(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.
"Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail." -President Obama on U.S. leadership in the world
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 28, 2014
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.
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