From the White House
Giving Thanks to our Fallen Heroes this Memorial Day
WASHINGTON, DC— In this week's address, President Obama commemorated Memorial Day by paying tribute to the men and women in uniform who have given their lives in service to our country. The President said that America has always risen to meet and overcome its challenges because of their brave sacrifice, and asked all Americans to honor our fallen heroes and to stand with our veterans and military families as we come together this weekend.
The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, May 25, 2013.
Remarks of President Barack Obasma
The White House
May 25, 2013
Hi, everybody. This week, I've been speaking about America's national security – our past, our present, and our future.
On Thursday, I outlined the future of our fight against terrorism – the threats we face, and the way in which we will meet them.
On Friday, I went to Annapolis to celebrate the extraordinary young men and women of the United States Naval Academy's Class of 2013 – the sailors and Marines who will not only lead that fight, but who will lead our country for decades to come.
And on Monday, we celebrate Memorial Day. Unofficially, it's the start of summer – a chance for us to spend some time with family and friends, at barbecues or the beach, getting a little fun and relaxation in before heading back to work.
It's also a day on which we set aside some time, on our own or with our families, to honor and remember all the men and women who have given their lives in service to this country we love.
They are heroes, each and every one. They gave America the most precious thing they had – “the last full measure of devotion.” And because they did, we are who we are today – a free and prosperous nation, the greatest in the world.
At a time when only about one percent of the American people bear the burden of our defense, the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform isn't always readily apparent. That's partly because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coast guardsmen are so skilled at what they do. It's also because those who serve tend to do so quietly. They don't seek the limelight. They don't serve for our admiration, or even our gratitude. They risk their lives, and many give their lives, for something larger than themselves or any of us: the ideals of liberty and justice that make America a beacon of hope for the world.
That's been true throughout our history – from our earliest days, when a tiny band of revolutionaries stood up to an Empire, to our 9/11 Generation, which continues to serve and sacrifice today.
Every time a threat has risen, Americans have risen to meet it. And because of that courage – that willingness to fight, and even die – America endures.
That is the purpose of Memorial Day. To remember with gratitude the countless men and women who gave their lives so we could know peace and live in freedom.
And we must do more than remember.
We must care for the loved ones that our fallen service members have left behind.
We must make sure all our veterans have the care and benefits they've earned, and the jobs and opportunity they deserve.
We must be there for the military families whose loved ones are in harm's way – for they serve as well.
And above all, we must make sure that the men and women of our armed forces have the support they need to achieve their missions safely at home and abroad.
The young men and women I met at the Naval Academy this week know the meaning of service. They've studied the heroes of our history. They've chosen to follow in their footsteps – to stand their watch, man a ship, lead a platoon. They are doing their part. And each of us must do ours.
So this weekend, as we commemorate Memorial Day, I ask you to hold all our fallen heroes in your hearts.
And every day, let us work together to preserve what their sacrifices achieved – to make our country even stronger, even more fair, even more free. That is our mission. It is our obligation. And it is our privilege, as the heirs of those who came before us, and as citizens of the United States of America.
Obama refocuses terror threat to pre-9/11 level
by ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON—Some call it wishful thinking, but President Barack Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terror.
Obama is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners. Instead, he is refocusing the long struggle against terrorism that lies ahead, steering the United States away from what he calls an equally frightening threat—a country in a state of perpetual war. In doing so, Obama recasts the image of the terrorists themselves, from enemy warriors to cowardly thugs and resets the relationship between the U.S. and Islam.
His speech Thursday was designed to move America's mindset away from a war footing and refine and recalibrate his own counterterrorism strategy. Obama asserted that al-Qaida is "on the path to defeat," reducing the scale of terrorism to pre-Sept. 11 levels. That means that with the Afghanistan war winding down, Obama is unlikely to commit troops in large numbers to any conflict—in Syria or other countries struggling with instability in the uncertain aftermath of the Arab Spring—unless, as his critics fear, he tragically has underestimated al-Qaida's staying power.
"Wishing the defeat of terrorists does not make it so," said Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
In Thornberry's view, Obama is pushing the idea that "we can simply declare al-Qaida beaten and go back to the pre-9/11 era."
From the beginning of his presidency, Obama's centerpiece of his national security strategy has been a desire to move beyond the wars he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the shadowy spaces occupied by al-Qaida and its offshoots now creeping up in North Africa and elsewhere.
Those endeavors consumed enormous amounts of his administration's time and attention during his first term, not to mention the incalculable costs paid by military members and their families.
"This war, like all wars, must end," he said. "That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."
As Obama edges toward a new approach to national security, his political opponents are quick to raise doubts.
"Too often, this president has sought to end combat operations through rhetoric rather than reality," GOP Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Friday.
"He has declared the war in Iraq over, but the insurgency there continues. He has declared an end to combat operations in Afghanistan, but the Taliban fight on. He has now declared the war on terrorism over, despite a terrorist attack in Britain this week, a terrorist attack in Boston last month and a terrorist attack in Libya that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead last year."
Yet the president cautioned against a return to what he called a complacency in counterterrorism before Islamic extremists hijacked U.S. jetliners and slammed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Make no mistake," he said, "our nation is still threatened by terrorists," noting that the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya, last September and in Boston last month were tragic reminders.
But he also left little doubt that he thinks it is time to turn the page on the post-9/11 approach. He was referring not only to the controversial use of armed drones to target terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries, but also the commitment of tens of thousands of U.S. ground troops in conventional fighting.
"For all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe," he said. "We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root," adding that "a perpetual war—through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments—will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling way."
Some counterterrorism experts long have argued that the global war on terror should be brought to a close, and that some of the policies and programs put in place after 9/11 should be reconsidered and possibly changed.
James Lewis, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues for a more traditional approach to battling terrorism, largely through law enforcement and the intelligence community.
Lewis said that ending the fight against terrorism will help reinforce the administration's message that America is not at war with Islam.
"It helps, because it delegitimizes the terrorists," said Lewis. "They want to think of themselves as warriors. We want the world to think of them as crooks. We want everyone in every country not to think of them as terrorists defending Islam, but as people who are psychos. They are criminals, and that's what we want to paint them as."
That is closely in line with Obama's description of what remains of the terrorist threat.
He said core al-Qaida, the organization formerly led by Osama bin Laden, is "a shell of its former self." The president said that while one of its most troublesome affiliates, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is a force to be reckoned with, "in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaida will pose a credible threat to the United States."
He also cautioned against the threat of homegrown extremists and said terrorism may never go away entirely.
"But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11," he said.
Oregon teen planned Columbine-style attack at his school
by Ben Brumfield, Jake Carpenter and AnneClaire Stapleton
Sniffer dogs will search an Oregon high school for explosives before students return from the Memorial Day weekend, because one of their classmates was planning to attack them with bombs and bullets, police said.
The 1999 shooting spree at Colorado's Columbine High School served as Grant Acord's benchmark and inspiration, Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson said. But the prosecutor said the teen wanted to top Columbine in a planned attack at West Albany High School.
With the help of explosive devices, checklists and diagrams, Acord made "some adjustments that would make it a greater success," Haroldson said.
The prosecutor said police found six types of explosives in the 17-year-old's possession after they arrested him Thursday night at his mother's house in Albany, Oregon.
They recovered napalm, pipe and drain cleaner bombs, as well as Molotov cocktails Friday from "a secret compartment that had been created in the floorboards" of the teen's bedroom, Haroldson said.
Albany police became suspicious after they "received information that associated ... Acord with manufacturing a destructive device with the intent of detonating it at a school."
West Albany High School's principal, Susie Orsborn, sent a note to students' parents, asking them to urge their children to come forward and speak with police if they knew anything about the plan.
Acord, a juvenile, will be charged "as an adult with attempted aggravated murder," Haroldson said. He will also face bomb-making charges and "unlawful possession of a deadly weapon with intent to use against another person."
He is scheduled to appear in court for the first time Tuesday.
CNN is attempting to reach Acord's attorney for comment.
Albany police searched the school twice -- the first time on the night they arrested Acord.
But state police want to conduct a more thorough search with dogs before students return to class.
Connecticut Leads the Way on Protecting Children
by Secretary Arne Duncan
At a town hall meeting today on school safety at the Classical Magnet School in Hartford, I got to hear firsthand how Connecticut is leading the nation in adopting common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence and improve school safety.
In the aftermath of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, the courage and resilience of teachers, parents, children, and communities in the Newtown area has been nothing short of remarkable.
From Governor Dannel Malloy to state lawmakers to the members of the Sandy Hook Promise, the entire state worked together to pass comprehensive legislation to reduce gun violence.
Unlike here in Washington, Connecticut's lawmakers didn't defend the status quo or shrink from tackling difficult questions. With bipartisan support, they enacted a comprehensive law to help curb gun violence and mass shootings that does not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and hunt.
Connecticut's leaders have set an example of political courage that can teach a lot to Congress and the rest of the nation. At today's town hall meeting, Governor Malloy talked about how he decided to press ahead for new gun violence prevention measures, despite fierce attacks from the NRA.
By contrast, in Washington, Congress has so far failed to take the sensible step of expanding the background check system to close loopholes that allow criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns.
Those loopholes make no sense—and 90 percent of the public backs expanding background checks. I hope that Congress soon takes up universal background checks again.
Both the state and federal government are lending a helping hand in the recovery of Newtown and surrounding communities affected by the violence at Sandy Hook. At today's town hall, Governor Malloy and I announced two new grants to help in the recovery process.
Under Connecticut's new Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety Act, signed into law by Governor Malloy last month, Connecticut will provide $5 million to municipalities to boost school security. State funding will go to schools with the most need—buildings with little or no security infrastructure in school districts that are struggling financially.
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education will provide a $1.3 million Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant to the Newtown Public School District to assist the community in recovering from the shootings.
The Project SERV grant will help fund grief support groups for siblings who lost classmates, skill-based counseling for students suffering posttraumatic stress, security guards, an academic-booster summer session for students, and many other services.
Our efforts to assist the recovery of Newtown from this tragedy are only the beginning of the steps that our schools, communities, Congress, and our country must take to ensure our children grow up safe and free from fear.
Every community needs to appraise its values--and look at whether the community, parents, business leaders, faith-based leaders, political leaders, and schools are doing everything that they can to keep our nation's children safe from harm.
This is a collective responsibility. None of us gets a pass. As a nation, we cannot “move on” and forget the pain and unbearable tragedy of 20 young children and six educators gunned down in an elementary school in a matter of minutes on December 14, 2012.
The students I talked in Connecticut today were bright, spirited, and eager to go on to college to get their degrees. They are the faces of the future. Our nation's leaders, our parents and our educators owe it to them and to all our children to do everything in our power to make sure their dreams are not cut short by violence.
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education