President Obama delivered the following remarks about the crisis in Iraq during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday at the White House. Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.
Q: Mr. President, are you considering drone strikes or any sort of action to stop the insurgents in Iraq?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this is an area that we’ve been watching with a lot of concern not just over the last couple of days but over the last several months. And we’ve been in close consultation with the Iraqi government. You know, over the last year we have been providing them additional assistance to try to address the problems that they have in Anbar, in the northwestern portions of the country, as well as the Iraqi and Syrian border.
That includes in some cases military equipment. It includes intelligence assistance. It includes a -- a -- a whole host of issues. But what we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq’s going to need more help. It’s going to need help from us and it’s going to need more help from the international community.
So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.
Part of the challenge -- and I’ve said this directly to Prime Minister Maliki, and Vice President Biden has said this in his very frequent interactions with the Iraqi government -- is that the politics of Shia and Sunni inside of Iraq, as well as the Kurds, is either going to be a help in dealing with this jihadist situation or it’s going to be a hindrance. And frankly, over the last several years, we have not seen the kind of trust and cooperation develop between moderate Sunni and Shia leaders inside of Iraq, and that accounts in part for some of the -- the -- the weakness of the state, and that then carries over into their military capacity.
So I think it’s fair to say that, in our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily.
And you know, our national security team is looking at all the options. But this should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government. There has to be a political component to this so that Sunni and Shia who care about building a functioning state that can bring about security and prosperity to all people inside of Iraq come together and work diligently against these extremists. And that is going to require concessions on the part of both Shia and Sunni that we haven’t seen so far.
The last point I’ll make, this -- what’s happened over the last couple of days I think underscores the importance of the point that I made at my West Point speech, the need for us to have a more robust regional approach to partnering and training, partner countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time. But what we can do is to make sure that we are consistently helping to finance, train, advise military forces with partner countries, including Iraq, that have the capacity to maintain their own security. And that is a long and laborious process, but it’s one that we need to get started.
That’s part of what the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund that I am going to be calling for Congress to help finance is all about, giving us the capacity to extend our reach without sending U.S. troops to play Whac-a-Mole wherever there ends up being a problem in a particular country.
That’s going to be more effective. It’s going to be more legitimate in the eyes of people in the region as well as the international community, but it’s going to take time for us to build it. In the short term, we have to deal with what clearly is an emergency situation in Iraq.
PRIME MIN. ABBOTT: (Inaudible) -- I might take one question -- (inaudible).
Q: Mr. President, just on the point you made there about the limitations of American (power ?), what would it take for military intervention, say, in the Middle East or in the Asia-Pacific region? Where is the line drawn?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I gave a very long speech about all this, so I probably would refer you to that as opposed to repeating it. But the basic principle obviously is, is that we, like all nations, are prepared to take military action whenever our national security is threatened. Where the issues have to deal with the broader international order, humanitarian concerns, concerns around the rights to navigation, concerns around, you know, our ability to deal with instability or fragile states or failed states and the consequences for populations there and refugee flows, those sorts of international issues, wherever we can, our preference should be to partner with other countries. We’re going to be more effective if we can work with other nations.
Q: (Off mic.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And that’s why -- well, that’s part of where Australia is so important to us. You know, there are -- there are a handful of countries in the world that we always know we can count on, not just because they share our values, but we know we can count on them because they’ve got real capacity. Australia is one of those countries. We share foundational values about liberal democracies and human rights and a worldview that’s governed by international law and norms.
And Aussies know how to fight, and I like having them in a foxhole if we’re in trouble. So I can’t think of a better partner. Part of our task now, in a world where it’s less likely that any particular nation attacks us or our treaty allies directly, but rather, more typically, that you have disorder, asymmetric threats, terrorist organizations -- all of which can be extraordinarily disruptive and damaging, but aren’t the traditional types of war that so often we’ve been equipped to fight -- it becomes that much more important for us to start building new partners who aren’t going to be as capable as the Australians right away -- aren’t going to be capable as our own troops.
And that’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take some resources, but we need to start now; we’ve learned some lessons over the last decade, and we need to start applying them. All right? Thank you, everybody.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, guys.