US Vice President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the US could now focus on new global challenges after a decade of war in an -election year commencement address to jubilant graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point.
“Winding down these long wars has enabled us to replace and rebalance our foreign policy,” Biden told the Army cadets and their families at the storied academy’s football stadium.
Biden’s speech echoed some of the themes of military success struck by US President Barack Obama in his commencement address at the US Air Force Academy on Wednesday.
Biden, like Obama, said US combat troops had returned home from Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down and US commandos killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May last year.
“Those warriors sent a message to the world that if you harm America, we will follow you to the end of the earth,” Biden said.
The academy speeches by Obama and Biden counter an assertion from presumptive Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that the president has led from behind in world affairs.
Biden said the US would -continue to take charge internationally and focus on Asia, particularly China, which he called “the most critical relationship to get right.”
NATO allies last week affirmed that the war in Afghanistan would end at the end of 2014. The final US troops left Iraq at the end of last year.
The morning sun beating on the stadium was punishing, but the newly commissioned second-lieutenants were ecstatic as they tossed their caps into the air. The new officers said they felt prepared to deal with the dangers of duty.
“I am ready to sacrifice for those I love. I’m ready to go. Send me” said 23-year-old Te Jay Espe of Stanwood, Washington state.
“I know this country has given me a lot and I want to give back, I’m willing to give my life, said J.C. Van’t Land, 22, of Hull, Iowa.
Biden told the 972 graduating graduates that they deserved special praise because they decided to pursue military service fully aware that they could be fighting a war after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“Your generation, the 9/11 generation, is more than worthy of the proud legacy that you will inherit today,” Biden said.