Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • The President: Thank you General Caslen,

  • for that introduction.

  • To General Trainor, General Clarke,

  • the faculty and staff at West Point -- you have been

  • outstanding stewards of this proud institution

  • and outstanding mentors for the newest officers

  • in the United States Army.

  • I'd like to acknowledge the Army's leadership --

  • General McHugh -- Secretary McHugh,

  • General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed,

  • who is here, and a proud graduate of West Point himself.

  • To the class of 2014, I congratulate you

  • on taking your place on the Long Gray Line.

  • Among you is the first all-female command team --

  • Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff.

  • In Calla Glavin, you have a Rhodes Scholar.

  • And Josh Herbeck proves that West Point accuracy

  • extends beyond the three-point line.

  • To the entire class, let me reassure you in these

  • final hours at West Point: As Commander-in-Chief,

  • I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction

  • for minor conduct offenses.

  • (laughter and applause)

  • Let me just say that nobody ever did that

  • for me when I was in school.

  • (laughter)

  • I know you join me in extending a word

  • of thanks to your families.

  • Joe DeMoss, whose son James is graduating,

  • spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote

  • me a letter about the sacrifices you've made.

  • "Deep inside," he wrote, "we want to explode

  • with pride at what they are committing

  • to do in the service of our country."

  • Like several graduates, James is a combat veteran.

  • And I would ask all of us here today to stand

  • and pay tribute -- not only to the veterans among us,

  • but to the more than 2.5 million Americans

  • who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan,

  • as well as their families.

  • (applause)

  • 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)

  • When I first spoke at West Point

  • in 2009, we still had more

  • than 100,000 troops in Iraq.

  • We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan.

  • Our counterterrorism efforts were focused

  • on al Qaeda's core leadership -- those who had carried

  • out the 9/11 attacks.

  • And our nation was just beginning a long climb

  • out of the worst economic crisis since

  • the Great Depression.

  • Four and a half years later, as you graduate,

  • the landscape has changed.

  • We have removed our troops from Iraq.

  • We are winding down our war in Afghanistan.

  • Al Qaeda's leadership on the border region

  • between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated,

  • and Osama bin Laden is no more.

  • (applause)

  • And through it all, we've refocused

  • our investments in what has always been a key

  • source of American strength: a growing economy that

  • can provide opportunity for everybody who's willing

  • to work hard and take responsibility

  • here at home.

  • In fact, by most measures, America has rarely

  • been stronger relative to the rest of the world.

  • Those who argue otherwise -- who suggest

  • that America is in decline, or has seen its global

  • leadership slip away -- are either misreading

  • history or engaged in partisan politics.

  • Think about it.

  • Our military has no peer.

  • The odds of a direct threat against

  • us by any nation are low and do not come close

  • to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.

  • Meanwhile, our economy remains

  • the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative.

  • Each year, we grow more energy independent.

  • From Europe to Asia, we are the hub

  • of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations.

  • America continues to

  • attract striving immigrants.

  • The values of our founding inspire leaders

  • in parliaments and new movements in public

  • squares around the globe.

  • And when a typhoon hits the Philippines,

  • or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria,

  • or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine,

  • it is America that the world looks to for help.

  • (applause)

  • So the United States is and remains

  • the one indispensable nation.

  • That has been true for the century passed and

  • it will be true for the century to come.

  • But the world is changing with accelerating speed.

  • This presents opportunity, but also new dangers.

  • We know all too well, after 9/11,

  • just how technology and globalization

  • has put power once reserved for states in the hands

  • of individuals, raising the capacity

  • of terrorists to do harm.

  • Russia's aggression toward former Soviet states

  • unnerves capitals in Europe,

  • while China's economic rise and military reach

  • worries its neighbors.

  • From Brazil to India, rising middle classes

  • compete with us, and governments seek a greater

  • say in global forums.

  • And even as developing nations embrace democracy

  • and market economies, 24-hour news and social

  • media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation

  • of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular

  • uprisings that might have received

  • only passing notice a generation ago.

  • It will be your generation's task

  • to respond to this new world.

  • The question we face, the question each of you will

  • face, is not whether America will lead,

  • but how we will lead -- not just to secure our peace

  • and prosperity, but also extend peace

  • and prosperity around the globe.

  • Now, this question isn't new.

  • At least since George Washington served

  • as Commander-in-Chief, there have been those

  • who warned against foreign entanglements that

  • do not touch directly on our security

  • or economic wellbeing.

  • Today, according to self-described realists,

  • conflicts in Syria or Ukraine

  • or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve.

  • And not surprisingly, after costly wars

  • and continuing challenges here at home,

  • that view is shared by many Americans.

  • A different view from interventionists from

  • the left and right says that we ignore these

  • conflicts at our own peril; that America's willingness

  • to apply force around the world is the ultimate

  • safeguard against chaos, and America's failure

  • to act in the face of Syrian brutality

  • or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience,

  • but invites escalating aggression in the future.

  • And each side can point to history

  • to support its claims.

  • But I believe neither view fully speaks

  • to the demands of this moment.

  • 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.

  • Tough talk often draws headlines,

  • but war rarely conforms to slogans.

  • As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned

  • knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony

  • in 1947: "War is mankind's most tragic and stupid

  • folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation

  • is a black crime against all men."

  • Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and

  • women in uniform know all too well the wages of war,

  • and that includes those of you here at West Point.

  • Four of the servicemembers who stood in the audience

  • when I announced the surge of our forces

  • in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort.

  • A lot more were wounded.

  • I believe America's security

  • demanded those deployments.

  • But I am haunted by those deaths.

  • I am haunted by those wounds.

  • And I would betray my duty to you

  • and to the country we love if I ever sent you into harm's

  • way simply because I saw a problem somewhere

  • in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried

  • about critics who think military intervention

  • is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.

  • Here's my bottom line: America must always

  • lead on the world stage.

  • If we don't, no one else will.

  • The military that you have joined is and always

  • will be the backbone of that leadership.

  • But U.S. military action cannot

  • be the only --

  • or even primary -- component of our leadership

  • in every instance.

  • Just because we have the best hammer

  • does not mean that every problem is a nail.

  • And because the costs associated with military

  • action are so high, you should expect

  • every civilian leader -- and especially your

  • Commander-in-Chief -- to be clear about

  • how that awesome power should be used.

  • So let me spend the rest of my time describing

  • my vision for how the United States of America

  • and our military should lead in the years to come,

  • for you will be part of that leadership.

  • First, let me repeat a principle I put forward

  • at the outset of my presidency:

  • The United States will use military force,

  • unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand

  • it -- when our people are threatened,

  • when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security

  • of our allies is in danger.

  • In these circumstances, we still need

  • to ask tough questions about whether our actions

  • are proportional and effective and just.

  • International opinion matters, but America

  • should never ask permission to protect

  • our people, our homeland, or our way of life.

  • (applause)

  • On the other hand, when issues of global concern

  • do not pose a direct threat

  • to the United States, when such issues are at stake --

  • when crises arise that stir our conscience or push

  • the world in a more dangerous direction but

  • do not directly threaten us -- then the threshold

  • for military action must be higher.

  • In such circumstances, we should not go it alone.

  • Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners

  • to take collective action.

  • We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy

  • and development; sanctions and isolation;

  • appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary