Biden Addresses Graduating Cadets at West Point Military Academy

biden addresses graduating cadets at west point military academy

President Biden presented diplomas at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Saturday. “Nothing is guaranteed about our democracy in America,” he told graduates in a speech.

WEST POINT, New York — President Biden told West Point cadets on Saturday that they owed an oath to the U.S. Constitution, not to their commander in chief, delivering a commencement message that echoed his campaign-year warnings about the looming threats to American democracy.

In his 22-minute speech to the graduating class at the United States Military Academy, Mr. Biden did not mention former President Donald J. Trump or repeat his accusation that returning Mr. Trump to the Oval Office would allow him to shred the norms that protect democratic institutions.

But Mr. Biden left little doubt about the subject of his concern.

“On your very first day at West Point, you raised your right hands and took an oath not to a political party, not to a president, but to the Constitution of the United States of America,” he said.

“Nothing is guaranteed about our democracy in America,” he added. “Every generation has an obligation to defend it, to protect it, to preserve it, to choose it. Now it’s your turn.”

Mr. Biden has argued that democracy is at stake in the upcoming presidential election, and that the basic institutions of government — including the military — are at risk if Mr. Trump is allowed to return to the Oval Office.

On Saturday, the president used the moment to suggest a sharp contrast with Mr. Trump, who delivered the commencement address at West Point in 2020 and received criticism even from some within the ranks of the academy for what they said was Mr. Trump’s desire for personal loyalty from the people around him.

Mr. Trump gave his speech at West Point just weeks after Mark T. Esper, then the secretary of defense, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had joined him for a walk through Lafayette Park near the White House amid a harsh crackdown by police and the military of a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd.

In an open letter to the West Point graduates at the time, former members of the academy urged them to remember where their obligations lay.

“We pledge service to no monarch; no government; no political party; no tyrant,” the former West Point cadets wrote to their successors. “Your oath is to a set of principles and an ideal expressed in the Constitution and its amendments.”

Mr. Biden cited that letter in his remarks, a not-so-subtle nod to the fears among some in the military that prompted it.

“You must keep us free at this time,” he told the cadets, calling them guardians of American democracy. “Like none before. I know you can. I know you will.”

Saturday morning’s speech marked the third time that Mr. Biden had been West Point’s commencement speaker, after appearing twice as vice president. During his first three years as president, he spoke at the Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force graduations.

Mr. Biden congratulated the Army’s newest officers and described the global challenges facing the military, delivering his speech at a moment of military upheaval abroad, university protests at home and the looming rematch for the White House with Mr. Trump in the fall.

Mr. Biden joked with the cadets about the trials and tribulations that they had endured in four years of preparation to assume leadership in the Army. And he reminded them that they may soon be drawn into conflicts overseas, where so-called hard power remains a necessary tool alongside diplomacy in a turbulent world.

“There remains a hard-power world. You can’t draw any other conclusion when powerful nations try to coerce their neighbors, or terrorists attempt evil plots,” Mr. Biden told the cadets, citing missions in Ukraine, humanitarian missions in Gaza, instability in Asia and defense of Israel against Iranian missiles.

“Ninety-nine percent of the missiles, drones,” he added, never reached their targets “because of the quality of our forces.”

The president’s return to the Army’s elite educational institution provided him with a collegiate backdrop far from the student protests over his handling of the war in Gaza. Polls show deep concern about the president among young people, fueling questions about his re-election chances in the fall.

At West Point, which is an hour north of New York City, he addressed 1,036 sharply dressed cadets, each in their signature gray uniform and white gloves, in Michie Stadium, home to the Army Black Knights football team. After his speech, he shook the hands of the graduates as their names were called out.

Some presidents have used the lectern at West Point to unveil new military doctrines or announce major initiatives. In 2002, President George W. Bush used his commencement address there to make his case for a U.S. war against Iraq in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks nine months earlier, telling the cadets: “We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”

Mr. Biden did not make any major foreign policy announcement on Saturday. But his message to the graduates echoed the central theme of his re-election campaign, though without a direct election-year appeal to the newly minted officers and their families.

Mr. Biden noted the looming threats around the world: the risk of a Chinese attempt to seize Taiwan; attacks from Iran like the missile barrage against Israel that the United States helped disrupt; and instability across parts of Africa and Central and South America.

He delivered his speech as he grappled with the fallout of two grinding wars abroad, in Ukraine as well as Gaza. He has pledged that he will not deploy American forces to the ground for either conflict.

“There are no American soldiers at war in Ukraine,” he said to the newest leaders in the Army. “I’m determined to keep it that way.”

But both wars have nonetheless drawn the United States deeply into the fray, with the provision of weapons, diplomatic support and humanitarian relief. Mr. Biden made it clear that the American government, including the military, would continue to deliver that support as long as he was president.

“We are standing strong with Ukraine,” he said, “and we will stand with them.”

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