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Obama Delivers Foreign Policy Vision During West Point Graduation

WAMC, Allison Dunne

President Barack Obama today delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He took the opportunity not only to bestow words of wisdom, but to lay out his foreign policy vision. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne was at the president’s third visit to New York in as many weeks.

1,064 cadets received diplomas after listening to President Obama deliver the graduation speech.

“You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan,” President Obama said.

This comes one day after the president said he would look to bring the U.S. force in Afghanistan down to 9,800 as the U.S. combat mission ends later this year. He then intends to withdraw most of those forces by the end of 2016. President Obama then talked about a strategy shift, where the strategy must match the diffuse threat.

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne

“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,” Mr. Obama said.  “And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaida leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized al-Qaida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.”

The graduating class and the roughly 15,000 who sat in Michie Stadium with a nearly constant drizzle and chill not only heard a graduation speech, but the president’s vision for how the U.S. and its military will lead.

“The United States will use military force unilaterally if necessary when our core interests demand it, when our people our threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger,” the president said.

When this is not the case, he calls for a different approach, one that mobilizes allies and partners to take collective action and one that includes diplomacy and sanctions as tools.

“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,” said the president.

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne

Mr. Obama announced he would turn to Congress to authorize the kind of counterterrorism help he envisions.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “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.”

The president spoke about leading by example and it was a message heard by the now second lieutenants who graduated. Hailey Gibbons, who was among the last to receive her diploma, forewent the handshake with the president for a hug.

“It was great, one of the best hugs I’ve ever gotten, so, yeah,” said Gibbons.

She says one of his messages stuck with her.

“Well, towards the end he really talked about how leadership and how our actions and leading by example really sets the tone for what others think about you,” Gibbons said. “And the Army seems so small, your reputation carries a lot of weight.  And so, by him saying that, you can bring it down to a smaller scale, just like when you’re leading your platoon, lead by example, be a leader of character and everything like that, kind of what has been instilled in us as cadets here at West Point.”

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