The U.S. must shape a world order as reliant on the force of diplomacy as on the might of its military to lead, President Barack Obama said Saturday as he outlined a foreign policy vision that repudiated the go-it-alone approach forged by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Addressing nearly 1,000 graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, many of whom will likely head to war in Iraq and Afghanistan under his command, Obama said all hands are required to solve the world's newest threats: terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, climate change and feeding and caring for a growing population.
The U.S. military is the "cornerstone of our national defense," but Obama said the men and women who wear America's uniform cannot bear that responsibility by themselves. "The rest of us must do our part," he said.
"The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone. It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone," the commander in chief told graduates in gray and white uniforms seated on the field at Michie Stadium.
Diplomacy and muscle must work together, he said in calling for "renewed engagement" from diplomats, along with development experts, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and first responders.
Obama acknowledged that the U.S. is "clear-eyed" about the shortcoming of the international system, but he said America had not ever been successful 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 the consequences when they don't," the president said.
Bush's "my way or the highway" approach alienated some allies and damaged U.S. standing around the world. Obama has promised to restore America's reputation, and he said Saturday that he aimed to do that by forging new alliances, maintaining old ones and helping to shape stronger international standards and institutions.
At the same time, Obama said the U.S. will fight to protect "those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding" and will lead by example by staying true to the rule of law and the Constitution, "even when it's hard, even when we're being attacked, even when we're in the midst of war."
"We should not discard our freedoms because extremists try to exploit them," he said in an apparent reference to policies sanctioning torture and domestic spying that Bush adopted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Nearly the entire graduating class of 2010 became second lieutenants in the Army, with most expecting to serve eventually in Iraq or Afghanistan, a fact that Obama said "humbled" him.
"I assure you, you will go with the full support of a proud and grateful nation," he said.
Noting that he came to West Point in December to announce his military policy in Afghanistan, Obama told the cadets "a long and hard road awaits you. ... Your service is fundamental to our security back home."
Despite that warning, the newly commissioned officers said they were ready to serve.
"This is the reason I came here," said Bradley Marren of Charlotte, N.C.
Annie Odom, of Ware Shoals, S.C., said she was following in her father's footsteps. She said he was sent to Iraq in 2003, and now it was her turn.
"My father did it ... and I want to do my service for my country," Odom said. "When that day comes, when I have to go to combat, I'll be ready and God will be on my side. That's all I have to know."