Obama Reminds Troops They Have the Right to 'Protest Against Authority' and 'Criticize Our President'

By Susan Jones | December 7, 2016 | 6:29am EST
President Barack Obama turns to leave after speaking to and greeting service members at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - In a speech at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, President Obama focused on his eight-year effort to protect the homeland, fight terrorism, and strengthen U.S. allies. He said he wanted to "talk about the foundation that we will leave for the next administration."

On the way to Florida, Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest said told reporters, "This is a speech that President Obama was prepared to give before the election." But at times, it didn't sound like it.

At one point, Obama reminded the troops "that each of us has...the universal right to speak your minds and to protest against authority; to live in a society that's open and free; that can criticize our president without retribution."

He also told the troops that the nation depends on them "to carry forward what is best in us, that commitment to a common creed, the confidence that right makes might, not the other way around."

Obama told the troops that just as he inherited the war on terror, "violent extremism" will be around for many years.

"So rather than offer false promises that we can eliminate terrorism by dropping more bombs or deploying more and more troops or fencing ourselves off from the rest of the world, we have to take a long view of the terrorist threat. And we have to pursue a smart strategy that can be sustained. In the time remaining, let me just suggest what I think should guide this approach."

Obama made seven points:

-- While terrorists can kill innocent people, they are not an existential threat to the nation;
-- Put as few U.S. troops as possible in harm's way overseas;
-- Uphold American values and adhere to the rule of law while fighting terrorism;
-- Fight terrorists in a way that does not alienate local populations and create more terrorists;
-- Be transparent and accountable to allow for "a more informed public debate" and provide "a potential check on unfettered executive power."
-- Use diplomacy;
-- Uphold the civil liberties that define us.

On the topic of diplomacy, Obama warned: "Terrorists would love to see us walk away from the type of work that builds international coalitions and ends conflicts and stops the spread of deadly weapons. It would make life easier for them; it would be a tragic mistake for us." It sounded like a warning to Donald Trump.

Obama also warned against stigmatizing "good, patriotic Muslims." "If we act like this is a war between the United States and Islam, we're not just going to lose more Americans to terrorist attacks, but we'll also lose sight of the very principles we claim to defend."

At the end of his speech, in remarks clearly aimed at his successor, Obama said he wanted to remind troops "what it is that you're fighting for."

"The United States of America is not a country that imposes religious tests as a price for freedom. We're a country that was founded so that people could practice their faiths as they choose.

"The United States of America is not a place where some citizens have to withstand greater scrutiny or carry a special ID card or prove that they're not an enemy from within. We're a country that has bled and struggled and sacrificed against that kind of discrimination and arbitrary rule here in our own country and around the world.

"We're a nation that believes freedom can never be taken for granted. And that each of us has a responsibility to sustain it; the universal right to speak your minds and to protest against authority; to live in a society that's open and free; that can criticize our president without retribution."

Obama said the United States "stands for the rule of law" and even "strengthened the laws of war."

"When the Nazis were defeated, we put them on trial. Some couldn't understand that. It had never happened before," he said.

Obama also noted that the U.S. won world wars without grabbing the resources or territory of those we defeated. "We helped them rebuild," he said.

"Our greatest generation fought and bled and died to build an international order of laws and institutions that could preserve the peace and extend prosperity and promote cooperation among nations. And for all of its imperfections, we depend on that international order to protect our own freedom.

"In other words, we are a nation that at our best has been defined by hope and not fear; a country that went through the crucible of the Civil War to offer a new birth of freedom; that stormed the beaches of Normandy, climbed the hills at Iwo Jima; that saw ordinary people mobilize to extend the meaning of civil rights.

"That's who we are. That's what makes us stronger than any act of terror. Remember that history," Obama told the troops. "Remember what that flag stands for. For we depend on you, the heirs to that legacy, our men and women in uniform, and the citizens who support you, to carry forward what is best in us, that commitment to a common creed, the confidence that right makes might, not the other way around."

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