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PRESIDENT OBAMA AT WEST POINT (Last of Two Parts)


 

“Our military has no peer….  Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth, our businesses the most innovative….  From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations….”  – President Barack Obama at West Point, 28 April 2014

 

As narrated in our last week’s column, we were fortunate to have been at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York a few days before President Obama’s commencement address thereat to “launch” the Class of 2014 on their military careers – with hardship tours in a risky, uncertain global security environment in which the U.S. has assumed leadership. 

His strong appeal for patriotic public service to the young West Point graduates was interwoven with his redefinition of U.S. foreign policy in the sixth year of his Presidency.

Hereunder are the remaining highlights of President Obama’s foreign policy speech which aroused mixed reactions – mostly negative, in the U.S. and also in Europe.  In Asia, however, comments and analyses remained generally favorable (and even optimistic) in terms of a more active U.S. role in collective security and the recognition of committed Allies and partners in contributing to regional/worldwide peace.

Emphasized Mr. Obama:  “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.

Countering Terrorism:  The Need For Partners

“Together with our Allies, America struck huge blows against Al Qaeda and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.

“We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done…. 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….

“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 I.M.F.  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.

“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.

“This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions.  Yesterday, I spoke to their next President.  We don’t know how the situation will play out, 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.

Human Dignity, Democracy, Human Rights

“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 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….  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.  The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments, including some of America’s partners and their cronies, and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares.

“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. 

“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.

The Indispensable Nation

“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.  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 U.S is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century past, 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 have put power once reserved for States in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.

Russia And China Aggressions

“Russia’s aggression towards 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 make it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts, failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

“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 citizens.

“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. 

“AND BEYOND THESE NARROW RATIONALES, I BELIEVE WE HAVE A REAL STAKE – ABIDING SELF-INTEREST – IN MAKING SURE OUR CHILDREN AND OUR GRANDCHILDREN GROW UP IN A WORLD WHERE SCHOOLGIRLS ARE NOT KIDNAPPED; WHERE INDIVIDUALS AREN’T SLAUGHTERED BECAUSE OF TRIBE OR FAITH OR POLITICAL BELIEF. 

“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.”

         xxx         xxx

Standing Shoulder-to-Shoulder

Before flying back to Washington after his visit to the Philippines last 28-29 April, President Obama addressed Filipino and American war veterans and soldiers inside the Philippine Army gym in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.  Some of us old fogeys were there by invitation.

What he spoke about our WWII and Filipino-American veterans, Agence France Presse(29 April) reported:  “President Obama admitted the injustice done to many Filipino veterans whose service was never fully recognized by the U.S. and who were denied the compensation they had been promised.  To address this, his Administration worked with the U.S. Congress to right the wrong.  To date, the government has reviewed the records and processed the claims of nearly 20,000 Filipino WWII veterans and their families, who finally received the compensation they earned.

“’And it was the right thing to do,” Obama said, honoring the war veterans present.  ‘Among them are men who fought at Bataan and Corregidor, and survived those hellish prisoner-of-war camps....  They are an inspiration to us all, and I’d ask those who can stand to stand or give a wave so that we can all salute their service.’”

Recalling the battles for Bataan and Corregidor, Obama continues:  “The loss of life was grievous, and hardly a Filipino family was untouched by the tragedy...  But the heroic struggle brought out the best in the Filipino character in the face of adversity and served as a beacon to freedom-loving peoples everywhere.  The American cemetery here in Manila is the final resting place of so many Americans and Filipinos who made the ultimate sacrifice in that war.  These Americans and Filipinos rest in peace as they stood in war – side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder – ‘Balikatan’….

“IN THOSE YEARS OF OCCUPATION, FILIPINO RESISTANCE FIGHTERS KEPT UP THE STRUGGLE.  AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF FILIPINOS FOUGHT UNDER THE AMERICAN FLAG.

“ON BEHALF OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SERVICE.”

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

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