During his address to the graduating Air Force Academy class of 2016, President Barack Obama called for a balance between U.S. military might and diplomacy, a willingness to engage with world affairs and an inclusive environment to promote unity.
On June 2, Obama arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to deliver the commencement speech to 812 cadets. His speech was a mixture of affirming the strength of the U.S. military and rebuffing the 2016 campaign rhetoric of his political adversaries.
The president stressed that the U.S. is the leading power in the world and has a responsibility and self-interest in engaging with foreign affairs.
“We cannot turn inward,” the president said, according to USA Today. “We cannot give in to isolationism. That’s a false comfort.”
Obama added that alliances such as NATO and long-held treaties are not a hindrance and that other countries need the U.S. to provide “smart, steady, principled American leadership.”
Leadership also required, according to Obama, a willingness to project force when necessary. He listed off enemies that the U.S. military has struck down, including Al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.
“The list goes on because if you target Americans, we will find you and justice will be done and we will defend our nation,” Obama said, according to The New York Times.
The president then countered that military might must be balanced with diplomacy, urging that the U.S. should “never celebrate war itself.”
He listed his own administration’s diplomatic initiatives, some of them controversial, such as the Iran nuclear deal and the decision to manage the disarmament of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal instead of military force. The president urged that cadets to be “strong headed and bighearted.”
“Many of the threats to our security cannot be solved by military force alone,” Obama continued. “We have to draw on every tool, all elements of our national power.”
The president also praised the military’s growing inclusiveness, such as allowing LGBT soldiers to serve openly and implementing women into combat roles. He stressed that diversity makes America’s armed forces stronger.
Obama concluded that the world is a more secure place than it had been before, noting that just 70 years earlier a staggering 60 million people perished in World War II.
“We are well-positioned,” Obama said. “You enter this moment with a lot of good cards to play ... Our military is the most capable fighting force on the planet. It’s not close.”
A team of U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flew over the graduation ceremony. Unfortunately, one of the fighter jets later crashed into a field. The pilot, Maj. Alex Turner of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, was able to eject safely, WLS reports.
Turner was taken by helicopter to a nearby base where Air Force One was stationed. He met with Obama before the president departed.
“The president thanked the pilot for his service to the country and expressed his relief that the pilot was not seriously injured,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.