Trump Issues Call for a 'New America Moment' Backed by Military Might

President Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to call on the nation to seize a "New American Moment" through rebuilding at home and in the military.

In a speech mainly focused on the economy and trade, Trump told a joint session of Congress that the struggles of his first year in office had created the conditions for "our New American Moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream."

"As we rebuild America's strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad," he said.

The audience including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and the service chiefs heard Trump extol a revitalized military prepared for new challenges while still grappling with the threats left behind by past administrations.

He pointed to the more accelerated and aggressive campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria shaped by Mattis as the prime example of his new approach to emerging conflicts.

"Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation," Trump said. "I will not repeat the mistakes of the past administrations that got us into this dangerous position."

"Last year, I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth," Trump said. "One year later, I'm proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria."

"But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated," Trump said.

There was also much work to be done in Afghanistan where a spate of terrorist attacks, including one last Saturday that killed more than 100, and a resurgence of the Taliban and an ISIS offshoot have raised questions about the new strategy he announced last August to commit long-term to Afghanistan with 3,000 additional troops and increased airpower.

On Monday, Trump himself appeared to question the strategy that his generals said was aimed at driving the Taliban to negotiate for peace. The recent attacks made clear that the Taliban would not negotiate, he said.

At the White House, Trump said "they're killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right, bombing in the middle of children, in the middle of families, bombing, killing all over Afghanistan."

"So we don't want to talk with the Taliban," Trump said. "There may be a time, but it's going to be a long time."

However, Trump said the American spirit rekindled by his "Make America Great Again" theme would prevail.

"Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it," he said.

Trump also underlined the points set out by Mattis earlier this month in his "National Defense Strategy" stating that China and Russia had replaced terrorism as the main threats to the U.S.

"Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense," Trump said.

He called on Congress to lift the budget caps of the sequester process and "fully fund our great military." Under the continuing resolutions passed because of Congress failure to pass a budget, funding for the military is now at 2017 levels.

Congress has proposed funding the military at nearly $700 billion for 2018 -- if a budget deal can be reached.

Trump also said that "As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression."

"Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet," he said.

In the tradition of State of the Union addresses, three service members were among the 11 special guests of First Lady Melania Trump in her section in the balcony of the House.

Army Staff Sgt. Justin Peck was credited with saving the life of Navy Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy when he was hit by an improvised explosive device in Syria.

Retired Marine Cpl. Matthew Bradford, then 23, was blinded and lost both legs when he stepped on an IED in Iraq in 2010. He became the first Marine with such injuries ever to re-enlist.

Coast Guard Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ashlee Leppert helped rescued dozens of Americans during last summer's hurricane season.

Members of Congress also were allowed to bring special guests. Accompanying Rep. Julia Brownley, D-California, was retired Marine Sgt. Major John L. Canley, 80, of Oxnard, California.

As a Gunnery Sergeant 50 years ago in the Battle of Hue City, Canley earned the Navy Cross. On Monday, Trump signed a bill authorizing the upgrade of Canley's Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.

Before his address, Trump met with network anchors and spoke to the difficulties the first hear posed in his transition from a business executive to the elected chief executive of the nation.

"I think I've learned -- I've really learned a lot. You know, governing -- when you're a businessperson, you don't have to worry about your heart, the heart. You really do what's best for you -- you know, for almost purely monetary reasons," he said.

"You know, you make your money, you're competing against people. In many cases, you don't like them, you want to beat [them], and all that stuff," Trump said.

However, "in doing what I'm doing now, a lot of it is heart, a lot of it is compassion, a lot of it is far beyond money -- such as immigration, such as the things we're talking about," he said.

"From a purely economic standpoint -- if I was doing this purely from an economic standpoint, I would sit down and tell you in one second what I'd be doing, okay? It's so simple."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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