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OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY SPEECH AT WEST POINT (First of Two Parts)


 

“War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men...”        – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, West Point Graduation, June 1947

 

President Barack Obama has been the commencement speaker on two occasions at the U.S. Military Academy – the first in 2009, three months after his first inaugural, and the second last 28 May to “send-off” the Class of 2014 who number more than a thousand strong, well-trained, skillful, and service-motivated young American men and women.

Fortuitously, FVR was in West Point last 19-21 May to attend the “Outstanding Alumnus Awards” ceremony for five eminent grads, among them his classmate and valedictorian of USMA Class of 1950, Bill DeGraf.  That visit last week coincided with their 64th class reunion.

In his commencement address (billed as his “Strategic Foreign Policy”) at West Point, Commander-in-Chief Obama emphasized:  “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.”

“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.”

The Use of Military Force

It will be recalled that Barack Obama succeeded President George W. Bush – who was caught unaware of the gravity of the threat of international terrorism, as exemplified by the Al Qaeda (despite warnings from the FBI and Philippine authorities as early as 1995).  The successful, massive attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 (now known as the 9-11 tragedy that “changed the world”) were the result.  (Please see our columns “Blessed Pope John Paul II, Osama bin Laden, and Filipinos” [8 May 2011] and “What If? – Remembering Saint JPII” [04 May 2014] in the Manila Bulletin).

President Obama continued:  “First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my Presidency:  the U.S. 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 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 is more likely to succeed and be sustained, and less likely to lead to costly mistakes.”

He then went on to outline in detail the nature of American global leadership, which has four defining characteristics:  (More of that in Part II).

Flashback:  FVR Address At West Point

During my own speech before the Corps of Cadets at USMA in November 1993, I reminisced:  “I came to West Point forty-seven years ago with a feeling of great awe. Today that feeling has not changed.  

“I am proud that the cadet's and alumni's commitment to DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY has not changed either.  As a foreign graduate, I drew from West Point the values of DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, and also much of my commitment to the ideals of democracy and freedom as a public servant of the Philippine Government.

“In this context, my visit to our Alma Mater today is more than a sentimental journey; mine is also a journey to reinvigorate the bilateral relations between the Philippines and the United States.

“One million Filipinos died during World War II either as combatants of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), as guerilla resistance fighters during the three-year occupation, or as innocent bystanders in a war my people did not understand as to why it happened in the first place.

“I am not, by the way, the first Filipino graduate of West Point. That honor belongs to Brigadier General Vicente Lim, class of 1914, who became a Division Commander in the Philippine Army, valiantly defended his area of operations on the Bataan peninsula during World War II, and was captured then executed by the enemy in 1942. [His son, Vicente Lim, Jr., class of 1944, incidentally, is with my delegation today.] 

“There were 19 Filipino West Point graduates who fought side by side with their American Allies in World War II. When that war broke out, 267 American West Point graduates – drawn from 39 classes – were on active duty in the Philippines. Nearly two-thirds of them – 173 to be exact – perished there. 

 “The most prominent West Pointer who served in the Philippines was General Douglas MacArthur, class of 1903, who was instrumental in the organization and training of the Philippine Army in 1935, fought the defense of the Philippines on Bataan and Corregidor in 1942, escaped to Australia, and then led the liberation of the Philippines in 1945, fulfilling his pledge of ‘I shall return.’ [His father, General Arthur MacArthur, was the first Military Governor of Manila in 1898, and later became the first Military Governor of the Philippines in 1900.] 

“During his early days in the Philippines, Douglas MacArthur was assisted by another famous alumnus, then Major Dwight Eisenhower. 

“I bring up these facts of ‘ancient history’ to remind us all that the relationship between the Philippines and the United States is a long one – and that West Point alumni have played a prominent role in that relationship. 

Our Mutual Defense Treaty

“Our own Philippine Military Academy, which was founded as the Philippine Constabulary Academy in 1905, was established by West Pointers and patterned after West Point. The PMA has a similar curriculum, uniforms, fourth-class system and honor code as USMA.

“Even after the Philippines became independent in 1946, the close relationship between our two countries and their defense forces continued. Filipinos, including myself, fought under the Philippine flag on the same side as the Americans in two Asian conflicts – in Korea and Vietnam. 

“Both our countries remain bound by a Mutual Defense Treaty that dates back to 1951.  This Philippines-United States treaty continues to be in effect up to the present time under a Council of Ministers at the political level, and a Mutual Defense Board headed by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Commander-In-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC). 

“This week, our two Armed Forces are undertaking joint training exercises at Fort Magsaysay in Luzon to test and enhance the inter-operability of U.S. and Philippine units and equipment.  This is the twelfth in a series of Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) maneuvers held annually.

Allies Standing Shoulder-to-Shoulder

“I speak of a relationship between two sovereign nations that is built on mutual respect and mutual support, and, for this reason, is mutually rewarding, enriching and beneficial. 

“As one contemplates the horizon of Philippine-American relations, three massive and compelling facts instantly obtrude into one's mind:  First, our two countries have a continuing community of strategic and economic interests. Second, the United States remains our biggest and most profitable market.  And third, the United States remains the undisputed leader of the Free World.

“These central realities transcend fluctuations in the political and psychological climate of Philippine-American relations. They constitute invariable constants in our bilateral affairs, which either country can ill afford to subordinate to transient considerations and short-term exigencies. 

 “There are today in the U.S. two million Filipino-Americans who consider the United States their homeland and the Philippines their motherland.  Representative of this growing group of “dual citizens” is Cadet 1st Class Antonio de Guia, Jr., a proud American citizen, born of Filipino parents.

“WE OF THE PHILIPPINES HAVE OUR OWN INDEPENDENT VISION. WE SEEK TO ACHIEVE THE STATUS OF A NEWLY INDUSTRIALIZING COUNTRY BY THE TURN OF THE CENTURY. TO THIS END, WE MUST FORGE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL TIES WITH OUR WORLD NEIGHBORS – AND, GIVEN OUR HISTORY, WE FILIPINOS FIND IT NATURAL TO LOOK AT THE UNITED STATES AS A MAJOR PARTNER IN THIS EFFORT.”

Next week:  AbanganPart II.  More on U.S. Foreign Policy.

Please send any comments to fvr@rpdev.org.  Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.

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