- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009


ANNAPOLIS — Capping a week in which national security disputes engulfed his domestic agenda, President Obama began the Memorial Day weekend Friday with an address to the graduating class of the Naval Academy who will be sent off to war as naval and Marine officers.

“I have no greater honor than serving as your commander-in-chief,” Mr. Obama said to the 1,036 graduates seated on the artificial-grass field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Field under a bright sun and blue sky.

The president made a promise to the graduates as he sent them out to confront what he called “the ever-changing threats of an ever-changing world.”

“As long as I am your commander-in-chief, I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done,” Mr. Obama said, to applause from the crowd of about 30,000 parents and friends of the graduates.

One of the graduating naval officers was John S. “Jack” McCain, the son of Sen. John S. McCain, Arizona Republican. The elder McCain also graduated from the Naval Academy, as did his father and his grandfather, who were both four-star admirals.

“A great day for Jack! 4th generation graduating from the Naval Academy,” Sen. McCain wrote on his Twitter feed from the front row of the audience as he waited for Mr. Obama to arrive. Sen. McCain’s own time at the Naval Academy and subsequent military career were key themes of his presidential campaign, a race he lost to Mr. Obama last year.

Though Mr. Obama did single out a handful of graduating officers during his speech, he did not mention Jack McCain. A White House official who did not want to be identified said “the president didn’t mention the McCain family out of respect for their wishes.”

It was the third commencement speech this spring for Mr. Obama, but his first to one of the nation’s four military academies.

He commended the graduates for having “embraced the virtues that we need most right now: self-discipline over self-interest, work over comfort, character over celebrity.”

The president also praised the Naval Academy for training the Special Operations’ snipers who last month took out Somali pirates with long-range shots to rescue the captain of an American cargo ship off the coast of Africa.

“Here, on this day, at this institution, it must be said: The extraordinary precision and professionalism displayed that day was made possible, in no small measure, by the training, the discipline and the leadership skills that so many of those officers learned at the United States Naval Academy,” Mr. Obama said.

“They took their time and then they took their shot. And they brought that captain home.”

After speaking, the president greeted each of the graduating officers with a handshake and a smile, a process expected to take almost two hours.

Mr. Obama spoke to the graduates at the end of one of the toughest weeks of his four months in the White House. He has come under heavy criticism from both conservatives and liberals for his decision to close Guantanamo Bay without a clear cut plan on what to do with the 240 detainees currently at the prison facility in Cuba.

The president attempted to reclaim momentum on the issue Thursday with a major speech in Washington, but was faced with a searing rebuke from former Vice President Dick Cheney at a speech immediately following his remarks. Mr. Obama also has encountered resistance on the issue on Capitol Hill, even from top members of his own party.

Lawmakers are uncomfortable with the idea of bringing detainees to the U.S. where the potential for them to be released into the general population poses a significant political risk.

Mr. Obama referenced his speech in the address to the academy graduates, arguing that “when America strays from our values, it not only undermines the rule of law, it alienates us from our allies, it energizes our adversaries and it endangers our national security and the lives of our troops.”

“So as Americans, we reject the false chose between our security and our ideals. We can and we must and we will protect both,” he said.

By far, however, the president’s biggest applause line came when he granted returning Midshipmen an extra weekend pass next fall and absolution if they were currently on restriction for minor offenses.

“I did say ‘minor,’” the president said, laughing.

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