“As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a to Tripoli,” Obama said early Wednesday in his annual State of the Union address in Congress, according to AFP.
“A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators -- a murderer with American blood on his hands. Today, he is gone.”
While noting it was unclear how events in the Middle East and North Africa would unfold, Obama said he would continue to “stand against violence and intimidation” and support democratic ideals.
“How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain. But we have a huge stake in the outcome,” he said.
“We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.”
No options off the table for Iran
But Obama vowed that he would “take no options off the table,” including the military option, in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The world community has overcome its divisions and was now united on how to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Obama said.
“The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent,” Obama said.
“Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” the president declared.
“But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible,” he said.
The United States and the European Union have stepped up sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sector as part of efforts to force Iran to stop uranium enrichment, which they fear masks a drive to produce an atomic bomb.
Iran insists its enrichment program is purely peaceful.
Iran’s leaders have warned they could close the Strait of Hormuz -- a key transit route for global oil supplies -- if increased Western sanctions over Tehran’s suspect nuclear program halt Iranian oil exports.
Hailing the killing of Bin Laden
Calling the flag “one of my proudest possessions,” Obama told U.S. lawmakers in his annual State of the Union address that it bears the names of all the men who carried out the daring raid commando raid deep inside Pakistan on May 2.
“Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation room,” said Obama, whose agenda has been stymied by battles with Republican congressional foes.
“All that mattered that day was the mission. No-one thought about politics,” he said, pointing out how he watched the raid unfold alongside then defense secretary Robert Gates, who served under former president George W. Bush, as well as his former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The SEAL team slipped into Pakistan by helicopter and landed in bin Laden’s walled compound in Abbottabad, storming the house and killing the al-Qaeda leader blamed for ordering the Sep. 11, 2011 attacks on the United States.
“Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No-one built this country on their own,” Obama said.
“This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great, no mission too hard.”
The annual address this year effectively launches Obama’s campaign for re-election in the November polls, as he sought to tout his credentials as the nation’s commander-in-chief.
Repairing the nation’s creaking roads and infrastructure
Obama used his annual State of the Union policy address to denounce America’s economic inequality, drawing a battle line with Republicans ahead of what is expected to be a tough fight for re-election.
The speech before a joint session of Congress, one of America’s grandest political events, put Obama back in the spotlight after months of being overshadowed by the fierce race among Republicans vying to be his opponent in the November election. Tens of millions of people were expected to watch the speech on television.
Obama said the state of the union “is getting stronger.” But with the weak economic recovery threatening his reelection prospects, Obama pledged a revival, but one that will work for everyone and not just the rich, according to The Associated Press.
“So much of America needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said, adding the United States has “crumbling roads and bridges.”
He provided no dollar figures for his plan. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated savings from the wars would result in “about $440 billion less” in spending in 2012-2021, according to Reuters.
Democrats have previously proposed using some war savings to help pay for infrastructure upgrades but such ideas have died in Congress.
In recent years, the United States has fallen sharply in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of national infrastructure systems. In the forum’s 2007-2008 report, American infrastructure was ranked sixth best in the world. The 2011-2012 report showed America at No. 16. The quality of U.S. roads is now about on par with those of Malaysia.
Obama said the other half of the money saved winding down the wars would go to paying down U.S. debt.
Aiming to sell his idea as potentially creating jobs, the president said his proposal would help construction workers left unemployed by the 2007-09 recession.
“There’s never been a better time to build,” Obama said, adding that he will sign an executive order within weeks to clear away red tape for public construction projects.
Adressing income inequality
Last year, the president proposed a $556 billion, six-year transport plan that included high-speed funds, but which went nowhere in Congress.
Republican front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich blame Obama for what they see as reckless spending, high taxes and out-of-control government regulations that hurt businesses, prevent hiring and stifle growth.
Obama casts government as a force that can help people get a shot at a better life. He has accused Republicans of defending the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
His timing could not have been better for a message about income inequality. Earlier Tuesday, Romney released his tax returns under political pressure, revealing that he earned nearly $22 million in 2010 and paid an effective tax rate of about 14 percent. That is a lesser rate than many Americans pay because of how investment income is taxed in the United States, AP reported.
In his speech, Obama proposed making millionaires pay more in taxes. He also proposed more relief for homeowners and a crackdown on sending U.S. jobs overseas.
Obama faces considerable challenges three years into his term. Polling shows Americans are divided about Obama’s overall job performance but unsatisfied with his handling of the economy.
The economy is improving, but unemployment still stands at the high rate of 8.5 percent. Government debt stands at $15.2 trillion, a record, and up from $10.6 trillion when he took office.