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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

President Obama Speaks to West Point Graduates … and the Nation


(Transcript below the fold)

From the White House Blog: “”America Must Always Lead”: President Obama Addresses West Point Graduates

This morning, President Obama traveled to West Point to congratulate the newest officers in the United States Army and to reflect on America’s foreign policy agenda. In the President’s remarks, he acknowledged that our world is changing with accelerating speed and that America must be equipped to respond to an increasingly dynamic environment.

   It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world. The question we face; the question you will face; is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead, not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also to extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

The President spent most of his speech outlining his vision for how the United States, and our military, should lead in the years to come. The four elements of American leadership included:

1.   Using military force when our core interests are at stake or our people are threatened

2.   Shifting our counter-terrorism strategy by more effectively partnering with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold

3.   Continuing to strengthen and enforce international order through evolving our institutions, such as NATO and the United Nations

4.   Supporting democracy and human rights around the globe, not only as a matter of idealism, but one of national security

President Obama articulated that the United States is a global leader – a nation that “must always lead on the world stage.”

   Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be – a place where the aspirations of individual human beings matter; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice. And we cannot do that without you.

Transcript: Remarks by the President at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony


This is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day.  You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  

It is absolutely true that in the 21st century American isolationism is not an option.  We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders.  If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American cities.  As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.  Regional aggression that goes unchecked — whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world — will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military.  We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries.

And beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.  I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative, it also helps to keep us safe.

But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.  Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences — without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.

You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else.  We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it’s taking place.  We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by our United States Senate …

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.  But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.  (Applause.)

… our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.  America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism — it is a matter of national security.  Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war.  Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.  Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.

Three years ago, Gavin White graduated from this academy. He then served in Afghanistan.  Like the soldiers who came before him, Gavin was in a foreign land, helping people he’d never met, putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of his community and his family, of the folks back home.  Gavin lost one of his legs in an attack.  I met him last year at Walter Reed.  He was wounded, but just as determined as the day that he arrived here at West Point — and he developed a simple goal.  Today, his sister Morgan will graduate.  And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her.  (Applause.)

We have been through a long season of war.  We have faced trials that were not foreseen, and we’ve seen divisions about how to move forward.  But there is something in Gavin’s character, there is something in the American character that will always triumph.  Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens.  You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side.  Your charge, now, is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just.   As your Commander-in-Chief, I know you will.


President Obama’s promises kept:


Editor’s Note: Feel free to share other news stories in the comments.


  1. President Obama:

    I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.  I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative, it also helps to keep us safe.

  2. McConnell has been making the nonsensical claim that he can repeal the ACA and Kentuckians will be able to keep their extremely popular (and very well run) Kynect Health Insurance Exchange.

    The governor of Kentucky is the most recent to call bs on this notion: Governor Beshear:

    “Eliminating ACA means that folks with pre-existing conditions will struggle to find coverage, young adults won’t be able to stay on their parents’ coverage, women won’t be treated equally by insurers and federal subsidies for Kentuckians will end. Senator McConnell either doesn’t understand what the ACA is, or is just trying to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit at their expense.”

    Yesterday, one of the leading papers in the state, the Lexington Herald-Leader, had this to say:

    Nothing could be more connected – or should be more important to Kentucky’s senior senator – than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible.[…]

    As a result of a law that McConnell wants to repeal, one in 10 of his constituents no longer have to worry that an illness or injury will drive them into personal bankruptcy or a premature grave.

    Repealing the federal law would also end the Medicaid expansion that is enabling Kentucky to expand desperately needed drug treatment and mental health services.

    Kynect is the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare – even if Kentuckians are confused about which is which.[…]

    Kentuckians are waiting to learn if their five-term senator understands – or cares – how much is at stake.

    Democratic challenger Allison Grimes notes, correctly, that he is simply trying to confuse Kentuckians. Let’s hope she is able to set the record straight.

  3. Fred Kaplan at Slate, Obama Lays Siege to His Critics

    President Obama’s speech at West Point on Wednesday morning could be called a tribute to common sense, except that the sense it made is so uncommon. The ensuing cable pundits’ complaints-that it was insufficiently “muscular” or “robust”-only proved how necessary this speech was.[…]

    The president’s main point was to emphasize that not every problem has a military solution; that the proper measure of strength and leadership is not merely the eagerness to deploy military power; that, in fact, America’s costliest mistakes have stemmed not from restraint but from rushing to armed adventures “without thinking through the consequences, without building international support and legitimacy for our action, without leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required.” […]

    Does this mean, as his critics charge, that Obama has an aversion to war? I suppose. But what exactly is wrong with that? That is what the speech was about: to explain under what circumstances, and in what way, he will use force-and under what circumstances he’ll look for other solutions to problems. He owes this, above all, to the new officers who have volunteered to fight the wars that he and future presidents might decide to wage.

    What exactly is wrong with an aversion to war, indeed.

  4. princesspat

    Analysis: Obama answers foreign policy critics with call for restraint in using military

    After more than five years in office, Obama has become increasingly convinced that while the United States must play a vital role beyond its borders, it should avoid getting dragged into the quicksand of international crises that have trapped some of his predecessors. It is time for an end to what he called “a long season of war.”

    To his critics, mainly on the right but also some on the left, this is a prescription for passivity, an abrogation of decades of bipartisan leadership on the world stage. Obama used his commencement address to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on Wednesday to mount a rebuttal and to define an approach to foreign policy that he believes is suited to a new era.

    “This is an attempt to come up with an Obama doctrine that looks at how do we think about the world now that the war against the Taliban and its allies is won,” said Peter Bergen, a national-security scholar at the New America Foundation. “A policy of judicious restraint is not very stirring and doesn’t lend itself to strong rhetoric, but it may be the most sensible approach and is certainly where the American public is.”

    The article is reprinted from the NYT….it’s always interesting to see which analysis the ST selects, and there is no paywall so it’s easier to share.

  5. USA Today editorial “I’m committed to restoring integrity”

    The findings of the interim report of VA’s Office of Inspector General on the Phoenix VA Health Care System are reprehensible to me and to this department, and we are not waiting to set things straight.

    I immediately directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to contact each of the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix waiting for primary care appointments in order to bring them the care they need and deserve.[…]

    Earlier this month, I had also ordered Veterans Health Administration to conduct a nationwide audit of all other major VA health care facilities to ensure understanding of, and compliance with, our appointment policy. More than 200 senior staff are conducting that audit now, and we expect to announce the initial results of that audit in the coming days.

    On May 1, I placed members of the Phoenix leadership on administrative leave. The Office of Inspector General has since requested that VA take no additional personnel actions in Phoenix until its independent, objective review is complete.[…]

    After 38 years in the Army, I am honored and privileged to serve veterans as the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and I remain committed to providing the high-quality care and benefits that veterans have earned and deserve. And we will.

  6. The NRA generally has a 72 hour “no comment” period after any horrific crime perpetrated by one of their client’s customers and enabled by their purchased congressmen. So for now, at least, we have calls for new/old laws.

    Massachusetts wants to toughen their laws

    In Massachusetts – a state that is already one of the toughest on guns – lawmakers are considering sweeping new legislation that includes some of the nation’s tightest restrictions on sales of shotguns and rifles, and more focus on the mentally ill.[…]

    The Massachusetts bill requires state officials to do better at reporting information to the federal background check database, so anyone found by a court to be mentally ill can’t get a gun, as federal law requires. But the legislation also gives more discretion to police chiefs to deny licenses for shotguns and rifles.[…]

    The Massachusetts bill would also crack down on private gun sales by requiring purchases at gun shows or online to take place in front of an officially licensed gun dealer. Only six other states require a background check in those kinds of sales.


    Newtown dad to Richard Martinez, father of Isla Vista victim:

    Dear Richard Martinez,

    We have not met, but you are now part of our extended family. It is not a family we chose, but a family born from the horrible circumstance of losing a child to gun violence-one that’s only growing each day. My heart breaks for you because I know just a little about the long road ahead of you. We have reached out to you privately but publicly we wanted to say to you and those feeling the sorrow, anger and frustration of this weeks’ shooting, you are not alone. It has helped me, and some of the other family members who lost children and family at Sandy Hook Elementary, to come together and advocate for common sense solutions to expanding programs for mental wellness and gun safety solutions. You will find your own path down this difficult road. But know that we are here for you and all of you who have been touched by this tragedy. Together we can and will build a safer world for all our children.

    With deepest sympathy,

    Mark Barden

  7. Walker is purportedly making a plea deal on the John Doe probe that federal District Judge Rudolph Randa put a halt to (appeal pending).

    At issue is illegal coordination of funders like Club for Growth and the Walker campaign during the recall election. It is like a donation to have someone put up ads on behalf of your campaign with you directing it, only allowed if they do it on their own.

    The prosecutors are checking with Judge Randa to see if they can still cut deals on the probe before they move forward. The Club for Growth is LIVID:

    Reacting to the news of the settlement talks, a lawyer representing Wisconsin Club for Growth fired off a letter Wednesday. It was sent to a lawyer representing the special prosecutor, and it warned any settlement that violates Wisconsin Club for Growth’s “speech or associational rights” would violate the judge’s order. In turn, the special prosecutor’s lawyers went back to the judge, and asked him to clarify just what “cease all activities” meant, and whether it applied to state-level court proceedings connected to the probe as well as “discussions” with targets of the probe.

    Ticking off the people he will need in order to run a national campaign does not seem very smart. But Walker is not smart. Unless he is looking at jail time, it makes no sense to not let the thing play out and then deny it all or throw an aide under the bus ala-Chris Christie.

    Grab your popcorn!

  8. Portlaw

    on diplomacy and cheer President Obama’s efforts if we had a military draft. Military solutions with your kid on the front line might not seem so attractive. Politicians might not insist on them once they got all those letters from their constituents. I am not saying that I want a draft. Just saying that it’s easier to send someone else’s kid off to war.  

  9. New York Times: Email Alert

    Shinseki Resigns as Secretary of Veterans Affairs Department

    Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department on Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama about mounting evidence of widespread misconduct and mismanagement at the agency’s vast network of medical facilities.

    Mr. Shinseki, 71, had said for weeks that he wanted to stay to confront accusations that officials at the department’s hospitals had manipulated waiting lists to cover up long delays in scheduling appointments for thousands of veterans.

    In a speech Friday morning to a veterans group, Mr. Shinseki apologized and described the V.A. he led as having “a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity.” He vowed to fix what he called a “breach of integrity” and said he had already initiated the firing of top managers at the Phoenix medical center, where allegations of mismanagement first surfaced.

  10. Passing on a clean slate

    Yesterday’s release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was joyous news to his family, his community and his country.  But in order to understand the broader importance of this news, it needs to be placed in context.

    Following 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration attempted to put this country on a permanent war footing to fight the global war on terror. In doing so, they took actions that go against our basic ideals as a country and called America’s leadership in the world into question. That included invading another country based on lies, the use of torture and setting up a prison for indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. These actions left legal and foreign policy challenges that – while not as imminent as the financial crisis – were necessary to address.

    When President Obama assumed office, he began working on cleaning up the mess from day one. His first actions were to stop the use of torture and re-focus the global war on terror into a war on al Qaeda. The latter action provided for the possibility of specific goals that could be met rather than an open-ended engagement. He ended the war in Iraq and attempted to defeat al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan and eventually Yemen.

    So this wasn’t just a prisoner exchange. It was perhaps the opening step in the reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. As such, it was also one more step in this President’s efforts to fix the mess that was left to him by his predecessor and take us “off a permanent war footing.”

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