Watch the President's full remarks here.
As the President announced several new members of his national security team this afternoon, he took a moment to speak to those families in Alabama and throughout the South who are suffering as a result of the devastating storms that just passed through:
I want to begin by saying a few words about the devastating storms that have ripped through the southeastern United States. The loss of life has been heartbreaking, especially in Alabama. In a matter of hours, these deadly tornadoes, some of the worst that we’ve seen in decades, took mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, even entire communities. Others are injured and some are still missing, and in many places the damage to homes and businesses is nothing short of catastrophic.
We can’t control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it. And I want every American who has been affected by this disaster to know that the federal government will do everything we can to help you recover. And we will stand with you as you rebuild.
He described some of the federal response so far in coordination with the region’s governors, including declaring a state of emergency in Alabama and dispatching Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate to the state, where the President himself will be tomorrow as well. He then went on to discuss the context in which these new appointments are being made.
Still, we confront urgent challenges. In Iraq we’re working to bring the rest of our troops home as Iraqis secure their democracy. In Afghanistan we’re moving into a new phase, transferring responsibility for security to Afghan forces, starting to reduce American forces this summer, and building a long-term partnership with the Afghan people.
As people across the Middle East and North Africa seek to determine their own destiny, we must ensure that America stands with those who seek their universal rights, and that includes continuing to support the international effort to protect the Libyan people. And here at home, as we make the hard decisions that are needed to reduce America’s debt, we cannot compromise our ability to defend our nation or our interests around the world.
The President began with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will be stepping down at the end of June:
Because he challenged conventional thinking, our troops have the lifesaving equipment they need, and our military is better prepared for today’s wars. And because he courageously cut unnecessary spending, we’ll save hundreds of billions of dollars that can be invested in the 21st-century military that our troops deserve. I am confident Bob Gates will be remembered as one of the finest Defense Secretaries in American history.
On Leon Panetta, who will take Gates’ place as Secretary of Defense:
Leon appreciates the struggles and sacrifices of our troops and military families because he served in the Army himself, and because he and his wife Sylvia are proud parents of a son who served in Afghanistan. And just as Leon earned the trust and respect of our intelligence professionals at the CIA -- by listening to them and fighting fiercely on their behalf -- I know he’ll do the same for our armed forces and their families.
And on General David Petraeus, who will in turn take over at the CIA:
And even as he and the CIA confront a full range of threats, David’s extraordinary knowledge of the Middle East and Afghanistan uniquely positions him to lead the agency in its effort to defeat al Qaeda.
In short, just as General Petraeus changed the way that our military fights and wins wars in the 21st century, I have no doubt that Director Petraeus will guide our intelligence professionals as they continue to adapt and innovate in an ever changing world.
He also announced a new civilian military team for America’s efforts in Afghanistan, with Lieutenant General John Allen succeeding General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker taking over Karl Eikenberry’s post as Ambassador to the country – the President had strong words of praise for each of them. After each of the new appointees had a chance to speak briefly, the President closed by thanking the teams that have worked tirelessly in each place, and the families that have stood by them.