In his last national security speech, delivered before troops on Dec. 6, Barack Obama praised and defended his administration’s legacy and offered his view on how successors should continue its policies and uphold its values. Although the White House says the remarks were planned before the Nov. 8 election, the speech often sounded like a lightly veiled message to president-elect Donald Trump, whose views on national security largely diverge from Obama’s.
“[The US is] a country where you’re judged by the content of your character, rather than what you look like, or how you worship, or what your last name is, or where your family came from,” Obama said. “That’s what separates us from tyrants and terrorists.”
In his speech, held at the MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Obama said that America was a country where people are free to criticize its president “without retribution,” hinting at Trump’s oft-displayed dislike of criticism directed at him. Obama reviewed his eight years as commander-in-chief, including the fight against Al Qaeda and the way his administration handled the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also spoke about his vision of America and lessons for the future.
Instead of focusing on “false promises” about eliminating terrorism “by dropping more bombs, or deploying more and more troops, or fencing ourselves off from the rest of the world,” another jab at Trump, Obama said that “we have to take a long view of the terrorist threat, and pursue a smart strategy that can be sustained.”
A crucial policy on which the the president and his successor disagree is the use of torture during interrogation. While Trump had called for resuming waterboarding, Obama underlined that the method does not work. “When we do capture terrorists, despite all the political rhetoric about the need to strip terrorists of their rights, our interrogation teams have obtained valuable information without resorting to torture, without operating outside the law,” he said.
Obama put a particular emphasis on his vision of America as country that is open and tolerant. “We are fighting terrorists who claim to fight on behalf of Islam. But they don’t speak for over a billion Muslims around the world,” he said, emphasizing the need to “help refugees who escaped the horrors of war in search of a better life.”
Likely referring to Trump’s alleged support for a Muslim registry, Obama said that the US is “is not a country that imposes religious tests as a price for freedom,” and 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.”
He said his final words to the troops as their commender-in-chief are “a reminder of what it is that you’re fighting for.”