Like all presidential speeches, President Obama's Thursday address at the National Defense University was suffused with soaring rhetoric. But it was also a substantive and analytical speech, laying out the president's conceptual framework for counterterrorism operations and announcing a number of new policy initiatives. Here, stripped of rhetorical flourishes, is what Obama has planned for his second term on the national security front:
1. Afghanistan: Obama reiterated his support for ending the war in Afghanistan by 2014. In the next year and a half, Obama said, his administration will "complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces."
2. Drone strikes: Obama defended drone strikes, which he said cause fewer risks and less collateral damage than conventional military operations. "Our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm," he said, because such operations put American lives at risk and damage relations with the host country.
Obama said that, outside Afghanistan, "we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists." Drone strikes are "bound by consultations with partners and respect for state sovereignty." And the administration will only strike when there is a "near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured."
Obama announced that he was declassifying information about the deaths of four American citizens—one a target, the others collateral damage—in drone strikes. Obama also said he has been "briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress." And Obama said he "looks forward to actively engaging Congress" to discuss options for increasing oversight of drone strikes.
3. Foreign engagement: Obama defended foreign aid, which "amounts to less than one percent of the budget" and is "fundamental to our national security." He also stressed the need to "have diplomats serving in dangerous places" to build strong relationships with foreign nations. "I am implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board, which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi," Obama said. "I have called on Congress to fully fund these efforts to bolster security, harden facilities, improve intelligence and facilitate a quicker response time from our military if a crisis emerges."
4. Leak prosecutions: Obama argued that "we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information." However, he said, "journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs." Obama called on Congress to pass a media shield law to protect the right of journalists to keep their sources confidential. Obama said he has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to "review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review." Holder is due to report back to Obama by July 12.
5. AUMF: Congress passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And presidents have cited it as the authority for overseas military actions ever since. Obama argued that the need for the AUMF was drawing to a close. "I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing," Obama said.
6. Guantanamo prisoners: During his 2008 campaign, Obama pledged to close the prisoner camp at Guantanmo Bay, Cuba, originally opened under President George W. Bush. But due in part to congressional opposition, that goal wasn't achieved. The issue became more urgent a few weeks ago when Guantanamo prisoners started a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention.
"Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO," Obama said. "I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries."
Obama is "lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case-by-case basis." Those who have been cleared for release will be released "to the greatest extent possible." Others will be tried in American courts. "And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee."