Wars have hit US credibility, don't make us safer: Obama

Wars have hit US credibility, don't make us safer: Obama

US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that 2014 should be the year to shift away from a “permanent war footing” and finally close the US prison at Guantanamo Bay as Washington winds down its military role in Afghanistan.

In his annual State of the Union address, Obama reminded Americans that he had already imposed “prudent limits” on deadly US drone strikes against al-Qaeda and its allies — a campaign that has drawn criticism for civilian casualties in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

“We will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence,” he said.

Obama also used his speech to reassure a war-weary American public that the US military was on track to withdraw from Afghanistan after more than a decade of war there. “We will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America's longest war will finally be over,” he said.

Obama said: “American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands.   American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated. As we speak,  American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks. And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear programme.”

Obama also renewed his old vow — dating back to the start of his presidency five years ago — to shut the internationally condemned jail at the US Naval Base in Cuba, and called on Congress for further action to help him do so.

“This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” said Obama. “Because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.”

Opened by President George W Bush in 2002, Guantanamo became a symbol of the excesses of his administration's “war on terror” due to its interrogation and detention practices. Even he expressed a desire to close the camp near the end of his presidency.

While seeking to turn the page on the Bush era, Obama failed to meet his promise to shut the prison within a year of taking office in early 2009. Though he recommitted several times to his pledge, he was reluctant to set a new time frame for achieving it.

Obama stopped short of offering any new prescriptions on how he intends to empty Guantanamo of its remaining 155 prisoners. The effort to close Guantanamo is a critical part of Obama's broader drive to roll back some of controversial aspects of the global fight against Islamist militants as he presses ahead with plans to formally end the long, unpopular war in Afghanistan.

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