Lead By Example, Mr. President!
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The ambassador told me that budgetary considerations now meant that all his diplomatic staff had to travel in the back of the plane. As for hotels, the appalling stories in the press of senior government officials booking penthouse suites in the best hotels in London, New York and everywhere in South Africa make you wonder how such extravagance can be tolerated in these economic hard times. Sometimes the rooms are not even used. Ordinary folks now stay in budget hotels or bed and breakfasts to cut down the cost of travel. Moreover, this belief that there is an endless stream of taxpayers' money swelling state coffers extends to flashy cars and bodyguards.
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Why is it that even at provincial and local government level senior employees are allowed to drive top-of-the-line models? I drive a year-old Mini on trips around town and a Land Rover Discovery with the wheel on the back if I am going on holiday. Blue light convoys and bodyguards are yet another example of total excess. Please give me one other country in the world where the leader of the ruling party's youth wing travels around in a convoy with a troop of bodyguards. Not even in Russia. Is South Africa so spectacularly dangerous that every single minister and every single senior party official has to be afforded the level of personal protection that they are given?
I remember in Anglo American that the only person who had a bodyguard was Harry Oppenheimer, who successfully evaded him when he wanted to walk by himself to the barber in Commissioner Street. We can widen the list of items to be trimmed to residences, conferences, overseas trips, the quality of whisky, you name it. The fact is that for a party that espouses left-wing ideology and calls for measures to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots, there is an Orwellian contradiction between the sacrifices being demanded of others and the sacrifices being made by the party itself.
And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe-haven in the chaos.
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With the additional resources I'm announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria's neighbors - Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq - as they host refugees, and confront terrorists working across Syrian borders. I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World - to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and make sure that those countries, and not just the United States, are contributing their fair share of support to the Syrian people.
Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States, Israel, and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years. But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government. Now, we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully.
The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement - one that is more effective and durable than what would be achieved through the use of force.
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And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side. It's a lot harder to call on China to resolve its maritime disputes under the Law of the Sea Convention when the United States Senate has refused to ratify it - despite the repeated insistence of our top military leaders that the treaty advances our national security.
That's not leadership; that's retreat. That's not strength; that's weakness. And it would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman; Eisenhower and Kennedy. I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.
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But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it's our willingness to affirm them through our actions. That's why I will continue to push to close GTMO - because American values and legal traditions don't permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That's why we are putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence - because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we are conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.
That spirit of cooperation must energize the global effort to combat climate change - a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we're called on to respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food.
That's why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in a global framework to preserve our planet. You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else. We can't call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if so many of our political leaders deny that it is taking place.
Empowering partners is a large part of what we've done in Afghanistan. Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al Qaeda core, and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country. But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job. That's why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police. Earlier this spring, those forces secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history.
At the end of this year, a new Afghan President will be in office, and America's combat mission will be over. Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism. The partnership I've described does not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that's what we do - through capture operations, like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our Embassies in to face justice; or drone strikes, like those we have carried out in Yemen and Somalia.
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But as I said last year, in taking direct action, we must uphold standards that reflect our values. That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.
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For our actions should meet a simple test: I also believe we be more transparent about both the basis for our actions, and the manner in which they are carried out - whether it is drone strikes, or training partners. I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts. Our intelligence community has done outstanding work and we must continue to protect sources and methods. But, when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion; we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people; and we reduce accountability in our own government.
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