President Barack Obama led the commencement ceremonies at West Point Military Academy’s Michie Stadium Wednesday where he defended his record on foreign policy and laid out new proposals for battling terrorism.
The President reflected on the challenges of balancing military intervention with alternative solutions to solving international crises. Although Obama said America could not turn to military force to solve all its problems, he defended his support for certain uses of military force—such as sending troops into Afghanistan—as justified.
“America must always lead on the world stage, if we don’t, no one else will. The military you have joined will always be the backbone of that leadership,” Obama said to the graduating cadets. But Obama added that “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”
Obama proposed the creation of a $5 billion fund to aid US allies to fight terrorism on their own instead of relying solely on America’s military. By supporting programs like training police and military, Obama argued, US allies could shoulder a greater part of the burden of fighting terrorism within their own borders.
“These resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against Al Qaeda, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya and facilitating French operations in Mali,” Obama said.
The President also stressed that US policy should not risk making more enemies than waging a war on terror could eliminate. He pointed to instances of other countries feeling threatened by America’s widespread use of drones use and spying. Obama urged the military to increase transparency and accountability related to such programs.
“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,” he said.
Obama’s speech comes after a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Memorial Day, where he said his goal was to remove over half the American combat troops in Afghanistan, which would leave around 9,800 soldiers there.