President Barack Obama stole a page from his Republican rival today, using the “American Century” tagline that Mitt Romney has been using for months.
Obama co-opted the line during his commencement address at the Air Force Academy this morning, promising cadets that “the 21st will be another great American Century.” He used the phrase six more times during the speech, according to prepared remarks emailed by the White House.
Obviously, “American Century” is pretty standard patriotic rhetoric that neither Romney nor Obama came up with on their own. Obama has even said it a few times before, but usually in the context of the economy.
But Romney has been using the line in his national security speeches since the beginning of his 2012 presidential campaign. The foreign policy plan he released in October is even titled “An American Century: A Strategy to Secure America’s Enduring Interests and Ideals.”
Here is the full text of Obama’s speech:
Good morning! It is wonderful to be at the United States Air Force Academy. And it is a privilege to join you in honouring the Class of 2012.
Thank you, Secretary Donley for your introduction and your leadership. Generals Gould, Clark and Born, academy faculty and staff. Governor Hickenlooper, members of Congress, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I especially want to acknowledge a graduate of this academy who has kept our Air Force strong through a time of great challenge, a leader I’ve relied on and for whom today is his final commencement as Chief of Staff—General Norton Schwartz. Norty, Suzie, thank you for 39 years of extraordinary service to America. And although he’s not with us today, I’m proud to have nominated another Academy graduate, General Mark Welsh, as the next Chief of Staff.
This is my second visit to the Academy. I was here in the summer of 2008, and you were getting ready to head out to Jacks Valley. So, I was proud to be here when you began this journey, and I thought I’d come back and help you celebrate the end.
It’s great to be back at the school that produced so many of the airmen I’ve come to know as President. Every day, I rely on outstanding Academy graduates who serve at the White House. In that photo from the Situation Room, on the day we delivered justice to bin Laden, you can see—right next to me—a great leader of our special operations forces, General Brad Webb.
Last month, I was able to present the Commander-in-Chief Trophy to Coach Calhoun and the Fighting Falcons—for the second straight year, and a record 18th time. And, of course, every time I step onto Air Force One, I count on Academy graduates like my pilot today—Colonel Scott Turner. I was going to tell you a joke about Scott. But he’s my ride home.
Cadets, you distinguished yourselves as leaders before you ever stepped foot on the Terrazzo. And when you arrived, I know your upper classes gave you quite a welcome. They let you experience the joy of Beast. The pleasure of Recognition. They made you experts at filling out forms. I only ask that you resist the temptation to rate my speech: “fast-neat-average-friendly-good-good.”
But you survived. In you we see the values of Integrity, Service, Excellence that will define your lives. And I know you couldn’t have made it without the love and support of your mums and dads and brothers and sisters. So give a big round of applause to your families.
This academy is one of the most demanding academic institutions in America. And you have excelled. I’m told you have set at least three Academy records. The largest number of graduates ever to go directly on to graduate school. The largest number of female graduates in Academy history. You will follow in the footsteps of General Janet Wolfenbarger, who I was proud to nominate as the first female four-star general in Air Force history.
And your final distinction—breaking the world record for the largest game of dodgeball. More than 3,000 of you. For more than 30 hours. I did not know that was possible. Then again, you’re also the class that snuck into the last Superintendent’s office and moved all his furniture—to your dorm rooms. Which brings me to some important business. In keeping with long-standing tradition, I hereby grant amnesty to all cadets serving restrictions and confinements for minor offenses. General Gould, I’ll let you define “minor.”
Cadets, this is the day you finally become officers in the finest Air Force in the world. Like generations before you, you will be charged with the responsibility of leading those under your command. Like classes over the past 10 years, you graduate in a time of war and you may find yourself in harm’s way. But you will also face a new test. That’s what I want to talk with you about today.
Four years ago, you arrived here at a time of great challenge for our nation. Our forces were engaged in two wars. Al Qaeda, which had attacked us on 9/11, was entrenched in their safe-havens. Many of our alliances were strained, and our standing in the world had suffered. Our economy was in the worst recession since the Great Depression. Around the world and here at home, many questioned whether the United States still had the capacity for global leadership.
Today, you step forward into a different world. You are the first class in nine years that will graduate into a world where there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in your lives—and thanks to Air Force personnel who did their part—Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our country. We’ve put al Qaeda on the path to defeat. And you are the first graduates since 9/11 who can see clearly how we’ll end the war in Afghanistan.
What does all this mean? When you came here four years ago, there were some 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, we’ve cut that number by more than half. And as more Afghans step up, more of our troops will come home—while achieving the objective that led us to war in the first place: defeating al Qaeda, and denying them a safe-haven. So we aren’t just ending these wars, we’re doing so in a way that makes us safer, and stronger.
Today we pay tribute to all our brave men and women in uniform who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to make this progress possible—including 16 graduates of this Academy. We honour them—always.
For a decade, we have labored under the dark cloud of war. Now, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The end of these wars will shape your service and it will make our military stronger. 10 years of continuous military operations have stretched our forces and strained their families. Going forward, you’ll face fewer deployments. You’ll have more time to train and stay ready. You’ll be better prepared for the full range of missions you’ll face.
Ending these wars will also ensure that the burden of our security no longer falls so heavily on the shoulders of our men and women in uniform. You can’t be expected to do it alone. There are many sources of American power—diplomatic, economic, development and the power of our ideals. We need to be using them all. And today, we are.
Around the world, the United States is leading once more. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are stronger than ever. Our ties with the Americas are deeper. We’re setting the agenda in the region that will shape our long-term security and prosperity like no other—the Asia-Pacific.
We’re leading on global security. Reducing our nuclear arsenals with Russia, even as we maintain a strong nuclear deterrent. Mobilizing dozens of nations to secure nuclear materials so they never fall into the hands of terrorists. And rallying the world to put the strongest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea, which cannot be allowed to threaten the world with nuclear weapons.
We’re leading economically—forging trade pacts to create new markets for our goods. Boosting our exports, stamped with those three proud words—”Made in America.” And we’re expanding exchanges and collaborations in areas that people often admire most about America—our innovation, our science, our technology.
We’re leading on behalf of human dignity and freedom. Standing with the people of the Middle East and North Africa as they seek their rights. Preventing a massacre in Libya with an international mission in which the United States—and our Air Force—led from the front. We’re leading global efforts against hunger and disease. And we’ve shown our compassion, as so many airmen did in delivering relief to our neighbours in Haiti when they were in need and to our
Japanese allies after the earthquake and tsunami.
Because of this progress, there’s a new feeling about America. I see it everywhere I go, from London and Prague, to Tokyo and Seoul, to Rio and Jakarta. There’s a new confidence in our leadership. And when people around the world are asked “Which country do you admire most?”…one nation comes out on top—the United States of America.
The world stage is not a popularity contest. As a nation, we have vital interests, and we will do what is necessary to defend the country we love—even if it’s unpopular. But make no mistake, how we’re viewed in the world has consequences—for our national security, for your lives.
When other countries and people see us as a partner, they’re more willing to work with us. It’s why more countries joined us in Afghanistan and Libya. It’s why nations like Australia are welcoming our forces, to stand side-by-side with allies and partners in the South Pacific. It’s why Uganda and its African neighbours have welcomed our trainers to help defeat a brutal army that slaughters civilians.
I think of the Japanese man in the disaster zone who, upon seeing our airmen delivering relief, said, “I never imagined they could help us so much.” I think of the Libyans who protected our airman when he ejected over their town, because they knew America was there to protect them. And—in a region where we’ve seen the burning of American flags—I think of all the Libyans who were waving American flags.
Today, we can say with confidence and pride—the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world. Because even as we’ve done the work of ending these wars, we’ve laid the foundation for a new era of American leadership. And now, cadets, we have to build on it. Let’s start by putting aside the tired notion that says our influence has waned, that America is in decline. We’ve heard that talk before.
During the Great Depression, when millions were unemployed and some believed that other economic models offered a better way, there were those who predicted the end of American capitalism. They were wrong. We fought our way back, created the largest middle class in history and the most prosperous economy the world has ever known.
After Pearl Harbor, some said the United States had been reduced to a third-class power. But we rallied, we flew over The Hump and took island after island; we stormed the beaches and liberated nations; and we emerged from that war as the strongest power on the face of the Earth.
After Vietnam and the energy crisis of the 1970s, some said America had passed its high point. But the very next decade, because of our fidelity to the values we stand for, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and liberty prevailed over tyranny in the Cold War.
And there was a time—the 1980s, with the rise of Japan and the Asian tigers —when many said we had lost our economic edge. But we retooled, we invested in new technologies and we launched an Information Revolution that changed the world.
After all this, you’d think folks would understand a basic truth—never bet against the United States of America.
One of the reasons is that the United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs. This is one of the many examples of why America is exceptional. And it’s why I firmly believe that if we rise to this moment in history, if we meet our responsibilities, then—just like the 20th century—the 21st will be another great American Century. That’s the future I see; that’s the future you can build.
I see an American Century because we have the resilience to make it through these tough economic times. We need to put America back to work by investing in the things that keep us competitive—education and high-tech manufacturing; science and innovation. We need to pay down our deficits, reform our tax code and keep reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We need to get on with nation-building here at home. And I know we can, because we’re still the largest, most dynamic, most innovative economy in the world. And no matter what challenges we may face, we wouldn’t trade places with any other nation on Earth.
I see an American Century because you are part of the finest, most capable military the world has ever known. No other nation even comes close. Yes, as today’s wars end, our military—and our Air Force—will be leaner. But as Commander in Chief, I will not allow us to make the mistakes of the past.
We still face very serious threats. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, with al Qaeda in Yemen, there are still terrorists who seek to kill our citizens. So we need you to be ready—for the full range of threats. From the conventional to the unconventional. From nations seeking weapons of mass destruction to the cell of terrorists planning the next attack. From the old danger of piracy to the new threat of cyber. We must be vigilant.
So, guided by our new defence strategy, we’ll keep our military—and our Air Force—fast, flexible and versatile. We will maintain our military superiority in all areas—air, land, sea, space and cyber. We’ll keep faith with our forces and military families. And as our newest veterans rejoin civilian life, we’ll never stop working to give them the benefits and opportunities they have earned—because our veterans have the skills to help us rebuild America.
I see an American Century because we have the strongest alliances of any nation. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are the foundation of global security. In Libya, all 28 NATO allies played a role and we were joined in the air by partners, from Sweden to Gulf states. In Afghanistan, we’re in a coalition of 50 allies and partners. Today, Air Force personnel are serving in 135 nations— partnering, training, building their capacity. This is how peace and security will be upheld in the 21st century—more nations bearing the costs and responsibilities of leadership. That’s good for America, and it’s good for the world.
I see an American Century because no other nation seeks the role that we play in global affairs, and no other nation can play the role that we play in global affairs. That includes shaping the global institutions of the 20thcentury to meet the challenges of the 21st. As President, I’ve made it clear that the United States does not fear the rise of peaceful, responsible emerging powers, we welcome them. Because when more nations step up and contribute to peace and security, that doesn’t undermine American power, it enhances it.
Moreover, when people in other countries see that we’re rooting for their success—not trying to hold them down—it builds trust and partnerships that can advance our interests for generations.
It makes it easier to meet common challenges, from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to combating climate change. And so we seek an international order where the rights and responsibilities of all nations and peoples are upheld and where counties thrive by meeting their obligations and face consequences when they don’t.
I see an American Century because more and more people are reaching toward the freedoms and values we share. No other nation has sacrificed more—in treasure, in the lives of our sons and daughters—so that these freedoms could take root and flourish around the world. And no other nation has made the advancement of human rights and dignity so central to its foreign policy. That’s because it’s central to who we are, as Americans. It’s also in our self-interest, because democracies become our closest allies and partners.
There will always be some governments that try to resist the tide of democracy, who claim theirs is a better way. But around the world, people know the difference between us. We welcome freedom—to speak, to assemble, to worship, to choose your leaders. They don’t. We welcome the chance to compete for jobs and markets—freely, fairly. They don’t. And when fundamental human rights are threatened around the world, we stand up and speak out. They don’t.
We know that the sovereignty of nations cannot strangle the liberty of individuals. And so we stand with the students in the streets who demand a life of dignity and opportunity, and with women everywhere who deserve the same rights as men. We stand with the activists, unbowed in their prison cells, and with the leader in parliament moving her country toward democracy. We stand with the dissident who seeks the freedom to say what he pleases, the entrepreneur who wants to start a business without paying a bribe, and all those who strive for justice and dignity. For they know, as we do, that history is on the side of the free.
Finally, I see an American Century because of the character of our country—the spirit that has always made us exceptional. It’s that simple yet revolutionary idea—there at our Founding and in our hearts ever since—that we have it in our power to make the world anew; to make the future what we will. It’s that fundamental faith—that American optimism—which says no challenge is too great, no mission is too hard. It’s the spirit that guides your class—”never falter, never fail.”
That’s the essence of America, and there’s nothing else like it anywhere in the world. It’s what’s inspired the oppressed in every corner of the world to demand the same freedoms for themselves. It’s what’s inspired generations to come to our shores, renewing us with their energy and their hopes. That includes a cadet graduating today, who grew up in Venezuela, got on a plane with a one-way ticket to America and today is closer to his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot—Edward Camacho. Edward says what we all know to be true: “I’m convinced that America is the land of opportunity.”
That’s who we are. That’s the America we love. Always young. Always looking ahead, to that light of a new day on the horizon. Cadets, as I look into your eyes—as you join that Long Blue Line—I know you’ll carry us even farther, even higher. And with your proud service, I am absolutely confident that the United States of America will meet the tests of our time. We’ll remain the land of opportunity. And we’ll stay strong as the greatest force for freedom and human dignity the world has ever known.
May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
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