Obama tells military grads U.S. needs 'steady' leader

US President Barack Obama is greeted upon arrival at Peterson Air Force Base June 1, 2016 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Story highlights

  • Obama spoke at the Air Force Academy
  • The President decried any turn toward isolationism

(CNN)President Barack Obama Thursday used his final commencement address at a U.S. military academy to talk about the security challenges facing America, to make the case for a steady commander-in-chief, and to urge that America not look away from the world in isolationism.

While Obama did not mention presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in his remarks to graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he rebutted some of the foreign policy arguments Trump has put forward -- proposals that lean toward reducing America's role in global affairs.
    "As we navigate this complex world, America cannot shirk the mantle of leadership," Obama said. "We can't be isolationist. It's not possible in this globalized, interconnected world. In these uncertain times, it's tempting sometimes to pull back and try to wash our hands of conflicts that seem intractable, let other countries fend for themselves. But history teaches us, from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, that oceans alone cannot protect us. We cannot turn inward."
    The President said being commander-in-chief was the "highest honor of my life."
    Obama added that while the country faces big challenges, American values like freedom and equal opportunity inspire the world, including immigrants striving to reach U.S. shores.
    The speech to the Air Force Academy's class of 2016, which was more a tribute to the school's 812 graduates and to the U.S. military, highlighted the threats facing national and global security, from terrorism to Russian aggression to the conflict in the South China Sea.
    Obama's remarks came just hours before former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to deliver a foreign policy address in California in which aides said she would slam Trump's foreign policy approach and lay out why she believes he is "unqualified" and "unfit" to serve as president.
    Obama also argued that treaties -- some of which Trump has questioned -- help keep America safe, citing as an example the treaty that established NATO.
    Obama opened his remarks hailing the airmen he has come to know as president and joking that some days he spends more time with those in the Air Force than with his own family.
    "I'm really gonna miss Air Force One," the President said, after noting the crew's punctuality, the fact that he does not have to take off his shoes before he flies, and that his luggage never gets lost.
    "We can never know what the future holds but in the not so distant future when I'm no longer president, I will sleep knowing men and women like you serve to keep us free."