Monday, May 25, 2009
Barack Obama pledges to keep U.S. 'dominance'
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Barack Obama told graduates at the U.S. Naval Academy that of all of his duties as president, there is no higher honor than serving as their commander-in-chief, and in that role, he promised to maintain American military superiority.
“I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support you need to get the job done,” Obama said before an audience estimated at 30,000. “We will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.”
Obama’s speech to the 1,036 graduates offered a mix of gratitude for the job they’ve taken on during a time of war, along with the introduction of a new president to a military with a history of being skeptical toward Democrats.
The president also sought to lay out some of the challenges that lie ahead for the graduates, what he called a “full spectrum of threats” – from nation states and terrorists to the “spread of deadly technologies and of hateful ideologies” and 18th-century-style pirates to modern cyber-threats.
Obama also took some pages from the speech he delivered Thursday at the National Archives to explain his approach as commander in chief.
“As our nation debates how to deal with the security challenges that we face, we must remember this enduring truth: the values and ideals in those documents are not simply words written into aging parchment, they are the bedrock of our liberty and our security,” Obama said. “We uphold our fundamental principles and values not just because we choose to, but because we swear to. Not because they feel good, but because they help keep us safe.”
Obama became the 21st president to deliver the academy’s commencement address - President James Garfield was the first in 1881. But Obama may have been the first to do it as his former opponent sat in the audience.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an Annapolis grad himself, was seated down front for his son’s graduation.
Obama never mentioned McCain specifically – the White House said out of respect for the McCain family’s wishes — but he expressed general gratitude for “moms and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas.”
Obama’s address on Friday was his third and last of the graduation season.
Perhaps he’s a little relived that his first commencement circuit is over. At each of the three he agreed to attend, a side story followed. Arizona State University refused to give him an honorary degree. His invitation to speak at the University of Notre Dame set off passionate protests because of Obama’s pro-abortion rights position.
And on Friday, Obama handed John Sydney McCain IV his bachelor’s degree and oversaw his becoming the fourth generation of McCain men to be commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy.
During his address, Obama sought to break the ice with a joke. He told the graduates he brought them a gift: “All midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses are hereby officially absolved.”
And he granted those returning next fall an extra weekend pass to leave campus. Then he laughed at his himself. “I should stop now,” he quipped.
Obama moved to thanking the graduates for their service and holding them up as an example of the sacrifice these times require.
“I’ve admired the spirit of your service – because it’s not the strength of our arms or the power of our technology that gives the United States our military dominance, it’s our people,” Obama said.
“You serve as a reminder, a challenge, to your fellow Americans to fulfill the true meaning of citizenship,” Obama said. “In a culture where so many chase the outward markers of success that can so often lead us astray – titles and status, materialism and money, fame and popularity – these Americans have embraced the virtues that we need most right now.”
Obama’s speech Friday came after a recent proud moment for the Navy – the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates – which the president took a few moments to invoke.
“And we recall that in those moments of danger and decision, these Americans did what they were trained to do,” Obama said.
“So Class of 2009, months or years or decades from now, should you find yourself in a moment of danger, a moment of decision, and should you wonder, ‘What is expected of me?’ ‘What should I do?’ Well, just look at that ring on your finger,” Obama continued in conclusion. “Remember all you achieved here and all that you learned here.”