Obama Defends Foreign Policy at Commencement

President tells West Point grads "by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world."
52:45 | 05/28/14

Coming up in the next {{countdown}} {{countdownlbl}}

Coming up next:

{{nextVideo.title}}

{{nextVideo.description}}

Skip to this video now

Now Playing:

{{currentVideo.title}}

More information on this video
Enhanced full screen
Explore related content
Comments
Related Extras
Related Videos
Video Transcript
Transcript for Obama Defends Foreign Policy at Commencement
This is a special room. You are looking at a live picture of West Point this year's graduates was ready to hear from their commander in chief President Obama. Getting ready to speak at the military academy ceremony today hello everyone I'm Michelle Franzen in New York this is an ABC news digital special report. On the president's speech at West Point before the president takes the stage who want to bring -- ABC's -- felony join us from Washington. Jeff thank you for joining us let's talk about the timing a little bit of the speech coincides with the week focused heavily on foreign policy. And his announcement to outline to pull troops out of Afghanistan before the end of -- presidency what will be the core of his message to these graduating cadets. It does Michelle good day this -- As -- speech from almost about to hear from the president is really going to outline the Obama doctrine if you will. Really moving the foreign policy approach -- beyond Iraq and Afghanistan of course this is dominated. His administration it dominated the George W Bush Administration so this is they. First. Commencement speech the first group of -- cadets that he'll be speaking to since 9/11. Did you not have faced the prospect of going to Iraq and Afghanistan so he is really going to we're told essentially turn the page is going to announce. Foreign policy. Maneuvers and things in different. Parts of the world as the war on terrorism continues but it's a very different kind of of war on front terrorism Michelle it's going to be much more strategically focused in North Africa and other places not. Simply a -- ground war that we -- you know for the last decade in Iraq and. Afghanistan and again we heard the president make that he made a surprise trip to Afghanistan Memorial Day and under his plan he. We'll leave just over 9000 troops when he says the American combat mission well and now the end terror and the entire American force. And Afghanistan will be cut by roughly half by the end of 2015. Today as you mentioned he's expected to -- to state his case an outline that he will steer the US away from what he considers an overreach of the prior administration. So what do you think the response to this will be. -- the -- Bonds from the cadets will be. -- one of gratitude and appreciation because the commander in chief is coming and this is for their commencement but the -- -- response outside that is next we're seeing of some of predictable Republican criticism particularly about that 2016. Timeline saying that all of the troops will be Iran's. -- -- Will be taken from Afghanistan and and -- what the president is obviously trying to do here is say that you know the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ended under his watch. But some very sharp criticism from senators John McCain Lindsey Graham and a few others saying that. Putting a specific timeline on the and it's just not wise I think that some of the criticism but we'll hear I don't people -- that much today from the speech. It was certainly in the weeks to come we. And of course the president addressing the graduating cadets here but this message obviously going. Far beyond that whether people are in. In line with what the president is proposing or not he is also expected to announce today that he will request to congress for a new five billion dollar fund. To train and prepare other nations and North Africa and the Middle East and Central Asia to fight terrorism on around -- He is and that's. Really part of the central -- here of turning the page and new chapter if you will on the war on terrorism trying to get the US not. So dramatically involved in ground awards and other things but having the CIA and other agencies. -- to specific training exercises -- -- -- -- For some of these other countries particular in the North Africa where. A lot of terrorism is rampant al-Qaeda is still very strong and that really is scents like its new policy proposal here but you know a lot of questions and skepticism about how successful that will be. Jeff thank you so much we want to listen and now -- the president gets ready to address the graduating cadets at West Point. -- -- -- -- -- Clark. Faculty and staff at West Point. You have been outstanding Stewart's. This proud institution. And outstanding mentors. The newest officers. United States are. -- -- develop the army's leadership. On the Q. -- term -- general Odierno. As well senator Jack Reed who is here at a proud graduate of West Point himself. The class of 2014. I congratulate you want taking your place. On the long gray line but. Among -- the first all female command team. Parent involvement and Austin barf. -- Glavine you have a Rhodes scholar. It. -- her back proves that West Point. Accuracy extends beyond the three point line. The entire class let me reassure you in these final hours at West Point. As commander in chief I hereby absolve all cadets -- on restriction for minor conduct offenses. Okay. Larry -- said that nobody ever. Did that for me when I was in school. I don't you join me in extending a word of thanks to your friends. Joseph Dumars. Whose son James is graduated. Spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote a letter. About the sacrifices you made. Deep inside. He wrote. We want to explode with pride that. What -- are committed to do in the service of -- Like several graduates. James. Is -- combat but. I would ask all of us here today to stand and pay tribute. Not only to the veterans among -- but to the more than 2.5 million Americans -- served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As well as their fans. This particularly useful time. For America reflect. On those who sacrificed so much for our freedom. A few days after memorial that. You are the first class. To graduate since 9/11. Who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Okay. When I first spoke at West Point in 2009 we still had more than a 100000 troops in Iraq. We were preparing to search. In Afghanistan. Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on Al qaeda's core leadership. Those were carried out 9/11 attacks. And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. -- -- half years later. You graduate. 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 -- -- in Afghanistan. There's been decimated and Osama bin Laden is noble. Through it all we've refocused our investments. In what has always been that a key source of Americans right. The broader economy. That can provide opportunity. For everybody -- won't work hard and take responsibility here at all. It backed by most measures America has rarely been -- stronger. Relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise. You suggest that America is in declined. Received its global leadership slip away. Are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics. Think about. Our military has an -- The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation -- below. And did not come close to the -- we faced during the Cold War. Meanwhile our economy remains the most dynamic on earth. Our businesses the most innovative. Each year. We grow more energy -- -- but. 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. Inspired leaders of parliaments and new movements in public squares around -- What a typhoon hit the Philippines. Or school girls are kidnapped in Niger. Or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine. It is America. That the world looks to for help. The United States is and remains to be -- indispensable nation. That's been true for the century past and it will be true for the century -- cop. The world has changed. But accelerating speed. This presents opportunity but also new dangers. We know all too well after 9/11 just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals. Raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm. Russia's aggression towards former Soviet states -- -- capitals in -- While China's economic rise -- military reach -- its neighbors. From Brazil India rising middle classes compete. Let us. And government seek -- greater say in. In global forums. And even as developing nations embraced democracy and market economies. Point four hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of secretary -- Failing states. And popular uprisings. The might have received only passing notice a generation ago. It will be your generations task. -- responds to up to this new world. The question we face. The question. Each of you will face. It's not whether. America will lead. But how we will -- Not just to secure our peace and prosperity but also expand peace and prosperity. Iran -- Now this question has no. At least that's George Washington served as commander energy. There have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security. Or economic well being. Today hit according to self described -- us. Complex and series or Ukraine. Where the Central African Republic. Are not ours is all. And not surprisingly after costly wars and continuing challenges here at home. That view is shared by many Americans. A different view. From interventionist from the left and the right says that we ignore these Catholics -- -- -- America's willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos and America's failure to act. In the faces -- Saturday brutality here. Russian provocations. Not only violates our conscience but invites escalating aggression in the future. And each side can point to history to support its claims. But -- only. Neither view fully speaks. To the demands of the small. It is absolutely true that in the 21 century American isolationism. Is not an option. We don't have -- shorts to ignore what happens beyond our borders. -- nuclear materials are not secure. That poses a danger. To American service. As the Syrian civil war spills across borders the capacity of battle hardened that. 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 -- in our military. We can't ignore what happens beyond our mountains. 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 -- school girls are not kidnapped. Where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith. Or political belief. I believe -- world. The greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative it also helps to keep busting. But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say. Every problem -- a military solution. Since World War II some -- most costly mistakes came not from our restraint. But from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences. Without building international support. And legitimacy for Iraq. Without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices were. Required. Tough talk often draws headlines -- war. Rarely conforms to slogans. General Eisenhower. Someone -- -- knowledge on this subject. Says that at this command ceremony in 1940 -- War is mankind's most tragic and stupid follow. To seek or bias it's deliberate provocation is a black crime against moment. Like Eisenhower this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war. That includes those of you here Westport. For -- Of the service members who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces. In Afghanistan. Gave their lives -- that up. A lot more were wounded. I believe America's security demanded those deployments. But I am haunted by those -- I'm haunted. By those wounds. And -- betray my duty to you and to the country we love. If I ever sent you into harm's way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be picked. -- because I was worried about credits. We think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak. Here's my bottom line. America must always lead on the world stage. If we don't. Norman wells will. Military that you have joined the is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. But US military action that cannot be the only. Or even primary component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best ever does not mean that every problem is -- -- Because the cost associated with military action -- so -- you should expect every civilian leader and especially -- -- energy. To be clear about how the awesome power should be used. Let me spend the rest of my time. Describing my vision for about the United States of America and our military should lead. In the years to come. For you will be part. Of that leadership. First let me repeat -- -- -- put forward at the outset of my presidency. The United States will use military force unilaterally if necessary when our core interest demands that. When are people are threatened. What our livelihoods. Are at stake. And security of our allies all. Mandate. In these circumstances we still need to ask tough questions about whether or actions are proportional. And effective. And just. International opinion -- matters. But America should never asked permission to protect our people. Our homeland or way of life. On the other hand what issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States. -- such issues are at stake when. When crises arrived -- our conscience or pushed the world in a more dangerous direction. But do not directly threaten us that -- threshold for military action. Must be higher. In such circumstances we should not go to law. Instead we must mobilizing allies and partners to take. Collective action. We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and and develop. Sanctions. And isolation. Appeals to international law and it just necessary and effective. Multi lateral military action. In such circumstances we have to work with others because collective action. In these circumstances is more likely to succeed. More likely to be sustained. Less likely to lead to costly respects. Let's -- my second point. For the foreseeable future the most direct threat to America. At home and abroad. Remains -- But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naive 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 -- capable. In the need for -- new strategy reflects the fact that today's principal threat no longer comes from a centralized. Al-Qaeda leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized al-Qaeda affiliates and extremists. Many with a -- focused in countries where they operate. And that's lessens the possibility of large scale of nine elevenths style attacks against the homeland. But it heightens the danger of US personnel overseas being attacked as we -- -- It heightens the danger to let's defensible -- That you saw in the shopping mall and I wrote. So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat. One that expands our reach. Without sending forces. That stretch our military to -- Or stir up local resentments. We need partners. To fight terrorists alongside us. And apart -- large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. Together -- our allies America struck huge blows against al-Qaeda court. And pushed back against -- insurgency that threatened to overrun the country but sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job. That's why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police. Earlier this spring that those forces. Those Afghan forces secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer -- power. In their history. And at the end of this year into Afghan president will be in office. And America's combat mission will be overrule. Note. That was an enormous achievement. Made because America's armed forces. But as we move to a train and advise mission in Afghanistan are reduced presence there. Allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa that. So earlier this year I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships. From South Asia to the -- help. Today as part of its effort I'm calling on congress to support. A new counterterrorism partnership spot -- up -- five billion dollars which will allow us to train. Build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. These resources will get us flexibility people -- different missions. Including trade security forces in Yemen -- gone on the offensive against al-Qaeda. Supporting multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia. Working with the European allies to trade -- functioning security force and Border Patrol in Libya. And facilitated French operations Amal. A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria. As frustrating as there are no easy answers there. No military solution. That can eliminate. The terrible suffering any -- -- As president I made a decision that we should not -- American troops. Into the middle of this increasingly secretary -- war that I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn't help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator. Who bombs. And stars. His own people. And helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future. We are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists. Who find safe haven in the campus. So would be additional resources I'm announcing today we will step up our efforts to support Syria's neighbors. Jordan and Lebanon up Turkey and Iraq. As they contend -- refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria's borders. I'll work with congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition to offer the best alternative to terrorists. And brutal dictators. We will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab world. To push for a political resolution of this crisis and to make sure that -- countries and not just the United States. Are contributing their fair share to support. The Syrian -- I make one final point about our efforts against terrorism. Partnerships are described him. Do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. We have actionable intelligence. That's what we do. To capture up operations like the one the broader terrorist involved in the plot -- -- our embassies in 1990 to face justice. Or drone strikes. Like those we've carried out in Yemen and Somalia. There are times when those actions are necessary. We cannot hesitate to protect our people. But as I said last year. In taking direct action we must uphold standards that reflect our balance. That means taking strikes only when we -- -- continuing imminent threat. And only where there is no certainty. There is near certainty of no civilian casualties. For our actions should meet a simple test. We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield. I also believe we must be more transparent. About -- the basis of our counterterrorism actions. And the manner in which they are carried out we have to be able to explain that publicly whether it is drone strikes were trading partners. I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information the public about our efforts. 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 -- legitimacy -- our partners and our people. That we reduce accountability in our own government. This issue of transparency. -- 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 -- wrong in the United Nations of the world bank and IMF. These are institutions are not perfect. But they have been a force multiplier. It. They reduce the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint. Among other nations. Now. Just -- the world has changed its architecture must change as well. At the height of the Cold War president Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon. A gradual evolution in human institutions. And involving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part American leadership. Now there -- a lot of folks lot of skeptics who often downplay the effectiveness of multi lateral action. For their work electorate international institutions like -- the UN her. Respecting international law is a sign of weakness. I picked the wrong. When they offered just two examples why. -- in Ukraine. Russia's recent actions were called days when Soviet tanks rolled in the Eastern Europe. But -- -- the Cold War that. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership the world immediately condemned Russian actions. Europe and the G-7 join us to impose sanctions. They -- reinforced our commitment to eastern European allies. The IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine's economy. OSE -- brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine and that's mobilization. Of world opinion and international institutions. Served as -- -- The Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border. An armed militias and ski masks. This weekend. Ukrainians voted by the millions. Yesterday I spoke to their next president. We don't know how the situation will play out and the -- remain great challenges ahead 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. -- got -- fired a shot. Similar but. Despite. Frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others -- -- Ryan. Nuclear program steadily advanced four years. But the beginning of my presidency we build a coalition that impose sanctions on Iran in the economy. While extending. The head of diplomacy -- -- running government. And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- And we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but for the first time in a decade we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement. One that is more effective and durable than. What we -- achieved. Through the use of force. And throughout these negotiations it has been our willingness to work through multi -- channels. That kept the world on our side. -- The point is this is American leadership. This is American struck. In each case we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge. Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent. Problems from -- For example -- is the strongest -- the world has ever known. But we're not working -- NATO allies to meet new missions. Both within Europe where eastern allies must be reassured but also beyond Europe's borders. Where NATO allies have to pull their weight. To counter terrorism. And respond -- failed states and train a network of partners. Likewise the UN provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict. Now we need to make sure that those nations who provide peacekeepers -- the training and equipment to actually keep peace. But we can prevent that killing we've seen in Kabul and submit. We are gonna deepen our investment in countries that support these peacekeeping missions because. Having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need it for us. To put our own troops in harm's way. It's a Smart about. It right way to leave. Keep in mind not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict. We have a serious problem what cyber attacks. Which is why we're working to shape and enforce -- the -- to secure our networks and our citizens. In the Asia Pacific were supporting southeast Asian nations is they've negotiated code of conduct -- China. On maritime disputes in the South China -- And working to resolve all these disputes through international law. That spirit of cooperation. Needs to energize the global effort. To combat climate change. A creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform as we are called -- to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters. And conflicts over water and food. Which is why next your right to make sure Americans out front. Putting together a global framework to preserve our planet. You see American influence is always stronger. What we lead by example. We get exempt ourselves from the rules that apply -- everybody else. We can't call on others to make commitments. Combat climate change. If a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it's taking place. We can't. Try to resolved. Problems. In the south privacy. When we have refused. To make sure that the law of the sea convention. Is ratified by the United States despite the threat. That our top military leaders. Save the treaty advances our national security. That's not leadership. That's retreat. Let's not strength. That's weakness. It would be utterly foreign -- leaders like Roosevelt and Truman. Eisenhower and -- that. I believe in American exceptions. With every fiber of my B. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to -- international norms and the rule of law it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions. -- And that's why I will continue to push to close gitmo law because American values and legal traditions do not permit be indefinite detention. -- people beyond our borders. It. That's what we're putting in place new restrictions on how America collects -- -- intelligence. Because we will have fewer murders and be less effective if perception takes all of that were conducting surveillance. Against ordinary citizens. America does not simply stand for stability -- the absence of conflict. No matter what the cost. We stand for the more lasting peace they can only come -- opportunity and freedom for people everywhere. Which brings me to the the fourth and final element of American leadership. Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity. American support for democracy and human rights. Goes beyond idealism it is a matter of national secure. Democracies are closest friends and are far less likely to go to war. Economy is based on free and open markets perform better and become. Markets for our -- Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability. In the grievances that fueled violence and terror. A new century has brought no end to tyranny. In capitals around the globe including unfortunately some of America's partners there's been a crackdown on civil society. The cancer of corruption isn't rich too many governments and their cronies enraged citizens. From remote villages -- -- And watching these trends or the violent upheavals in parts of the Arab world it's easy to be -- But remember that because America's efforts. Because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military. More people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history. Technologies empowering. Civil society in ways that no iron -- can control. New breakthroughs -- lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty law. And he made -- people of the Arab world reflects the rejection of an authoritarian. Order that was anything but stable. And now offers the long term prospect of more responsive and effective governance. In countries like Egypt we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests. From peace treaties to Israel to -- efforts against violent extremists. So we have not cut -- cooperation with the new government but we can't and will persistently. Pressed for reforms. That the Egyptian people have demanded. Meanwhile look at a country like Burma which only a few years ago was an intractable. Dictatorship and hostile to the United States. Forty million people. Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country. And because we took the diplomatic initiative American leadership we have seen political reforms opening the once closed society. A movement. But Burmese leadership away from partnership -- North Korea in favor engagement -- America and our allies. We're now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment. Through coaxing at a -- public criticism. And progress there could be reversed but. -- Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired -- shot. American leadership. In each of these cases we should not expect change to happen overnight. That's why we form alliances not just -- governments but also -- -- people. For unlike other nations America is not afraid of individual empowerment we are strengthened by up. Restricted by civil society. Was -- about -- Restrict them by -- entrepreneurs and small businesses. Restricted by educational exchange an opportunity for all people. And women. And girls that's we are that's what we were present. I saw that through a trip to Africa last year. Where American assistance has made possible the prospect. Of an aids free generation. While helping Africans here. Themselves for their set. We're helping farmers get the products to market. -- populations once endangered by fair. We aim to double access to electricity. In sub saharan Africa so people are connected to the promise of the global economy. All this creates new partners and shrinks the space for terrorism. And conflict. And tragically no American security operation can eradicate that threat posed by up. An extremist group like ball over rumble the group that kidnapped those girls. That's why -- We have to focus not just about rescuing those -- right away but also -- supporting -- in efforts to educate its youth. The should be one of the harder lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. -- our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development they understood. That foreign assistance is not an afterthought. Something nice to do apart from our national defense apart from our national security. It is part of what makes a strong. And ultimately. Global leadership requires us to see the world residents. -- all. It's danger. And uncertainty. We have to be prepared for the worst. Prepared for every contingency. But American leadership also requires us to see the world. As should be. A place where the aspirations of individual human beings. Really matters. Where holes and not just Beers ago. Where the troops written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in -- direction of justice. And we cannot do that. Without you. Class 2014 you have taken this time to prepare. I'm acquired banks of the -- You leave this place to carry -- and legacy that no other military and human. History complaint. You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even armed forces for and of course your service -- will work. As a team -- diplomats and development experts. You'll get to know allies and trade partners. You will embody what it means. For America. To lead the world. Next week over Normandy. Daughter the men who stormed the beaches there. While it's hard for many Americans to comprehend the courage. And sense of duty. The -- that those who -- small shifts. It's familiar to you. At West Point you define what it means to be a picture. Three years ago. Gavin white graduated from Jessica. He then served in Afghanistan. Like the soldiers who came before him. Gavin wasn't a foreign land helping people he never met. Putting himself in harm's way for the sake. This community. Is fair. Of the folks back all. Gavin lost one of his. Of his legs intact. I met him last year at Walter -- He was wounded but just as determined as today that he arrived here at West Point. And he developed a simple goal. Today his sister Morgan will graduate. And true to its problems. -- and will be there to stand and exchanged salutes. -- her. We have been through a long season of war. We have faced trials that were not -- scene. And we've seen. Divisions about how -- -- court. But there is something -- care. There is something in the American care. We're always trying to. -- Leaving here you carry -- view. The respect. Of your fellow citizens. You'll represented a nation with a history and hope on our side. -- -- charged now. Is not only to protect our country. But to do what is right. In just. As your commander in chief I know you will. May god bless. God bless our men and women in uniform. May god bless the United States America. You've been watching President Obama addressed. Cadets at West Point the prestigious US military academy on this. Their graduation day sending off a new round of cadets to serve our country President Obama of course marking. His speech with what he feels will be the next generation of leadership for the US I want to bring in. -- felony again in Washington and of course Jeff he's mentioned that the US is the indispensable. Nation one that with has awesome power. And he said his bottom line America must. Always lead the world stage we don't know one else will how did the outline how America should be legal. Michelle it was striking the level. Defensiveness -- least in the early part of the speech that President Obama was giving essentially a strong rebuttal to some of his critics that America is not. Still the global leader America is not leading in things he said it again and again America has led. And he says anyone who says otherwise is either. Misreading history were engaged in partisan politics. That was sort of uninteresting shot across the ballots some of his critics but. -- I was struck by most of all is just the different tone and moment. In art history that this speech came -- the last time President Obama. Was speaking at West Point he was announcing that 30000 more troops would be going to Afghanistan. And now in this speech he is saying that. That's the war in Afghanistan the country's longest war will be over by the time he leaves office in 26 team needs it to -- that was just a striking bookmark in a moment of his presidency. Yes of course announcing how is scaling that down -- tell these graduates. Who he described as many post 9/11 graduates for the first time who may not be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. What was your -- Michelle one of the things that he was out outlining is that near the threat is slightly different. He said that you know al-Qaeda has been sort of broken up and the possibility of having some large scale 9/11 like attack. It's not as likely now that it's more of a decentralized. The type of threat you know the war on terrorism goes on he didn't use that exact phrase but he's -- now what is happening in different pockets of the world so. He was outlining cities. A military men and women these young cadets what type of of threats they're facing and it is very much a a smarter threat in some respects it is -- I'm harder to come back but he basically was saying that -- the idea of having large scale ground wars simply. Is something that is is unlikely to happen but of course he did say. As he outlined his four or five -- principles his first one was America still. -- will act unilaterally if necessary. Of course he put that on the table but. It was striking the -- a degree to which he outlined a different kind of threat that this country faces. -- felony in Washington thank you. The Celtics. This has been an ABC news digital special report keep up with the story in real time by downloading the ABC news that. And star in this story for exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

{"id":23899659,"title":"Obama Defends Foreign Policy at Commencement","duration":"52:45","description":"President tells West Point grads \"by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.\"","section":"US","mediaType":"Default"}