In many ways, as our colleague Scott Wilson tweeted, it was a speech "not meant for the national foreign policy debate, but an appeal to an electorate very tired of war."
Here are a few highlights from the speech.
- The speech outlines Obama's vision for a 21st century foreign policy, shifting away from military intervention to an approach of partnering with allies and countries where terrorist organizations have secured a foothold, explaining counter-terrorism strikes to the public and working through multilateral channels. "U.S. 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. That does not mean that U.S. influence is in decline, Obama said; on the contrary,he said, it is stronger than ever.
- Unlike most commencement speeches, this one contained policy announcements. Obama is asking Congress to support a counterterrorism partnerships fund, which will "allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines," Obama said. The fund will cost up to $5 billion, Obama said, and will help countries including Yemen and Mali.
- He drew a clear line `between his view of foreign policy and that of President George W. Bush. "But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable," Obama said.
- Obama defended his decision not to militarily intervene in Syria and said he will work with Congress to "ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator." He said he will also increase efforts to support Syria's neighbors, who are hosting refugees and trying to combat terrorists.
- Obama referred to ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, where a number of countries are feuding with China over control. Obama said the U.S. is supporting Southeast Asian nations that are negotiating a code of conduct with China. "Regional aggression that goes unchecked – in southern Ukraine, the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world – will ultimately impact our allies, and could draw in our military," Obama said.
- Obama built on his announcement Tuesday that 9,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan when combat operations end in December, a force that will wane to a small military presence at the U.S. embassy there by the end of 2016. "It is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom – for you are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan," Obama said to cheers from the crowd.
- Obama made a number of references to the environment and climate change, on which the president has increasingly focused in the past few months. Obama framed climate change as a national security threat that must be combated as such. Obama also said the U.S. plans to push for an ambitious climate treaty during the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate. "That spirit of cooperation must energize the global effort to combat climate change – a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we’re called on to respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food," Obama said.
- He reiterated the dangers that come with technology and globalization, saying that they have "put power once reserved for states in the hands of the individual, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm."