Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama delivers his final address on the fight against terrorism Tuesday, in a speech that will resonate as a message to his successor Donald Trump, who has yet to spell out his own anti-terror strategy.
Speaking from MacDill Air Force Base — the Florida headquarters of the Special Forces Command and CENTCOM, command for the US military in the Middle East — Obama is expected to defend his two-term record on counterterrorism, from Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria.
Obama left the White House late Tuesday morning for Tampa, where he will touch upon his failed bid to close the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba and his continued strong opposition to the use of torture — positions greeted with scorn by President-elect Trump during the campaign.
The US leader, who ordered the successful raid against Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, also intends to underscore the “complexity” of the fight against terror, according to top advisor Ben Rhodes.
“That’s something you can only experience as president,” Rhodes said, adding it will be crucial for the future US administration to precisely understand the threat, maintain strong relations with allies and pair military action with clear diplomacy.
In particular, Rhodes stressed, it is necessary to keep in mind “who we are as a country”.
Trump, who has pledged to upend his predecessor’s entire agenda including foreign and security policy, takes over in the White House in just over six weeks.
On the campaign trail he pledged to restore waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning widely regarded as torture — and permit “far, far worse”.
Obama, in contrast, banned extreme CIA interrogation techniques used on terror detainees as soon as he took office.
He has long argued that such practices are ineffective, violate American values and hand militants a potent recruiting tool for the likes of the Islamic State group.
The US president also plans to defend his warfare tactics against IS jihadists in Iraq and Syria: no ground troops but military support for local security forces, and an intense air campaign with support from an international coalition.
– Cigarettes over waterboarding –
Since his election, Trump seems to be to modifying his views on waterboarding — a change that may reflect the influence of his nominee to head the Pentagon, retired marine general James Mattis.
Mattis appears to have convinced Trump to rethink his stance on torture, after reportedly telling the real estate mogul that he is unconvinced about its effectiveness during interrogations.
“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful’,” Trump told the New York Times in a wide-ranging interview last month.
Mattis told Trump that winning a prisoner’s trust is a far more effective way of prying information from him.
‘”Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better,”‘ Trump told The Times, recounting what the general had told him.
“I was very impressed by that answer,” he said.
As the handover nears, and Trump and his top advisors prepare to roll back many of Obama’s policies, the White House seems intent on highlighting the progress made on security issues under the outgoing president’s leadership.
Administration officials point to the recovery of almost half of the territories controled by IS in 2014, the ongoing offensive in Iraq, and a slowing of foreign fighters joining the ranks of the jihadists.
Trump has not yet announced a nominee to head the State Department and has been vague at best about how he plans to defeat IS, but during months on the campaign trail he emphasized that in order to win, it was essential that America be “unpredictable.”
And he has ridiculed Obama for refusing to brand IS a “radical Islamic” threat — a term that the Democratic president has avoided, for fear of offending Muslims around the world.
Trump boasted late last year that on the subject of IS, he knows “more than the generals”.
In the waning days of his presidential campaign, Trump said he would get a detailed plan from his military brain trust on beating IS once and for all.
“They’ll have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS,” Trump said in a campaign speech in September.