President Barack Obama previewed a new national security strategy rooted in diplomatic engagement and international alliances on Saturday as he essentially repudiated his predecessor’s emphasis on unilateral American power and the right to wage pre-emptive war.
Eight years after President George W Bush came to the United States Military Academy to set a new security doctrine after the September 11 attacks, Obama used the same setting to offer a revised vision vowing no retreat against enemies while seeking "national renewal and global leadership."
"Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system," the president told graduating cadets. "But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation. We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don’t."
Obama said the US would "be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well," while also trying to "build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions." He added: "This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times."
The president’s address was aimed not just at 1,000 young men and women in gray and white uniforms in Michie Stadium who could soon face the perils of Afghanistan or Iraq as Army lieutenants, but also at an international audience that in some quarters grew alienated during the Bush era.
While the president never mentioned his predecessor’s name, the contrast between Bush’s address in 2002 and Obama’s in 2010 underscored the ways a wartime America has changed — and the ways it has not. This was the ninth West Point class to graduate since hijackers smashed planes into New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Most of those commissioned on Saturday were 12 at the time.
When Bush addressed their predecessors, he had toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan and was turning attention to Iraq. "If we wait for threats to fully materialise," he said then, "we will have waited too long." As Obama took the stage on a mild, overcast day, the American war in Iraq was winding down, but Afghanistan had flared out of control and terrorists were making a fresh effort to strike inside the US.
"This war has changed over the last nine years, but it's no less important than it was in those days after 9/11," Obama said. Recalling his decision announced here six months ago to send 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan, Obama said difficult days were ahead, but added, "I have no doubt that together with our Afghan and international partners, we will succeed in Afghanistan."