President Trump at West Point: ‘What matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring, and eternal’

Special to

By John J. Metzler

In a surprisingly understated but inspirational address to the cadets on the historic Parade Field, President Donald Trump spoke to the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

But the remarks to 1,100 newly minted second lieutenants in the U.S. Army was not a call to arms but a reassuring reaffirmation of American values and tradition which the Army has played a significant role in preserving.

President Trump at West Point graduation ceremony on June 14, 2020: ‘We are ending the era of endless wars.’ / YouTube image

The President’s speech did not call for regime change or intervention in distant lands but rather a reformation of the Army’s role in preserving peace through deterrence.  The Commander in Chief implored, “the job of the American soldier is not to rebuild foreign nations, but defend, and defend strongly, our nation from foreign enemies.”

President Trump stressed, “We are ending the era of endless wars.  In its place is a renewed, clear-eyed focus on defending America’s vital interests.  It is not the duty of U.S. troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of.  We are not the policemen of the world.”

This sentiment fulfills a key promise from the 2016 campaign; the president doesn’t seek endless struggles on foreign battlefields.

Nonetheless, the President added, “But let our enemies be on notice: If our people are threatened, we will never, ever hesitate to act.  And when we fight, from now on, we will fight only to win.  As MacArthur said: ‘In war, there is no substitute for victory.’ ”

But with the exception of citing the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East, there was no mention of other recent American military commitments, conflicts or impending crises.  There was no specific focus on the still volatile situation with nuclear armed North Korea or the Islamic Republic of Iran for that matter.  Nor was there any allusion to the geopolitical challenges communist China poses to the South China Sea.   Or the still tortuous road ahead in  Afghanistan.

He stated that the military are battling “the invisible enemy, the new virus that came to our shores from a distant land called China.  We will vanquish the virus.”

The address didn’t stress the singular importance of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance nor the extraordinary value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) through which the U.S. and Europeans share the power of partnership and deterrence.

Thus, contrary to many past Presidential addresses to West Point graduates, the commencement speech was not a rallying call for future actions or commitments but a reaffirmation of the past victories ranging from the defeat of Nazism and fascism.

President Trump reminded cadets, “It was under the leadership of West Point graduates like the legendary General Matthew Ridgway that the Army was at the forefront of ending the terrible injustice of segregation.  It was Army strength that held the line against the brutal opposition and oppression from Communism.”

The President stressed, “the United States Military is the greatest force for peace and justice the world has ever known.” He proudly cited the “noble power and righteous glory of the American warrior.”

Recent frictions between the U.S. Military brass and Donald Trump concerning the President’s consideration, but not actual deployment, of federal troops to quell recent civil disorders in Washington D.C., clouded the speech.  The mainstream media served as a windy rhetorical backdrop who viewed the splendid Spring day along the majestic Hudson River as an impending storm given the featured commencement speaker.

Interestingly too, the congratulatory speech focused more on the accomplishments (including impressive sports wins) of the graduating class and the Army in general than what the media snidely expected to be a Presidential campaign infomercial in which Donald Trump would wax triumphant about the post-pandemic economic revival.  This was a stately and propitious  presentation which focused on legacy and rose to the occasion of a splendid graduation day.

West Point was established by President Thomas Jefferson as the United States Military Academy in 1802. This unique commencement, during the pandemic, observed strict social distancing rules.  Today’s cadets, the president stressed are “from every race, religion, color, and creed.  But when you entered these grounds, you became part of one team, one family, proudly serving one great American nation.”

“What has historically made America unique is the durability of its institutions against the passions and prejudices of the moment,” the President said, adding, “When times are turbulent, when the road is rough, what matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring, and eternal.”

This needed to be said!

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]