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Obama: Military to remain backbone of America’s leadership

Published time: May 28, 2014 16:23
Edited time: May 30, 2014 12:12
US President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address to the 2014 graduating class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014. (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)

US President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address to the 2014 graduating class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014. (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)

As the United States prepares to remove its combat forces from Afghanistan after almost 13 years, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the US military remains at the core of America’s ability to influence changes abroad.

And while the commander-in-chief added at the Military Academy at West Point’s graduating ceremony Wednesday morning that the Pentagon reserves the power to launch unilateral attacks when America’s interests are directly threatened, Obama urged Congress during his remarks to earmark billions to assist allied nations combating terrorism and other major threats in lieu of relying on American force in those instances, as was done in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Instead, Obama said, the US should lead by example within the international arena without creating any precedents that would pave the way for other nations to use established militaries or armed militias to further worsen tensions in the volatile regions where the US is observing from abroad.

The address — delivered to roughly 1,000 graduating students from the military school’s class of 2014 — was presented as a launching pad for the president to tout his plans concerning foreign policy as the White House finds itself on the sidelines of several international crises at the same time that America’s longest-war ever prepares to finally be put to rest.

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

Nevertheless, the president added, removing combat forces from war-torn nations abroad is no excuse to ease back on the US military’s own abilities as tensions escalate elsewhere.

Now more than a decade after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Obama said, “the world is changing with accelerating speed” as “technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of the individual, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.”

“It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world,” Pres. Obama told class of 2014. “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. “

To accomplish as much, he added, the US must reserve its ability to use military force, even unilaterally, “when our people are threatened; when our livelihood is at stake; or when the security of our allies is in danger.”

“On the other hand, when issues of global concern that do not pose a direct threat to the United States are at stake – when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction – then the threshold for military action must be higher,” he continued. “In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We must broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and – if just, necessary, and effective – multilateral military action. “

With regards to what the US can accomplish without exercising its military might, the president called on Congress during Wednesday’s address to agree on a plan that would reserve billions of dollars in taxpayer money towards helping counterterrorism programs abroad

“I am calling on Congress to support a new Counter-Terrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines,” he said at West Point. “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.”

Additionally, Obama also said he will work with Congress to ramp up support for Syrian opposition fighters up against embattled President Bashar Al-Assad, and will step up efforts in neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, to provide American assistance. Those remarks came the same morning that US Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN’s New Day program that 92 percent of Assad’s chemical weapons have been removed nearly nine months after his regime was blamed for a deadly gas strike in the city of Damascus.

Elsewhere during Wednesday’s address, the president reiterated points he made during a highly touted national security addresses presented nearly one year earlier at a Washington, DC military school in which he called for a major change in the way the US conducts terrorism operations. One year to the week after Pres. Obama announced intended changes to the US drone program and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, he again this week announced plans to reform both.

This administration will “be transparent about both the basis for our actions and the manner in which they are carried out – whether it is drone strikes, or training partners,” Obama said Wednesday morning.“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.”

"Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage," he said elsewhere during his address. "If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership."

“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’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions,” he added. “That’s why I will continue to push to close [Guantanamo Bay] – because American values and legal traditions don’t permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.”

Moments earlier, Obama referenced by name the armed drone missions that have put US unmanned vehicles in Somalia and Yemen, but did not mention by name other countries, including Pakistan, where the Central Intelligence Agency maintains a covert and controversial drone program yet to be acknowledged by the White House.

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