better off than eight years ago and hands over a “sustainable” counterterrorism strategy.
“We are going after terrorists. We are taking direct action to dismantle terrorist networks. But we’re building partners on the ground,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, said in a conference call with reporters previewing the speech.
Those partners, he said, mean fewer U.S. troops in harm’s way and less resources spent.
Obama will talk about how when he took office there were 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and today there are roughly 15,000, while al-Qaeda has been diminished.
Yet despite those gains, ISIS has grown and some point to the withdraw from Iraq. The U.S. has been rocked by violence carried out by people inspired by the group, including the man who massacred 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Trump has called for a much tougher counterterrorism strategy, from more blunt military strikes to intense screening of Muslims. Trump has not articulated a concrete plan to take on ISIS, though has surrounded himself with military leaders who disagree with Obama’s approach.
Obama’s MacDill speech was set a couple months ago, Rhodes said, but the differences will be on display when Obama cautions against using torture as an interrogation method and makes the case of trying suspects through the courts, not in military settings such as Guantanamo Bay.
The president will also talk about steps to limit surveillance programs.
“This is a long term, enduring effort. We need to see our status as a nation of laws and our commitment to our values as a strength and not a weakness,” Rhodes said.
The Obama administration on Monday published a lengthy memo outlining its use of force rules, including oversight of drones and suspect detention.
Obama will also promote diplomacy over conflict, pointing to the Iran nuclear deal (which Trump has vowed to back out of) and curtailing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad use of chemical weapons.
He reflected on his legacy this summer while in Warsaw for a NATO summit.
“As commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world, I spend a lot of time brooding over these issues,” Obama said. “I am not satisfied that we have got it yet. I can say it is better than when I came into office.