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Obama Tells West Point Graduates U.S. Needs Allies' Help in Shaping Future

President Barack Obama said the U.S. needs international help to combat complex challenges such as the war in Afghanistan, as his administration prepares to unveil its formal national security strategy.

Obama, speaking to the U.S. Military Academy’s graduating class, outlined a new strategy based on diplomacy, international cooperation and stronger international standards and institutions. A national security strategy statement of policy is sent to Congress by each new presidential administration. Obama’s is scheduled to be released next week.

“America’s armed forces are adapting to changing times, but your efforts must be complemented,” Obama said yesterday. “We will need the renewed engagement of our diplomats, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts; and development experts who can support Afghan agriculture and help Africans build the capacity to feed themselves.”

With wars being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as economic and environmental concerns, American innovation will be needed to help shape “an era of economic transformation and individual empowerment; of ancient hatreds and new dangers; of emerging powers and global challenges,” Obama said at the ceremony in Mitchie Stadium on the academy’s campus in West Point, New York.

Lending a Hand

“Where democratic institutions take hold, we add a wind at their back. When humanitarian disaster strikes, we extend a hand,” Obama said. “Where human dignity is denied, America opposes poverty and is a source of opportunity. That is who we are. That is what we do.”

Obama’s focus is a shift from the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In the Bush policy outline sent to Congress in September 2002, the Republican president pushed a policy of striking first against “rogue states and terrorists.”

U.S. security policy since the end of World War II, centered largely on Russia, had been premised on deterring enemies through the concept of mutually assured destruction, as both superpowers possessed nuclear weapons. The U.S. “can no longer rely on a reactive posture” because “rogue regimes” are seeking nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the Bush document said.

Obama yesterday said “the burdens of this century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” and warned that U.S. foes would like to see the country weakened by overextending its resources.

Clear-Eyed

“We are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system,” Obama said. “But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation; we have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so actions thrive by meeting their responsibilities, and face consequences when they don’t.”

In 2006, Bush updated his strategy to stress that Iran and its nuclear ambitions were the biggest challenges facing the U.S. It also called for freer trade in global markets and warned against isolationism.

Obama yesterday linked domestic priorities such as improving education and the development of clean energy sources, reducing dependence on foreign oil, with the nation’s security.

“American innovation must be the foundation of American power,” he said. “Because at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy.”

Setting a Standard

The president also contrasted the conduct of the military with the failures of institutions such as those in the financial industry that contributed to the economic crisis.

“Through a period when too many of our institutions have acted irresponsibly, the American military has set a standard of service and sacrifice that is as great as any in this nation’s history,” Obama said.

Abroad he said U.S. diplomats and intelligence agencies must complement military efforts, and other nations must join America’s efforts against terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons.

Obama said that, while the U.S. has had recent successes in eliminating leaders of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, “they will continue to recruit, plot and exploit our open society.”

“The threat will not go away soon,” he said. “We see it in attempts to blow up an airliner over Detroit or a SUV in Times Square, even as these failed attacks show that pressure on networks like al-Qaeda is forcing them to rely on terrorists with less time and space to train.”

Afghan War

An important part of the Democratic Obama administration’s policy will be the war in Afghanistan, where about 92,000 U.S. troops are deployed.

“We toppled the Taliban regime. Now we must break the momentum of a Taliban insurgency and train Afghan security forces,” Obama said. “There will be difficult days ahead.”

Obama took responsibility for the conduct of the eight-year old Afghan war in a Dec. 1 speech at the Military Academy, and called for 30,000 more troops to help stabilize the country. At the same time he said U.S. forces will begin to withdraw in July of 2011 and turn over security duties to the Afghan government.

Obama said the U.S. remains “poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer” as more responsibility is taken by Iraq security forces. Even after U.S. combat forces leave, Obama said a strong civilian presence will remain.

“This is no simple task,” he said. “But this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.”

The president typically speaks at the graduation ceremonies of one of the U.S. military service academies each year.

Last year Obama addressed the graduating class of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he pledged to only send U.S. forces into harm’s way “when it is absolutely necessary.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicholas Johnston in West Point, New York, at Njohnston3@bloomberg.net; William McQuillen in Washington at bmcquillen@bloomberg.net

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