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Obama touts foreign policy victories at Air Force graduation

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO -- President Obama told the graduating class of Air Force Academy cadets that they would be starting their military careers in an international environment shaped largely by his administration's policies.

The president described a new era in combat defined by stronger international alliances and a leaner fighting force, shaped by this administration's work to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and efforts to overhaul the defense budget.

“For a decade, we have labored under the dark cloud of war. Now, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” Obama said, noting that this class was the first to graduate in nine years with no American soldiers fighting in Iraq. He mentioned several of his administration’s other defining national security actions, including killing Osama bin Laden, putting al Qaeda on “the path to defeat,” and drawing down forces in Afghanistan.

“Ending these wars will also ensure that the burden of our security no longer falls so heavily on the shoulders of our men and women in uniform. As good as you are, you can’t be expected to do it alone.”

Obama, who campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, suggested that the view of the United States around the world has improved since his administration implemented his national security plan.

“Around the world, the United States is leading once more. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are stronger than ever. Our ties with the Americas are deeper. We’re setting the agenda in the region that will shape our long-term security and prosperity like no other—the Asia-Pacific.”

“When people around the world are asked, 'Which country do you admire most?' one nation comes out on top: the United States of America,” he added.

During the speech at the Academy’s Falcon Field, the president also seemed to subtly push back on some criticisms he’s weathered from opponents on his approach to national security.

Alluding to the criticism that the United States had “led from behind” during the March 2011 military operations in Libya, the president turned that phrase around, saying that the military prevented a massacre in the country “with an international mission in which the United States – and our Air Force – led from the front,” with extra emphasis on the last word of the sentence.

Obama also paraphrased a conservative buzzword –- “American exceptionalism” -- often used by Republican detractors to criticize the president's worldview.

“The United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs. This is one of the many examples of why America is exceptional,” he said.

And later, he used the phrase again: “I see an American Century because of the character of our country—the spirit that has always made us exceptional.”

The president also noted the spending reductions that will affect the military in the coming years, mandated in part by last summer's debt-ceiling agreement. But he said that he would not “allow us to make the mistakes of the past,” without getting into specifics.

The trip was the president’s second to Colorado, a crucial swing state for his re-election, in a month. He visited the University of Colorado at Boulder on April 23 on an official visit intended to urge Congress to pass measures to keep student loan interest rates low.