PITTSBURGH: US President Barack Obama told a gathering of military veterans Tuesday that hardheaded diplomacy with Iran could avoid the kind of “unnecessary wars” for which they paid the price.
Obama travelled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in steely mood, and urged the 1.9 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars group to give the nuclear deal with Tehran a chance.
He denounced those “chest beating” against the deal and said some of those opposed to it were the same ones who said the Iraq war would take only months.
“We know the consequences of that choice,” he said. “And what it cost us in blood and treasure. There is a smarter more responsible way to protect our national security.”
Insisting he was no peacenik afraid to deploy the military, Obama boasted about a string of military operations that took high-ranking Al-Qaeda officials such as Osama bin Laden off the battlefield.
“If you target Americans you will have no safe haven,” he said.
But, he added, “real leadership” means not being afraid to negotiate.
Obama has framed the recent nuclear deal as a choice between diplomacy and war.
While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Obama told a battle-weary nation he would end the long and bloody conflict in Iraq as president made winding down the wars there and Afghanistan a priority.
The Iran deal is seen as a cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy legacy, and the White House has been selling it at home since the historic agreement was reached last week between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
According to recent opinion polls, Obama may need to make the case.
Of the 79 percent of Americans who have heard about the deal, 48 percent disapprove while 38 percent approve, the rest remain undecided.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration rolled out a Twitter feed and website that White House spokesman Josh Earnest said will be used to “distribute facts, engage online audiences and be used as a forum by those involved in negotiating the agreement.”
Obama also paid tribute to five US troops “senselessly” killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee after an attack Thursday on two military centers by a 24-year-old gunman, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez.
“We don’t yet know all of the details behind the attack,” Obama said, “but we do know that Al-Qaeda and ISIL (the Islamic State group) have encouraged attacks on American soil, including against our service members.”
“And this threat of lone wolves and small cells is hard to detect and prevent,” he warned.
And the president also addressed the multi-year crisis in the Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs a network of hospitals for veterans.
An inspector general report a year ago found “systemic” problems in health care for former combatants, with up to 40 veterans dying while waiting for treatment in Phoenix alone.
On the back of exposes about overcrowding and poor standards in military hospitals, the scandal cost Obama’s fellow Hawaiian and former army chief of staff Eric Shinseki his job as secretary of the agency.
Former army officer and Procter & Gamble chief executive Robert McDonald replaced Shinseki after receiving unanimous approval from the Senate.
But the VA was recently rocked again with news that it faces a massive budget shortfall.
“We’ve got to acknowledge our work is not done. We still have a big challenge,” Obama said.
“I’m still not satisfied.”