Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'The state of our union is stronger:' Obama

Announces major pullout of troops from Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama implored lawmakers and the American public alike to get behind his vision for the nation's future on Tuesday in his fourth state of the union address, emphasizing the progress his administration has made on the economy but urging the country to stay the course.

"Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger," he told a joint session of Congress replete with the pomp and circumstance that is characteristic of the annual state of the union.

But he acknowledged millions of Americans still cannot find work, adding wages and incomes have "barely budged" despite soaring corporate profits.

"It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class."

Obama's speech focused primarily on the economy and his ongoing efforts to ensure the country's economic recovery isn't a fleeting one. But he also announced he's withdrawing more than half of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan over the next year.

"Over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan," he said. "This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over."

He added the nature of America's commitment in Afghanistan would change in the years to come.

"We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al-Qaida and their affiliates," he said.

The Afghanistan announcement puts the White House on track to formally end the 12-year-old conflict by the end of 2014.

Canada withdrew its own combat troops in 2011, though an undisclosed number of Canadian soldiers are still in the country until 2014, helping to train and mentor the Afghan National Army.

The Pentagon has told the White House it wants a small American military presence to remain as well.

Obama's latest state of the union was essentially a followup to the sweeping liberal agenda put forth by the president during his inaugural address three weeks ago.

But this speech put Obama's proposals on the economy and job creation in sharper focus.

He called for more spending on the country's crumbling infrastructure, insisting his proposals won't add to the nation's staggering $16 trillion debt.

"Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime," he said. "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."

The president addressed Congress just as a so-called sequestration -- a massive, mandated package of sweeping spending cuts to a host of federal agencies and departments -- is set to kick in on March 1. Some economists are warning a sequestration could push the U.S. into another recession.

Those in the Canadian energy industry were watching closely on Tuesday night to see whether Obama provided more details about his proposals to combat climate change in the wake of his inaugural address, when he pledged action.

He reiterated that pledge on Tuesday.

"For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change," he said as legislators stood and applauded -- as they traditionally do dozens of times during the state of the union.

There was no mention specifically of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.

The U.S. State Department will make a decision on Keystone's latest permit application in the months to come because it crosses an international border.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2013 A9

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