War deaths haunt me, says Barack Obama in US Military Academy speech

Obama on Wednesday sought to caution the fresh military graduates against the costly mistakes of overseas military intervention and advocated alternate ways like diplomacy and economy in which American might could be exerted.

By Supriya Jha | Last Updated: May 29, 2014, 16:55 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha

West Point: Delivering an emphatic speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday sought to caution the fresh military graduates against the costly mistakes of overseas military intervention and advocated alternate ways like diplomacy and economy in which American might could be exerted.

Seeking to scotch the critics` claim that the US influence was on the wane under his administration, Obama in his West Point speech presented a robust defence of his foreign policy, as he warned against the misuse of military might, instead stressing on the significance of other tools like diplomacy, sanctions and collective action to avoid “costly mistakes”.

“In fact, by most measures America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics,” said Obama.

Speaking at the military academy, Obama emphasised prominently on how to use American influence and might pragmatically and not to just flaunt the military muscles to ``avoid looking weak”.

“America must always lead on the world stage... But US military action cannot be the only, or even primary, component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail,” Obama said in a cogent speech.

Recollecting his first speech at West Point in 2009, when the US still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq and they were readying to enter Afghanistan, Obama said he regretted how four of the West Point cadets had sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan and many more were injured.

“Four of the service members who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort,” said Obama.

While justifying their deployments in Afghanistan due to America’s security demands, Obama said that those deaths still haunt him.

“I am haunted by those deaths. I am haunted by those wounds. And I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak,” said Obama.  

Speaking to the young men and women in uniform, fresh from West Point, Obama explained how after four and half years later the landscape had changed with respect to American military engagements overseas as US troops have now been withdrawn from Iraq and are preparing to wind down the war in Afghanistan.

“Al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more,” said Obama to a cheerful applause. 

Obama laid an outline of his foreign policy for next two and half years of his tenure, saying that the United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when its core interests demand but the nation should increase the threshold for military action when the “issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States”.

“In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action... broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development, sanctions and isolation, appeals to international law, and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action,” said Obama. 

Ending his speech at a note that echoed United States` war-wariness, Obama said, “We have been through a long season of war. We have faced trials that were not foreseen and we’ve seen divisions about how to move forward. But, there is something in the American character, that will always triumph.”