President Obama spent recent weeks touring the country giving a number of important speeches. He spent time in Arizona, where he spoke on home ownership and creating middle class opportunities; he visited Camp Pendleton to thank Marines for their service and lay out a plan to help veterans; he spoke on the unrest in Egypt; finally, he spoke on a plan to revise the NSA's surveillance programs. These speeches reveal much of Obama's vision for the rest of his tenure in office. In case you missed any of them, here is a quick recap.
1. Marines and the Sequester – Camp Pendleton, California
The Ppresident visited Southern California to thank Marines and their families for bearing the burden of the past 12 years of war. He spoke on the imminent defeat of Al- Qaeda, but cautioned troops that, "the end of the war in Afghanistan doesn't mean the end of threats to our nation." Obama reminded the Marines to stay vigilant, and declared boldly that the U.S. would never retreat from world challenges or allow itself to be terrorized. President Obama also talked about Washington politics, the logjam in Congress, and the sequester, which has hit the Marine Corps especially hard. Obama admitted that the U.S. government should do more for veterans by investing in education, science, and technology to better prepare our healthy soldiers for combat and help our wounded warriors heal. Obama closed by citing the close connection between a strong economy and a strong military, calling on Congress to end the sequester, and promising that he would bring down unemployment among veterans.
2. Homeownership – Phoenix, Arizona
President Obama visited Desert Vista High School in Phoenix last week where he spoke to a diverse crowd about restoring Americans' faith in homeownership while bolstering the middle class. Obama first addressed the progress America had made since the 2008 recession by saving the auto industry, taking on a housing market in free fall, and fixing a tax code that was, "tilted a little bit too much in favor of the wealthiest Americans at the expense of working families." He stated that his highest priority is to make sure that people who work hard are rewarded with good healthcare, a home, sturdy retirement options, a first-class education, and a ladder out of poverty.
The president laid out a five-step plan to strengthening the housing market as follows: one, allow every homeowner to refinance their mortgage at today's rates; two, make it harder for reckless buyers to buy homes and easier for responsible ones to do so; three, fix the immigration system; four, rebuild the hardest hit communities, creating jobs for construction and other workers; and five, create affordable opportunities for renters.
3. NSA Surveillance – White House
The President addressed reporters on the NSA and security leaks of government programs. He outlined a four-step plan for ensuring the proper oversight of these programs so that Americans can feel confident the government is "striking the right balance between protecting our security and preserving our freedoms." Step one is to work with Congress to "place greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints" on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the section that deals with the collection of phone records. Second, the president will install an independent voice to oversee cases that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reviews to ensure they do not infringe on citizens' rights. Step three is to increase transparency by calling on intelligence organizations to declassify as much information as possible on PRISM, XKeyscore, and other programs.
Finally, Obama is tasking an independent group of experts to review the U.S. intelligence community’s capabilities, and to provide "new thinking for a new era." Obama has confidence in the programs in question, but said that Americans need to have confidence in them as well, something that will only come from open inquiry and debate.
4. Unrest in Egypt – Martha’s Vineyard
The president addressed the media on the violence and unrest in Egypt, while reaffirming his commitment to Egypt’s democratic aspirations. Obama said the U.S. is not picking sides, and that Egyptians must build a better future on their own. Apart from brief statements condemning the military's use of violence on protesters, the only action the U.S. has taken has been cancelling joint exercises with the Egyptian military. Many members of Congress are calling for the White House to suspend over $1.3 billion in annual aid that the U.S. provides Egypt, but Obama has hesitated to do so in favor of U.S. national security. The U.S. depends on Egypt for access to the Suez to move warships to the Gulf quickly, airspace for missions in Africa, and maintaining the region's fragile security with Israel. Rather than pivot to Asia, or make bold moves to bring peace to the Middle East, Obama likely has realized that the rest of his time in office will be busy walking the tightrope between American security and energy interests in the region, and directly supporting Arabs struggling to bring democratic reforms to countries plagued by violence.