President Barack Obama delivered what is expected to be his final national security address before leaving office at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on Tuesday, describing the progress his administration has made against the Islamic State and terrorism, and warning President-elect Donald Trump that engaging in torture or violating American morals won't help speed up the battle. Photo by Pete Souza/White House
TAMPA, Fla., Dec. 6 (UPI) -- In his final national security speech before leaving office, President Barack Obama said on Tuesday afternoon that although a lot of progress has been made in the war on terror, the threat is likely to continue for some time -- and warned the incoming Trump administration that torture won't speed up that progress.
During the speech Tuesday at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Obama said American values were his guide in making foreign policy decisions during the last eight years, which included banning the use of torture and reducing the number of troops put in harms way unnecessarily.
"The whole objective of these terrorists is to scare us into changing the nature of who we are and our democracy," Obama said. "And the fact is, people and nations do not make good decisions when they are driven by fear. These terrorists can never directly destroy our way of life, but we can do it for them if we lose track of who we are and the values that this nation was founded upon."
Obama lauded the significant reduction of territory held in the Middle East by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, and their ability to recruit and carry out missions.
The recent or in-progress fall of several of their most key strongholds in Iraq, Syria and Libya, he said, is indicative of how the militant group has been pushed back. He said, however, he did "not want to paint too rosy a picture."
"To say that we've made progress is not to say that the job is done," Obama said. "We know that a deadly threat persists. We know that in some form this violent extremism will be with us for years to come. In too many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, there has been a breakdown of order that's been building for decades, and it's unleashed forces that are going to take a generation to resolve."
Taking aim at the debate over the use of torture -- President-elect Donald Trump has said he wants it used -- Obama said the practice is ineffective, in addition to being the antithesis of the United States' morals.
"We prohibited torture, everywhere, at all times -- and that includes tactics like waterboarding," Obama said. "And at no time has anybody who has worked with me told me that doing so has cost us good intelligence. 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 from terrorists without resorting to torture, without operating outside the law."
Instead, Obama said that by focusing and intensifying intelligence gathering in the region, as well as working with leaders in Iraq and Syria to take on the Islamic State, and forces in Afghanistan to take on Taliban and other insurgents, far more has been accomplished.
"The bottom line is we are breaking the back of ISIL," Obama said. "We're taking away its safe havens. And we've accomplished all this at a cost of $10 billion over two years, which is the same amount that we used to spend in one month at the height of the Iraq War."
Tactics such as torture, the continued existence of the Guantanamo detainee facility and needlessly killing civilians won't help against the terrorist threat, Obama said, and actually encourage groups like the Islamic State and their recruitment.
"We need the wisdom to see that upholding our values and adhering to the rule of law is not a weakness," Obama said. "In the long term, it is our greatest strength."