President Barack Obama began his Christmas-New Year holiday in Hawaii Saturday after an intense flurry of activity in Washington – signing into law a new $1.1 trillion federal budget and taking other executive action that also signaled the course of his final year at the White House.
Obama's eight years in charge of the U.S. government will end in January 2017, after the next general election.
He told the nation during an end-of-year news conference at the White House Friday that he does not intend to fade into the background during 2016, but instead will "leave it all out on the field'' – an expression from the sports world meaning he will do his utmost to enact his policies.
Surveying the events of the past year, Obama said his administration scored a number of victories: reaching the nuclear agreement with Iran, beginning to normalize relations with Cuba after decades of boycotts and mutual distrust when Havana and Washington were on opposite sides on almost every issue. He also hailed the Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade, the recent international agreement on tackling climate change, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the legality of same-sex marriage and the agreement with Congress on a fundamental reform of federal programs on children's education.
On basic economic issues that are important to all Americans, the president said his administration's policies have helped restore jobs, reducing U.S. unemployment to the lowest level since before his presidency began in the midst of recession.
He also noted that nearly 6 million people have been able to sign up for coverage under his health care law so far this year.
Obama said one of the biggest problems in the coming year could come from Islamic State extremists, who have expanded their influence beyond Iraq and Syria and now pose a threat to many Western nations.
He said U.S. authorities are doing everything they can to minimize the chances of so-called "lone-wolf" terror attacks in the U.S. – devastating violence such as the assault this month in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people died at the hands of a young couple who followed Islamic State's on-line messages advocating violence.
The president must be vigilant while the government works together with the international community to crush Islamic State extremists.
"Squeezing ISIL's heart, its core in Syria and Iraq, will make it harder for them to pump their terror and propaganda to the rest of the world," Obama said, using an acronym for the militant Islamists.
"We're going to defeat [the terrorists]," he pledged, "and we're going to do so by systematically squeezing them, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing, taking out their leadership, taking out their forces, taking out their infrastructure.
“They are going to continue to be dangerous,” Obama added. "All of us can do our part - by staying vigilant, by saying something if we see something ... suspicious, by refusing to be terrorized and by staying united as one American family."
Analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies does not foresee and rapid resolution of the security threat in 2016.
“We’re talking about a series of wars and violent movements throughout much of the Islamic world. Even if we could defeat [Islamic State] tomorrow, by all the [data] we have on terrorism, at least two-thirds of that volume of terrorism would go on, because it’s driven by other movements,” Cordesman said.
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