President Obama Tells Americans to Chill

President Obama spoke in a press conference on Friday afternoon to address growing dissatisfaction among Americans over U.S. surveillance programs, relations with Russia, and the Obamacare. A running theme throughout his commentary seemed to be for Americans to calm down on the issues that have been causing some alarm in the headlines, and bestow more trust in government functions.

But the President's vow to engage in some specific changes to promote increased transparency and flexibility in streamlining and improving government programs was notable, and indicated that the alarm, however unnecessary, has been making enough waves in the White House to pressure some sort of response.

The president began by explaining that recent discourse over American surveillance programs has helped underline how delicate the line can be between "protecting our security and preserving our freedoms."

He proposed four steps to help "move the debate forward" on surveillance programs: To work with Congress to review section 2:15 of the Patriot Act (that allows for collections of phone records); To review the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (that hears cases for surveillance); To roll out new measures for transparency in our national security programs; and to round up a group of experts to review intelligence and communications technology.

"America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," he said, adding that the world needed to trust that the U.S. government would never be out there, "willy nilly spying on people." Unlike other governments of the world, he insisted, the American system honors a strong tradition of  respecting civil liberties and privacy, saying, "We have significant capabilities ... but we show restraint." 

On Putin, Obama brushed off comments that relations with Russia's president were on the rocks with the sudden cancellation of Monday's summit, saying, "I do not have a bad personal relationship with Putin." He tried to assure reporters that they have had productive and candid conversations when they are able to sit down and discuss issues (and added in a joking manner that Putin's penchant for looking like the "bored kid in the back of the classroom" was not indicative of broken relationship).

But still, the President's remarks indicated that he felt significant pressure to reassure the American people, and the world, about America's security policy. In a bizarre analogy, he added that sometimes if he does the dishes (clearly in the pre-White House days), he has to show Michelle the clean ones.

The challenge will be, of course, in moving beyond the rhetoric and striking some sort of balance between promises for increased transparency and heightened security. 

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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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