The Class of 2012 is the first in nearly a decade, Obama said, that is entering active service with no U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and the first that can envision an end to the Afghanistan conflict.
“For a decade, we have labored under the dark cloud of war. Now, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” the president said, speaking on a stage in the middle of the academy’s football field as the cadets, dressed in blue-and-white uniforms, sat in rows before him. “The end of these wars will shape your service, and it will make our military stronger.”
Obama’s appearance came just two days after he presided over a NATO summit in Chicago at which the allied nations agreed to a framework to wind down the Afghanistan war by the end of 2014. Over the past half-year, the president has touted the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan as centerpieces of his foreign policy record as he makes his case for reelection, reminding the public that he made good on his campaign promise to end the Iraq conflict.
The Obama campaign has identified military families as a potential source of votes in battleground states, hoping to undercut a traditionally strong voting bloc for Republicans. Vice President Biden is scheduled to speak at West Point’s graduation ceremony Saturday.
The president used much of his speech Wednesday to declare that American influence has not waned, as some of his critics have suggested. Instead, he argued, “the United States is leading once more. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are stronger than ever.”
He pointed to the partnership with Japan after the earthquake and tsunami there last year and his administration’s approach to aiding Libyan rebels in overthrowing the oppressive regime of Moammar Gaddafi last fall.
The argument was aimed squarely at sharp criticism from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who has called Obama too soft on Iran. Republicans also have accused the president of responding too slowly to the pro-democracy movements that have challenged long-standing autocracies in the Middle East and North Africa, and failing to act decisively enough to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on dissent.
“As we’ve done the work of ending these wars, we’ve laid the foundation for a new era of American leadership,” Obama said. “Let’s start by putting aside the tired notion that says our influence has waned, that America is in decline.”
As some have questioned whether he subscribes to the notion of American exceptionalism, the president pointedly used those very words.