Obama begins new term with pledge to end war
WASHINGTON, Jan 21: US President Barack Obama began his second and final term on Monday with a pledge to move America away from wars abroad to refocus on economic recovery at home.
In his inaugural speech, America’s first coloured president also stressed the need for legalising hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.
“A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun,” said Mr Obama, receiving a warm applause from a large crowd which filled Washington’s national mall from end to end.
During his first election campaign, President Obama had vowed to withdraw US troops from Iraq and focus on defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
In the second campaign last year, he said that Al Qaeda had been defeated and his first priority now was to bring back more than 100,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, Mr Obama told Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a White House meeting that he planned to withdraw all combat troops by December 2014. He is willing to leave behind some troops to assist Afghan security forces but only if they get legal immunity.
“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” Mr Obama told the crowd as America moves towards completing its 11th year in Afghanistan.
Already longer than the US engagement in Vietnam, the Afghan war has become very unpopular in America and recent opinion surveys show that most Americans want their troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.
“Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm,” said Mr Obama while outlining the policies he may follow in his second term.
“We are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well,” he said.
The United States, he said, remained the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and would renew those institutions that extend its capacity to manage crisis abroad.
“We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom,” Mr Obama said.
“Peace in our time requires the constant advance of (the) principles (of) … tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice,” he said while explaining how he wanted to conduct foreign policies in second term.
When President Obama began his first term four years ago, immigration reform seemed a major priority on his agenda but instead, he became a hawk on enforcement. He earned the nickname “deporter-in-chief,” overseeing a record number of deportations during his first term.
In his second inauguration speech, Mr Obama sought to recommit himself to immigration reforms.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” he said.
But doing so will not be easy as Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, and other right wing groups strongly oppose immigration reforms.
In the 2012 elections, however, it became clear that the immigrants had a large vote bank in America now and it would no longer be possible to ignore their interests.
And this was also evident on Capitol Hill where Vice President Joe Biden took his oath from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to administer the oath to an American leader.
Both Mr Biden and President Obama had taken their oaths at their residences on Sunday but were required to do so again in a public ceremony.
Tradition requires two oaths if Jan 20, the inauguration day, is a Sunday.
For the first time ever, an American president also mentioned gay rights in his inaugural address.
“America’s “journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” said Mr Obama.
The president also insisted on the need to “respond to the threat of climate change” — a subject he avoided after Congress defeated his environmental reforms early in his first term.
Although Mr Obama is the 44th president, this was the 57th inauguration as some presidents were elected more than once.
“None can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and cripplingdrought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it,” he said.
Mr Obama took his oath on Bibles once owned by Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, on an outdoor platform set on the West Front of the US Capitol building and below its elegant white dome.
“I Barack Hussein Obama …” he said, vowing to faithfully execute his office and to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution,” led in the oath of office by black-robed Chief Justice John Roberts.
Although Mr Obama does not usually use his middle Muslim name, he had it included in all his oaths.
Mr Obama’s arrival to the inaugural ceremony was announced with a peal of trumpets and he walked on the platform to a huge cheers of “Obama, Obama” from a vast crowd, although smaller than that of his first inauguration.
The First Lady wore a navy Thom Browne coat and dress, patterned on a man’s silk, J. Crew gloves and belt, and Cathy Waterman earrings. She also wore Reed Krakoff boots. At the end of the Inaugural festivities, the outfit and accompanying accessories will go to the National Archives.
President Obama also signed four nominations right after the inauguration: John Owen Brennan to be Director of the CIA, Charles Timothy Hagel to be Secretary of Defence, John Forbes Kerry to be Secretary of State and Jacob J. Lew to be Secretary of the Treasury.