TAMPA (Florida) • United States President Barack Obama has used his final address on national security to defend his approach to the fight against terrorism, calling for coalition-building to continue battlefield successes while rejecting the use of torture.
Highlighting the lines drawn during his eight years as commander-in-chief, Mr Obama did not mention Mr Donald Trump by name in his speech at MacDill Air Force Base. But he clearly addressed his successor, who has yet to spell out his own counter-terrorism strategy.
"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," Mr Obama said on Tuesday. "And we have to pursue a smart strategy that can be sustained."
Mr Obama said that for eight years, his administration protected the nation against major terrorist attacks from abroad while adhering to American values and the rule of law.
"No foreign terrorist organisation has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland," Mr Obama said to loud applause in a large military hangar.
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.
BETTER WITH FRIENDS
Instead of pushing all of the burden on to American ground troops, instead of trying to mount invasions wherever terrorists appear, we've built a network of partners.
TORTURE IS NOT THE WAY
We need the wisdom to see that upholding our values and adhering to the rule of law is not a weakness. In the long term, it is our greatest strength.
"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.
"Instead of pushing all of the burden on to American ground troops, instead of trying to mount invasions wherever terrorists appear, we've built a network of partners."
The speech was intended as a valedictory answer to years of criticism from conservatives that Mr Obama's break with many of former president George W. Bush's policies - ending the torture of terrorism suspects and withdrawing most US ground forces from Afghanistan and Iraq - had left the country vulnerable.
And many liberals have complained that Mr Obama had betrayed his 2008 campaign supporters by acting too much like Mr Bush in continuing and even expanding some policies, such as targeted killings using drones.
Mr Obama also defended his approach to fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, much of it centred around an intense air strike campaign. The extremist group that wants to establish a "caliphate" has lost "more than half" its territory, Mr Obama said.
"ISIL has lost control of major population centres. Its morale is plummeting. Its recruitment is drying up. Its commanders and external plotters are being taken out, and local populations are turning against it," said Mr Obama, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
Mr Obama, who authorised the strike to take out Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said that the group was now "a shadow of its former self".
Mr Obama touched on issues like torture that had provoked controversy during Mr Trump's White House run. The 44th president had banned extreme Central Intelligence Agency interrogation techniques used on terror detainees as soon as he took office.
Mr Obama stressed that the fight against terror should not come at the expense of civil rights and American democratic traditions. "We need the wisdom to see that upholding our values and adhering to the rule of law is not a weakness. In the long term, it is our greatest strength," he said to applause.
"We prohibited torture everywhere at all times and that includes tactics like waterboarding," he said. "And at no time has anybody who has worked with me told me that doing so has cost us good intelligence."
On the campaign trail, Mr Trump pledged to restore waterboarding - a form of simulated drowning widely regarded as torture - and permit "far, far worse". But since his election, he seems to be softening his views - a change that may reflect the influence of his nominee to head the Pentagon, retired marine general James Mattis.
The threat of global terror will remain an issue "for years to come", Mr Obama said. He cautioned that extremists do not represent American Muslims, and that the US should never impose a religious test on its people, a reference to another controversial Trump campaign proposal.
"We're a nation that believes freedom can never be taken for granted. And that each of us has a responsibility to sustain it, the universal right to speak your minds and to protest against authority, to live in a society that's open and free, that can criticise our president without retribution."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES
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