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Students Respond: President Obama Gives End of Term Speech at MacDill

By TESS SHEETS

President Barack Obama addressed an audience of about 2,500 U.S. service members and other civilians in what is expected to be the last major national security speech of his tenure on Tuesday. Obama firmly maintained his confidence in his administration’s counterterrorism strategy over the past eight years as he spoke at the MacDill Air Force Base, the Florida headquarters of U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command.

UT students majoring in political science, history, and government and world affairs, as well as honors program and student government association students were invited to attend the speech.

“I love public speaking, so I’ve always idolized him,” said junior government and world affairs major Juhi Kore. “To see one of my idols give a speech on something so current and so important in the grand scheme of the entire world, defeating terrorism, I think this is one of the best experiences I’ve had at UT.”

In his speech, Obama posited that major changes to his administration’s counterterrorism approach could be detrimental to our country’s national security, and he gave recommendations for continuing the fight against ISIS when he hands over the presidency next month. Obama highlighted that the decision to end torture techniques in attempts to gain information, and the move toward implementing the U.S. justice system instead, has been successful.

“We can get these terrorists and stay true to who we are,” he said.

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Obama also advocated for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and urged Americans to sympathize with refugees who need to escape war in their homelands. He also pushed for the de-stigmatization of Islam in the U.S., saying that doing so only “feeds the terrorists’ narrative.”

“Protecting liberty: that’s something we do for all Americans and not just some,” he said. “We are fighting terrorists who are claiming to fight on behalf of Islam, but they do not speak for over a billion Muslims around the world. And they do not speak for American Muslims, including many who wear the uniform of the United States of America’s military.”

Obama called for preservation of his counterterrorism strategy as the danger of terrorism continues. However, President-elect Donald Trump has advocated that his counterterrorism efforts will take a more aggressive route. In his campaign, Trump argued for a reinstatement of torture techniques for obtaining information and a restriction on Muslims entering the U.S.

Popular Turkish website founder Serkan Inci attended Tuesday’s speech as a guest to senior  international business and economics major Atakan Keskin.

“The connection that the city of Tampa has with the University of Tampa shows how great of a city Tampa is with the students,” Inci said. “On a political perspective in Turkey, we cannot say we’re that close with President Obama. It is actually very interesting because we’re a predominantly Muslim country, but most people in Turkey are supportive of President-elect Trump.”

Obama highlighted his administration’s major successful operations, such as reducing the number of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from 180,000 to 15,000, the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the diminishing of al-Qaeda and ISIL.

“I think he’s trying to end on a high note,” said sophomore political science major Matthew Youngster. “He’s trying to secure his legacy against an incoming administration that has shown a lot of opposing views to what he advocates for the world. I’m sure he’s concerned that what he’s tried to build over the last 8 years will be dismantled.”

Photos by Selene San Felice.

Tess Sheets can be reached at tess.sheets@theminaretonline.com.

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