Thank me. Thank me so very much. Even though this is ostensibly a graduation speech it is really about me. My ratings have been slipping of late and my media advisors said a photo-op in Bagram and a speech at West Point will boost the polls by about 3 points.
Among you is the first all-female command team, which I mention as an accomplishment, since there's nothing else I can boast of. You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan though you will probably see action elsewhere, as everything is going to hell in a handbasket. But I mention it as another kind of fake accomplishment, the only other thing I can think of other than the all-female command team.
When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq. They had just finished a costly campaign to establish it as a cornerstone for a stable Middle East, which I then proceeded to throw away. Because I had a new strategic idea, Afghanistan, in turn replaced by a newer idea, the Arab Spring and a yet newer -- Syria and Iran. None of them have worked out, but that's not my fault. It's been a hard run of bad luck.
Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the Middle East is in seeming turmoil. Afghanistan will be in Taliban hands two weeks after we leave. Al-Qaida has metastized though Osama bin Laden is no more, though you’ll have to take my word for it.
In fact, by most measures America is weaker than it’s been in 70 years. But I say no! Don't worry. We are immeasurably better off simply because you're under me. There's a secret plan, whose outlines will become clear in due time.
Those who argue otherwise -- are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics – or simply remember what I promised only 5 years ago and are holding me up to my promises. For its true I promised to reach out to the Islamic World, win Afghanistan, stabilize the Middle East, and reset the relationship with Russia. None of that happened, because I'm playing the Long Game. You thought success would look different. I'm saying you're not smart enough to realize what success is.
In 1989 we were the sole superower. We had beaten the Soviet Union. Today they appear to be throwing us out of the Ukraine and we can’t even resupply our astronauts without their help. But consider: America continues to attract striving immigrants, especially from Mexico. It's true those interpreters who worked for us at the risk of their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq or the doctor who helped us find Osama bin Laden are languishing somewhere in fear of their lives. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, they are taking our jobs and what jobs we haven’t lost we are busy giving away because they work cheaper than you.
But what most don't understand is we are spreading the wealth, we are spreading the power!
The world seems to be going down the tubes with accelerating speed. The Chinese are expanding in the South China Sea, the Japanese are rearming, North Korea is preparing another nuclear missile test and Iran’s supreme leaders has just said America must be destroyed. But under these appearances everything is going to plan. Power is being redistributed at rate never before known in history. And that's how you make things better.
It will be your generation’s task to accept temporary sacrifices, in which for the first time you will seem poorer than your parents; be the first generation of West Pointers to be everywhere on the defensive, be the first Americans whose fundamental duty is groveling in public.
But that’s just another way of leading, leading from behind. We'll win by losing. You have to be smart, as smart as I am, to see it. The question used to be not whether America would lead but whether it would triumph. Ever since George Washington the answer was “yes” to both questions. But check your privilege. Now I ask you to change the question: survive? win? “What for?”
The world is riddled with conflicts, which interventionists from the left and right say we ignore, but I say ‘kick the can down the road’. To delay is to solve. There’s no problem so pressing that you can't forget it by changing the subject. The older generation thought in terms of solving things. The real problem lies in understanding things. As the Syrian civil war spills across borders and the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases, I tell you it is mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
To dream of a world of greater freedom and tolerance -- and to talk about it -- is to accomplish it. Talking requires only a teleprompter. Surviving requires unproven missile defense systems, advanced combat systems, a growing economy. All expensive stuff, stuff we can't afford if we're to give everyone an Obamaphone and employment uninsurance. Sure the odd sticky moment may come. Times when my polls may fall. But that's where you come in, you persons of West Point.
General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.” Of course that didn't stop Eisenhower himself from going on to win the biggest war of the 20th century. Eisenhower should have known the logical conclusion is: why fight them? Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war. That is why I make sure you get the best medical care possible through the VA and ensure all Americans get the same quality through Obamacare.
Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. Lead from behind. So let me spend the rest of my time describing my vision for how the United States of America, and our military, should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership. The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, provided we can, if I decide and without consulting Congress, provided the UN agrees.
So we must choose our enemies carefully. For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, is Climate Change. You might be saying WTF? But consider that it's a whole lot easier than fighting al-Qaeda. Who would you rather go up against? Mark Steyn or Zarqawi. I rest my case.
To do the rough stuff, we will hire partners to fight alongside us. Like the Romans we are going to hire barbarian hordes since the lawyers told me that there’s a smaller political and legal downside to it. We’ll pay them off and we won’t have to fight. Every terror organization is a potential partner for peace. Inside every Islamic extremist is a nice guy just waiting for a payoff. Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion, because I need a slush fund to keep doing whatever we weren't doing that night in Benghazi.
A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria, which started because I couldn’t decide whether or not to finish off Assad. It’s in a state of suspended animosity, but hey, it's the 21st century. That does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people, it only means that we shouldn’t help them enough to overthrow him, or who would we negotiate with?
With the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors -- Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq -- in order to spread the trouble there. That way the solution, when it comes, will not be piecemeal but comprehensive. We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield. Nor must we help our allies when sucking up to our enemies will work just as well.
After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress. I had the wisdom to tear them down because we don't need them any more. If Harry Truman had George Kennan, it was I who first said, “who needs a George Kennan”.
And it's working. NATO is finished. Japan is tearing up its pacifist constitution. European leaders don’t even call me any more. Even that second rater, president Karzai wouldn’t go the Bagram airbase to say hello. OSCE monitors went to the unstable parts of Ukraine and were promptly taken hostage by the Kremlin’s agents. Iran is getting the bomb. China is expanding in the South China Sea. Yesterday, I spoke to the next president of Ukraine. His question was: what happens now?
I said I was going to speak at West Point. That way it will look like I’m doing something. Because for me, to speak is to act. Let me say there’s a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future -- without us firing a shot – because it is the Russians who will do all the shooting. The Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years. Never so fast as under me. We have a very big chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement with Tehran, “a fat chance” in fact. This is American leadership. This is American strength.
NATO was the strongest alliance the world, made up mostly of us. Now that I’ve taken out the “us” we have more room for diplomacy. You see, we have to talk. We can't fight any more. That's why you owe me one. I've saved your life. Never again will you have to take to the battlefield. There's no point. With any luck you'll just have work as props from now on. To sit in front of me when I talk, to stand behind me when I talk. American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. Let’s show everyone that there’s no enemy, no danger, no peril we can’t run away from or try to buy off.
When we refuse to ensure the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by the United States Senate, that’s not leadership. That’s retreat. Because treaties will make the Chinese respect the South China Sea and the Senakaku islands, just like they’re going to respect our warrants to arrest the Chinese who hacked our secrets. The rule of law! The rule of law! I know this is West Point, not Harvard Law School, but remember: you work for the lawyers.
I will continue to push to close Gitmo because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. Besides unlike the VA which as 35 veterans waiting for every doctor, who they may or may not see, Guantanamo has 1.5 doctors for every terrorist. But since the UN thinks that's torture keeping it open might make me look bad both ways.
And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma -- if Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot -- American leadership. You know I’m really reaching for the bottom of the barrel when I have to boast about small improvements in a place now called Myanmar as the acme of my achievements.
Finally, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, or more accurately, the world as I have made it, full of danger and uncertainty.
If we have to fight, we are likely to have our asses handed to us on a plate. And that's where you come in. I know I've gotten it right. But if by some slim chance, I've got it wrong, and we are attacked, here is what I have to say. Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson. Please pray to Gaia that I'm right, because if my deep and clever plans miscarry, you are screwed. You will leave this place to deal with simultaneous crises and hopeless situations.
Fortunately, that’s your job. Me, I’m president. I get to ride Air Force One. I get to do the speeches. Next week I will go to Normandy to honor the men who stormed the beaches. Vladimir Putin will be there too. Why, I don't know. A very smart scientist said once that quantum theory proved the future was indeterminate. Well let me tell you Putin in Normandy shows the past is indeterminate also.
We have been through a long season of war. And I managed to lose them all. I just want you to remember, in case you feel like blaming me, that it’s Bush’s fault.
The long gray line has never failed us though the long line of gray politicians always has. The twilight is here. The country you once fought for has vanished - tone and tint. It has gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. And we stand upon a the threshold of a new era. A fundamentally transformed America. But in the evening of my administration I come back to West Point to borrow from you some vestige of the luster and honor which I have never had myself.
Always there echoes and re-echoes in my ear: “three polling points, three polling points”. Believe me when I say I need you more than you need me. But I want you to know that when I board the plane to attend the next fundraiser, my last conscious thoughts will be those another West Point Graduate said here 52 years ago. "These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country." Yours not to reason why, yours but to do or die.
Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific