US President Barack Obama has vowed in his sixth State of the Union address to relentlessly hunt down “terrorists” from “Pakistan to the streets of Paris,” before calling on Congress to approve new war powers against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Obama argued on Tuesday that US military leadership in Iraq and Syria is stopping ISIL from advancing, but asked lawmakers “to show the world that we are united in this mission” with a war authorisation vote.
Republican lawmakers have said they are prepared to work with him to pass such a measure, if he sends a proposal up to Capitol Hill.
“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,” Obama 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. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed.”
We can't slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we've got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things I will veto it.
Cuba, Iran and Ukraine
Obama also promoted his administration’s efforts to revive relations with Cuba after 50 years of hostility.
“Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” he said.
“And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo [on Cuba],” he added.
The US president also warned Congress in the address that any move to impose new sanctions on Iran could undermine negotiations aimed at reaching a complex nuclear deal.
“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails ,” Obama said in his address to the Republican-controlled Congress.
“Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear programme and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran.”
“That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress,” Obama said, referring to an interim accord under which Tehran has frozen its uranium enrichment in return for limited sanctions relief.
Obama also noted that United States’ substantial support for Ukraine, which is facing of growing threat from Russian-backed separatists, has further demonstrated the country’s strong place in the international community.
“We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” he said.
Obama also devoted a large portion of the speech to the various domestic issues he has dealt with in his two terms as president.
“We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system.” he warned Republicans.
And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things I will veto it.”
He also outlined a number of progressive policies, although the likelihood of them being realized in his remaining time in office appears slim.
Reporting from Capitol Hill, Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane said: “I don’t think the president laid out the speech thinking he would get anything done, but he wanted to highlight the difference for the American people between him and the Republicans in Congress.”
“He talked about very progressive issues like raising the minimum wage, making childcare more affordable, free college tuition for two years.”
However the response of many Republicans was to ask how Obama planned to pay for those initiatives.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, also reporting from Capitol Hill, said: “How is the president going to pay for that? That is the one thing that seemed to be missing from the speech according to Republicans – what President Obama did not mention in his speech is that the US has a $18.1 trillion debt and 7 trillion of those dollars were added under Obama.”