Remarks from President Barack Obama at the Pentagon on Wednesday after a briefing with Department of Defense officials on ISIL.
Good afternoon, everybody. I want to thank Secretary Hagel, Deputy Secretary Work, Chairman Dempsey, Vice Chairman Winnefeld, and all the outstanding leaders who are here today. This is a periodic check-in that I have with not only our service commander but also our COCOMs. And I thought, although usually we do this over the White House, now was a good time for me to come over to the Pentagon and have an opportunity to hear from our top military about the work that they’re doing.
And I’ve said this before and I want to repeat: We put enormous burdens and enormous strains on our men and women of the armed forces, and each and every time, the members of our armed services, our troops perform in exemplary fashion. I think at a time when there’s so much turbulence in the world, never during my presidency has it become more apparent how good our military is, but also how they can tackle a wide range of problems and not just a narrow set of problems. It’s not just the finest military in the history of the world, it’s also just one of the best organizations we’ve ever seen at doing a whole bunch of different stuff.
And so I expressed my gratitude to the leadership, but also asked them to express to those under their command the thanks of the American people.
We had an opportunity to talk about ISIL and the campaign there. After this meeting, we’ll have a National Security Council meeting in which General Lloyd Austin, who’s leading Central Command, will further brief us on the progress that’s been made by the coalition there.
Our strikes continue alongside our partners. It remains a difficult mission. As I’ve indicated from the start, this is not something that is going to be solved overnight. The good news is, is that there is a broad-based consensus not just in the region but among nations of the world that ISIL is a threat to world peace, security and order, that their barbaric behavior has to be dealt with. And we’re confident that we will be able to continue to make progress in partnership with the Iraqi government, because ultimately it’s going to be important for them to be able to, with our help, secure their own country and to find the kind of political accommodations that are necessary for long-term prosperity in the region.
We had a chance to talk about the fight against Ebola, and I got a briefing from General Rodriguez. Our military is essentially building an infrastructure that does not exist in order to facilitate the transport of personnel and equipment and supplies to deal with this deadly epidemic and disease. And we are doing it in a way that ensures our men and women in uniform are safe. That has been my top priority, and I’ve instructed folks we’re not going to compromise the health and safety of our armed services.
But what’s true is, we have unique capabilities that nobody else has. And as a consequence of us getting in early and building that platform, we’re now able to leverage resources from other countries and move with speed and effectiveness to curb that epidemic.
We had a discussion about global security generally, including the work that, with General Breedlove, we’re doing at NATO to mobilize Europe around the increased threats posed by Russian aggression in Ukraine and against some of its neighbors. We had a very successful meeting in Wales that showed the commitment from all 28 NATO countries to redouble the reassurance they can provide to frontline states to invest further in the joint capabilities that are necessary. And I very much appreciate the leadership that General Breedlove has shown on that front.
And I got a chance to get a briefing from Admiral Locklear of the Pacific Command about the ongoing both challenges and opportunities in the Pacific. It’s been noted that our alliances in that area have never been stronger. We are very much welcomed as a Pacific power in the region. And our ability to continue to maintain a presence that ensures freedom of navigation, that international law is observed is going to be critically important. And we need to do that in a way that also reflects our interest in cooperation and effective communication with China, which obviously is a major player in the region.
But the anchor of our presence there, our treaties and alliances with key countries like South Korea and Japan, obviously remain critically important. And thanks to the work of some of the gentlemen sitting around this table and their staffs, those alliances have never been in better shape.
Finally, we had a chance to talk briefly about defense budget and reforms. We have done some enormous work, and I want to thank everybody sitting around this table to continue to make our forces leaner, meaner, more effective, more tailored to the particular challenges that we’re going to face in the 21st century.
But we also have to make sure that Congress is working with us to avoid, for example, some of the Draconian cuts that are called for in sequestration, and to make sure that if we’re asking this much of our armed forces, that they’ve got the equipment and the technology that’s necessary for them to be able to succeed at their mission, and that we’re supporting their families at a time when, even after ending one war and winding down another, they continue to have enormous demands placed on them each and every day.
So I want to thank everybody around this table. A special thank-you to General Austin for the enormous amount of work that’s been done by CENTCOM in what is a very challenging situation. We very much appreciate him. I want to thank General Rodriguez for the great work in standing up our operations in West Africa.
And finally, I want to say publicly a hearty thank you to Jim Amos, who somewhere between eight to 10 days from now — (laughter) — will be retiring from his command. He is the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the first aviator to command our Marine Corps. I know that he could not be prouder of the men and women under his command. They continue to make us proud. They certainly make him proud. We want to thank him and Mrs. Amos and the entire family for the great service that they’ve rendered to our country.