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Obama Addresses West Point Grads

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Kent Klein

President Barack Obama says he is confident the United States will succeed in the war in Afghanistan, but that it needs the commitment of its allies to do so.  The president spoke Saturday to graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, many of whom will soon go to war.

In his commencement address, President Obama told the cadets he believes the nature of the war in Afghanistan has changed since it began in 2001, but that it is no less important today.

"There will be difficult days ahead," said President Obama.  "We will adapt, we will persist, and I have no doubt that together with our Afghan and international partners, we will succeed in Afghanistan."

This was Mr. Obama's second visit to the academy at West Point, New York, where in December he announced that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Most of the 1,000 graduates will serve as Army second lieutenants, many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama said in those conflicts and elsewhere, U.S. military will require cooperation from the nation's allies.

"The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone," he added.  "It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone.  Our adversaries would like to see America sap its strength by overextending our power.  And in the past, we have always had the foresight to avoid acting alone."

Some NATO allies have questioned their commitment to the Afghan war.  The government of the Netherlands collapsed in February after the prime minister tried to keep Dutch forces in Afghanistan from returning home this year.  Also, Canada plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan next year.

But President Obama said fighting terrorism is as important now as when the Afghan war began in the days after the September, 2001 terrorist attacks.  

"Al-Qaida and its affiliates are small men on the wrong side of history," said Obama.  "They lead no nation. They lead no religion. We need not give in to fear every time a terrorist tries to scare us."

Fierce fighting is expected in the coming months, when the U.S. and its allies start an offensive in Kandahar province, the Taliban's birthplace.  But Mr. Obama told the West Point graduates that Americans have faced stiff challenges before.

"We are the United States of America, and we have repaired our union, and faced down fascism, and outlasted communism," said Mr. Obama.  "We have gone through turmoil.  We have gone through civil war, and we have come out stronger, and we will do so once more."  

The president said a fundamental part of U.S. global strategy is to live up to the nation's principles and support basic human rights.

"When an individual is being silenced, we aim to be her voice," he added.  "Where ideas are suppressed, we provide space for open debate. Where democratic institutions take hold, we add a wind at their back.  When humanitarian disaster strikes, we extend a hand. Where human dignity is denied, America opposes poverty and is a source of opportunity.  That is who we are. That is what we do."

Mr. Obama honored the 78 West Point graduates who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he again said the U.S. is poised to end its combat mission in Iraq in the next few months.

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