* Says ending Iraq, Afghanistan wars allows U.S. to refocus
* U.S.-China relationship critical with trade booming
* Salutes brave choices of "9/11 generation" soldiers
By Laura MacInnis
WASHINGTON, May 26 Most of the cadets who
graduated on Saturday from West Point were in elementary school
when hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon on
Sept. 11, 2001, and enrolled in the U.S. military academy with
wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Vice President Joe Biden lauded the brave choices of the
Class of 2012 - and their so-called "9/11 generation" - with a
commencement address focused on the United States' new foreign
policy challenges including cyber threats and a rising China.
He noted that nearly 3 million young Americans joined the
military after the al Qaeda attacks, knowing they were likely to
be sent into battle in remote parts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Hundreds of thousands of you have laced up those combat
boots and walked across those barren deserts and snow-capped
mountains," he said in remarks that were also beamed live to the
U.S. Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan as well as the White House
But Biden, whose eldest son Beau served in Iraq as a captain
in the Delaware National Guard and was in the audience at West
Point, said Saturday's graduates would have to focus on a new
set of threats, with the Iraq war over and Afghanistan's ending.
"Winding down these long wars is enabling us to replace and
rebalance our foreign policy, to take on the full range of
challenges that will shape the 21st century, challenges
different than those of the 20th century," he said.
President Barack Obama, who is running for re-election with
Biden in November, unveiled a new military strategy earlier this
year that would "pivot" U.S. attention to Asia as troops return
home from the wars his predecessor George W. Bush launched after
the Sept. 11 attacks.
Biden was careful not to suggest there could be conflict
looming in Asia, but said the growth of international commerce
with the region made it necessary for the United States to give
it more attention.
"The most critical relationship to get right is that between
the United States and China. Every day the affairs of our
nations and the livelihoods of our citizens become more
connected," he said.
The Obama administration also wants stronger ties with other
emerging powers like India, Brazil, Russia, Turkey and South
Africa, said Biden, who has played an important role advising
the president on foreign policy as well as making his
re-election case on the 2012 campaign trail.
He did not say what he expects to transpire in Iran and
North Korea, where tensions about nuclear programs are running
high, nor in Syria where street violence continues despite the
government having nominally agreed to a U.N.-backed peace plan.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee to oppose
Obama in the Nov. 6 election, has accused the current
administration of rushing for the exits in Iraq and Afghanistan
and showing weakness in its dealings with China, Russia and
Biden said the graduates at West Point - whose 2012 class
motto was "For More Than Ourselves" - would have to be ready to
adapt their counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and other
training to new horizons, "from cyber space to outer space."
"This is your destiny, to lead your country. You are the
leaders of your generation, the 9/11 generation, which I predict
will go down in history as the finest generation this nation has
ever produced," he said.