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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
and effective, multilateral military action.
In such circumstances, we have to work with others
because collective action in these circumstances
is more likely to succeed, more likely
to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.
This leads to my second point: For the foreseeable
future, the most direct threat to America
at home and abroad remains terrorism.
But a strategy that involves invading
every country that harbors terrorist networks
is naïve and unsustainable.
I believe we must shift our counterterrorism
strategy -- drawing on the successes and shortcomings
of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan
-- to more effectively partner with countries
where terrorist networks seek a foothold.
And the need for a new strategy reflects
the fact that today's principal threat no longer comes
from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.
Instead, it comes from decentralized
al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas
focused in countries where they operate.
And this lessens the possibility
of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland,
but it heightens the danger
of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked,
as we saw in Benghazi.
It heightens the danger to less defensible targets,
as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi.
So we have to develop a strategy that matches this
diffuse threat -- one that expands our reach without
sending forces that stretch our military
too thin, or stir up local resentments.
We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.
And empowering partners is a large part of what
we have done and what we are currently
doing in Afghanistan.
Together with our allies, America struck huge blows
against al Qaeda core and pushed back against
an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.
But sustaining this progress depends
on the ability of Afghans to do the job.
And that's why we trained hundreds of thousands
of Afghan soldiers and police.
Earlier this spring, those forces,
those Afghan forces, secured an election in which
Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer
of power in their history.
And at the end of this year, a new Afghan
President will be in office
and America's combat mission will be over.
Now, that was an enormous achievement made
because of America's armed forces.
But as we move to a train-and-advise mission
in Afghanistan, our reduced presence allows
us to more effectively address emerging
threats in the Middle East and North Africa.
So, earlier this year, I asked my national
security team to develop a plan for a network
of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.
Today, as part of this effort, I am calling
on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism
Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion,
which will allow us to train, build capacity,
and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.
And these resources will give us flexibility
to fulfill different missions, including
training security forces in Yemen who have
gone on the offensive against al Qaeda;
supporting a multinational force to keep
the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train
a functioning security force and border patrol
in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.
A critical focus of this effort will
be the ongoing crisis in Syria.
As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers,
no military solution that can eliminate
the terrible suffering anytime soon.
As President, I made a decision that
we should not put American troops into the middle
of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that
is the right decision.
But that does not mean we shouldn't help the Syrian
people stand up against a dictator who bombs
and starves his own people.
And in helping those who fight for the right
of all Syrians to choose their own future,
we are also pushing back against the growing number
of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.
So with the additional resources I'm announcing
today, we will step up our efforts to support
Syria's neighbors -- Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey
and Iraq -- as they contend with refugees
and confront terrorists working across Syria's borders.
I will work with Congress to ramp up support
for those in the Syrian opposition
who offer the best alternative to terrorists
and brutal dictators.
And we will continue to coordinate with
our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World
to push for a political resolution of this crisis,
and to make sure that those countries
and not just the United States are contributing
their fair share to support the Syrian people.
Let me make one final point about
our efforts against terrorism.
The partnerships I've described do not eliminate
the need to take direct action when necessary
to protect ourselves.
When we have actionable intelligence,
that's what we do -- through capture operations
like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot
to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice;
or drone strikes like those we've
carried out in Yemen and Somalia.
There are times when those actions are necessary,
and we cannot hesitate to protect our people.
But as I said last year, in taking direct action
we must uphold standards that reflect our values.
That means taking strikes only when
we face a continuing, imminent threat,
and only where there is no certainty -- there is near
certainty of no civilian casualties.
For our actions should meet a simple test:
We must not create more enemies than
we take off the battlefield.
I also believe we must be more transparent
about both the basis of our counterterrorism
actions and the manner in which they are carried out.
We have to be able to explain them publicly,
whether it is drone strikes
or training partners.
I will increasingly turn to our military
to take the lead and provide information
to the public about our efforts.
Our intelligence community has done outstanding work,
and we have to continue
to protect sources and methods.
But when we cannot explain our efforts clearly
and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and
international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with
our partners and our people,
and we reduce accountability in our own government.
And this issue of transparency is directly
relevant to a third aspect of American leadership,
and that is our effort to strengthen
and enforce international order.
After World War II, America had the wisdom
to shape institutions to keep the peace
and support human progress -- from NATO
and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF.
These institutions are not perfect,
but they have been a force multiplier.
They reduce the need for unilateral American action
and increase restraint among other nations.
Now, just as the world has changed,
this architecture must change as well.
At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy
spoke about the need for a peace based upon,
"a gradual evolution in human institutions."
And evolving these international institutions
to meet the demands of today must
be a critical part of American leadership.
Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics,
who often downplay the effectiveness
of multilateral action.
For them, working through international
institutions like the
U.N. or respecting international law
is a sign of weakness.
I think they're wrong.
Let me offer just two examples why.
In Ukraine, Russia's recent actions recall the
days when Soviet tanks rolled
into Eastern Europe.
But this isn't the Cold War.
Our ability to shape world opinion helped
isolate Russia right away.
Because of American leadership,
the world immediately condemned Russian actions;
Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions;
NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European
allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize
Ukraine's economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes
of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.
And this mobilization of world opinion
and international institutions served as a counterweight
to Russian propaganda and Russian troops
on the border and armed militias in ski masks.
This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions.
Yesterday, I spoke to their next President.
We don't know how the situation will
play out and there will remain grave challenges ahead,
but standing with our allies on behalf
of international order working with international
institutions, has given a chance
for the Ukrainian people to choose their future
without us firing a shot.
Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the
United States and Israel and others,
the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years.
But at the beginning of my presidency,
we built a coalition that imposed sanctions
on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand
of diplomacy to the Iranian government.
And now we have an opportunity to resolve
our differences peacefully.
The odds of success are still long, and we reserve
all options to prevent Iran from obtaining
a nuclear weapon.
But for the first time in a decade, we have
a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement --
one that is more effective and durable than what
we could have achieved through the use of force.
And throughout these negotiations,
it has been our willingness to work through multilateral
channels that kept the world on our side.
The point is this is American leadership.
This is American strength.
In each case, we built coalitions to respond
to a specific challenge.
Now we need to do more to strengthen
the institutions that can anticipate
and prevent problems from spreading.
For example, NATO is the strongest alliance
the world has ever known.
But we're now working with NATO allies to meet
new missions, both within Europe where
our Eastern allies must be reassured, but also beyond
Europe's borders where our NATO allies must
pull their weight to counterterrorism and respond
to failed states and train a network of partners.
Likewise, the U.N.
provides a platform to keep the peace
in states torn apart by conflict.
Now we need to make sure that those nations
who provide peacekeepers have the training
and equipment to actually keep the peace,
so that we can prevent the type of killing
we've seen in Congo and Sudan.
We are going to deepen our investment
in countries that support these peacekeeping missions,
because having other nations maintain order
in their own neighborhoods lessens the need
for us to put our own troops in harm's way.
It's a smart investment.
It's the right way to lead.
Keep in mind, not all international norms
relate directly to armed conflict.
We have a serious problem with cyber-attacks, which
is why we're working to shape and enforce rules
of the road to secure our networks and our citizens.
In the Asia Pacific, we're supporting Southeast Asian
nations as they negotiate a code of conduct
with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
And we're working to resolve these
disputes through international law.
That spirit of cooperation needs to energize
the global effort to combat climate change --
a creeping national security crisis that
will help shape your time in uniform,
as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural
disasters and conflicts over water and food,
which is why next year I intend to make sure America
is out front in putting together a global
framework to preserve our planet.
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, despite the fact that our
top military leaders say the treaty advances
our national security.
That's not leadership; that's retreat.
That's not strength; that's weakness.
It would be utterly foreign to leaders
like Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
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.
And that's why I will continue to push
to close Gitmo -- because American values
and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite
detention of people beyond our borders.
That's why we're putting in place new
restrictions on how America collects
and uses intelligence -- because we will have fewer partners
and be less effective if a perception takes
hold that we're conducting surveillance
against ordinary citizens.
America does not simply stand
for stability or the absence of conflict,
no matter what the cost.
We stand for the more lasting peace
that can only come through opportunity
and freedom for people everywhere.
Which brings me to the fourth and final element
of American leadership: 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.
A new century has brought no end to tyranny.
In capitals around the globe --
including, unfortunately, some of America's partners --
there has been a crackdown on civil society.
The cancer of corruption has enriched
too many governments and their cronies,
and enraged citizens from remote villages
to iconic squares.
And watching these trends, or the violent upheavals
in parts of the Arab World,
it's easy to be cynical.
But remember that because of America's efforts,
because of American diplomacy and foreign
assistance as well as the sacrifices
of our military, more people live under elected
governments today than at any time in human history.
Technology is empowering civil society
in ways that no iron fist can control.
New breakthroughs are lifting hundreds
of millions of people out of poverty.
And even the upheaval of the Arab World reflects
the rejection of an authoritarian order
that was anything but stable, and now offers
the long-term prospect of more responsive
and effective governance.
In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our
relationship is anchored in security interests --
from peace treaties with Israel,
to shared efforts against violent extremism.
So we have not cut off cooperation with
the new government, but we can and will persistently press
for reforms that the Egyptian
people have demanded.
And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma,
which only a few years ago was an intractable
dictatorship and hostile to the United States --
40 million people.
Thanks to the enormous courage of the people
in that country, and because
we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership,
we have seen political reforms opening a once closed society;
a movement by Burmese leadership away
from partnership with North Korea in favor
of engagement with America and our allies.
We're now supporting reform and badly
needed national reconciliation through assistance
and investment, through coaxing and,
at times, public criticism.
And progress there could be reversed,
but if Burma succeeds we will have gained
a new partner without having fired a shot.
American leadership.
In each of these cases, we should not expect
change to happen overnight.
That's why we form alliances not just
with governments, but also with ordinary people.
For unlike other nations, America is not afraid
of individual empowerment, we are strengthened by it.
We're strengthened by civil society.
We're strengthened by a free press.
We're strengthened by striving
entrepreneurs and small businesses.
We're strengthened by educational exchange
and opportunity for all people,
and women and girls.
That's who we are.
That's what we represent.
I saw that through a trip to Africa last year,
where American assistance has made possible
the prospect of an AIDS-free generation,
while helping Africans care themselves for their sick.
We're helping farmers get their products to market,
to feed populations once endangered by famine.
We aim to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan
Africa so people are connected
to the promise of the global economy.
And all this creates new partners and shrinks
the space for terrorism and conflict.
Now, tragically, no American security
operation can eradicate the threat posed
by an extremist group like Boko Haram, the group
that kidnapped those girls.
And that's why we have to focus not just
on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting
Nigerian efforts to educate its youth.
This should be one of the hard-earned lessons
of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became
the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.
They understood that foreign assistance
is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from
our national defense, apart from
our national security.
It is part of what makes us strong.
Ultimately, global leadership requires
us to see the world as it is,
with all its danger and uncertainty.
We have to be prepared for the worst,
prepared for every contingency.
But American leadership also requires us to see
the world as it should be -- a place where
the aspirations of individual human beings really
matters; where hopes and not just fears govern;
where the truths written into our founding
documents can steer the currents of history
in a direction of justice.
And we cannot do that without you.
Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare
on the quiet banks of the Hudson.
You leave this place to carry forward a legacy
that no other military in human history can claim.
You do so as part of a team that extends
beyond your units or even our Armed Forces,
for in the course of your service you will work
as a team with diplomats and development experts.
You'll get to know allies and train partners.
And you will embody what it means for America
to lead the world.
Next week, I will go to Normandy to honor
the men who stormed the beaches there.
And while it's hard for many Americans
to comprehend the courage and sense of duty that guided
those who boarded small ships,
it's familiar to you.
At West Point, you define what
it means to be a patriot.
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.
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.
May God bless you.
May God bless our men and women in uniform.
And may God bless the United States of America.
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President Obama Speaks to West Point Graduates

1047 Folder Collection
倪文璞 published on August 22, 2016
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