The Corner

Obama at West Point: ‘Because We Have the Best Hammer Does Not Mean that Every Problem Is a Nail’

​President Obama laid out his foreign-policy vision to graduating West Point cadets in his first remarks since his announcement that the U.S. would draw down forces in Afghanistan by the end of the year, with the last troops leaving by 2016. The president assured them that the United States would maintain its leading role in the world. He urged a more measured approach to conflict abroad that would avoid what he described as the impulse of some to intervene militarily wherever problems exist.

“The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance,” he said. “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

During his remarks, the president went after his political opponents, saying that in their criticisms of a weakened U.S. they were “either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.” He also criticized members of Congress for failing to “lead by example” on global issues, pointing to matters such as climate change and the Law of the Sea treaty. He also revisited his commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a campaign promise he made dating back to 2008.​

Pointing to his accomplishments, such as a having “decimated” al-Qaeda and the fact that “Osama bin Laden is no more,” President Obama stood by his efforts in Syria and Ukraine, among other countries.

“You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim. And you do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces,” he concluded. “You will embody what it means for America to lead.”

The president’s full remarks can be found here.


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