President Obama called to end the policy of prohibiting gays from openly serving in the military Wednesday in his first State of the Union speech before Congress.
“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are,” he said.
Mr. Obama campaigned on this pledge, but in his first year in the White House he did not seek legislation to repeal what is known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the compromise President Clinton allowed in 1993 after he backed away from his pledge to allow gays to openly serve.
Advocating for the rights of gay Americans in the military traditionally has been opposed by many senior officers, including then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin L. Powell. Mr. Powell has since said that attitudes in the nation have changed since the 1990s and that the policy should be reviewed.
Mr. Obama’s first State of the Union address did not linger on national security issues. He reiterated his pledge to remove combat troops from Iraq by the end of August and eventually to have all troops serving in the country return home.
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The president also said that in 2009, the military and U.S. intelligence had killed more senior al Qaeda leaders than in 2008, the last full year of George W. Bush’s presidency.
“We have prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula,” Mr. Obama said. “And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed - far more than in 2008.”
Mr. Bush began using unmanned aerial drones more frequently at the end of 2008 in the Pakistani tribal provinces thought to host senior al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Mr. Obama has expanded the use of the drones.
Mr. Obama made one reference to the attack attempted on Christmas Day when a Nigerian national smuggled explosives sewn into his underwear onto a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
“We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence,” he said.