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By Ray Bowden, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published June 02, 2016
President Barack Obama congratulates a newly-commissioned officer June 2, 2016, at the U.S. Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony for the Class of 2016. The president gave the commencement speech at the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
The U.S. Air Force Academy's Class of 2016 presents President Barack Obama with a painting of the Academy June 2, 2016, after his commencement speech to the graduating class at Falcon Stadium. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)
President Barack Obama spoke to more than 800 hundred newly-minted second lieutenants about the changing role of the United States’ military forces in global affairs and the importance of international partnerships, June 2 at the Class of 2016 graduation ceremony here.
Judicial use of military force builds respectful partnerships that keep the peace around the world, Obama said.
“We lead by working with [other nations] as partners [and] by treating other countries and their people with respect,” he said. “So we need smart, steadied and principled American leadership. We are blessed to be living in the most peaceful and prosperous era in history. For decades, there have been no wars between major powers.”
The president said U.S. military and political leaders, including the newly-commissioned officers in the audience, must make “clear-eyed and honest assessments” when making decisions that affect global perceptions of the U.S.
“Because of the quality of its military leaders, the U.S. is better prepared to lead in the 21st century than any other nation, he said. “Our military is by a mile the strongest military in the world. …As for our Airmen … nobody can match America’s Air Force.”
Obama said due to diplomatic efforts by Defense Department officials, the U.S. has more alliances than any other country and is expected to set the agenda for rest of the world.
“The U.S. remains the most powerful nation on earth and a force for good, he said. “We have the world’s strongest economy … Our colleges and universities attract the best talent from around the world ... Our standing in world is higher than it’s ever been before.
“When we encourage economic and political reforms, that help reduce the appeal of violent extremism,” he said.
Still, the geo-political climate is complex so America cannot shirk the mantle of leadership, he said.
The president said quick decisions are not always smart decisions.
“When we panic, we don’t make good decisions ... When we use force, we have the responsibility to use it proportionately,” he said.
Obama said leaders at all levels have the responsibility to give their troops a clear mission, especially in matters involving other countries.
“Our foreign policy has to be strong but it also has to be smart,” he said.
Efforts to establish diplomatic ties between countries are as useful as the military when it comes to solving or responding to global crises, the president said.
“As powerful as our military is, many threats cannot be solved by military force alone,” he said. “We have to draw from every tool.
“When we encourage economic and political reforms -- that helps reduce the appeal of violent extremism,” he said.
The president said the U.S. military will respond when diplomacy fails.
“If you target Americans, justice will be done and we will defend ourselves,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the Academy’s superintendent, opened the ceremony by praising the Academy’s 58th graduating class.
“Your extraordinary leadership, selfless spirit and commitment to excellence helped us launch the Academy on an upward trajectory to modernize the way we deliver our enduring mission and develop agile and inclusive leaders ready to lead in a complex, interconnected world, characterized by an unprecedented rate of geopolitical change,” she said.
Johnson said the new officers are ready for the challenges of leadership.
“Leave confident that you are truly ready to begin your journey as officers and leaders in the U.S. Air Force,” she said. “Leaders, who in the words of our first superintendent, Lt. Gen. Hubert Harmon, ‘triumph over the average with excellence and over self-interest with service in a worthy cause.
“I charge you as leaders of character to live by our core values of integrity, service and excellence, and use your leadership to ensure we remain --now and forever -- the best Air Force on the planet.”