Washington-U.S. President Barack Obama delivered Tuesday a speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, home to the military’s Central Command and Special Operations Command.
He stood before a crowd of about 2,500 men and women mostly in uniform and presented himself as the most battle-tested president in the country’s history.
In his final major speech on counterterrorism as president, Obama argued that his administration had been able to make al-Qaeda “a shadow of its former self” and had put ISIS on its heels but said terrorism would remain a threat to the United States.
“Rather than offer false promises that we can eliminate terrorism by dropping more bombs or deploying more and more troops or fencing ourselves off from the rest of the world, we have to take a long view of the terrorist threat and we have to pursue a smart strategy that can be sustained,” Obama said.
Obama will turn over the White House on Jan. 20 to Republican President-elect Donald Trump who has been sharply critical of his administration’s approach to fighting terrorism.
Trump referred to Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as the “co-founders” of ISIS during the presidential campaign, blaming them for the initial spread of the militant group.
The White House said Obama’s national security speech had been planned long before the Nov. 8 election and was not aimed specifically at the incoming Trump administration.
However, during his speech, Obama spoke of the importance of adhering to American laws and values and against reinstating the use of waterboarding or imposing a religious test on immigrants, two positions that Trump has supported in the past.
“The whole objective of these terrorists is to scare us into changing who we are and our democracy,” Obama said.
Obama signed an executive order after taking office in January 2009 that banned waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” or EITs.
Many lawmakers and human rights groups have denounced waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, as torture.
While Trump is now calling for “extreme vetting’ of certain refugees admitted to the United States, during the campaign he proposed banning foreign-born Muslims from entering the country.
Obama came into office planning to unwind U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promising to focus on fighting militant groups that threatened the United States wherever they were.
Instead, he has been forced to return some U.S. troops to Iraq and keep thousands in place in Afghanistan after more than 14-1/2 years of war.
Obama said his administration’s approach of providing support to local partners and not undertaking massive ground invasions has been effective and is making progress in the fight to take Mosul in Iraq from ISIS.
“No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland,” Obama said to loud applause in a large military hangar.
“And it’s not because they didn’t try. Plots have been disrupted. Terrorists have been taken off the battlefield and we’ve done this even as we’ve drawn down nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
He defended an approach to fighting wars that did not bankrupt the Treasury or cause thousands of deaths.
He noted, for instance, that he has spent $10 billion over the last two years fighting ISIS— the same amount of money President George W. Bush spent in just one month fighting the Iraq War.