WASHINGTON: In his last State of the Union address on Tuesday night, US President Barack Obama urged American lawmakers to authorise the use of military force against Daesh, the Arabic acronym of the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

While underlining the challenges the United States may face in the near future, Mr Obama warned that both Afghanistan and Pakistan were among the countries that would continue to face instability and turmoil for decades.

The IS militants — although concentrated in Iraq and Syria — are also establishing bases in the Pak-Afghan region.

US lawmakers urged to authorise use of military force against IS

President Obama devoted part of his address to militant groups like IS (also known as ISIS and ISIL) and Al Qaeda, telling lawmakers that they needed to back the administration’s efforts if they wanted to defeat them.

“If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorise the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote,” he said.

Mr Obama also identified a link between militancy and instability and warned that some unstable regions might become safe havens for terrorists.

“Instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world – in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia,” he said.

“Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.”

On the state of the union night, the US president addresses a joint session of Congress, explaining his policies for dealing with the domestic and international challenges the United States may face in the new year. But since this was President Obama’s last speech for his final term, he used this occasion to highlight the challenges the US might face in “the next 10 years, and beyond,” as he said.

Mr Obama warned that “America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilise the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight”.

The president also used this occasion to warn politicians — such as Republican front-runner Donald Trump — not to use anti-Muslim rhetoric as it hurts efforts to combat militancy.

‘When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalised, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer,” he said.

Mr Trump has constantly called for banning some mosques, making a separate database for Muslims and carpet-bombing some Muslim countries. Last week his supporters forced a Muslim to leave his rally because she was wearing a sign that identified her as a Muslim.

“That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals,” Mr Obama said. “That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.”

This was the most emotionally charged moment of his speech and earned Mr Obama an enthusiastic applause from the audience. Although in their response to the speech, Republicans rejected Mr Obama’s policy proposals but they too attacked politicians who were using anti-Islam rhetoric for political gains.

The president acknowledged that the Islamic State posed a “direct threat” to the United States, but said the group did not “threaten our national existence” and the danger needed to be kept in perspective.

The US media described Mr Obama’s failure to mention the war in Afghanistan — the longest in the US history — as “the most glaring omission of his address”. Last year, Mr Obama reneged on his pledge to bring all American forces home from Afghanistan, due to the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

As expected, the president cited the nuclear agreement with Iran and the restoration of ties with Cuba as the two major achievements of his eight-year reign. But he made only a cursory mention of the brutal war in Syria.

But Mr Obama failed to acknowledge that like Afghanistan, the fight in Iraq too had become an open-ended war, forcing him to recommit US troops.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2016


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