Vice President Joe Biden spoke Friday morning to graduating midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, saying he was "very proud" to stand before members of a class who have "already demonstrated the strength of their character."
The speech rehashed a national security strategy that President Barack Obama unveiled Thursday, with Biden stressing that the country's security hinges on a strong economy and deep international ties.
The United States "reserves the right" to strike pre-emptively, he said, but policy-makers will be encouraged to "use all of the arrows in our quiver." Those include diplomacy, foreign aid and international cooperation, he said.
"Strength lies not only in the strength of our power, but the power of our example," he said.
Sounding a theme familiar from Obama's speech at last year's Naval Academy graduation, he said: "We reject as false the notion that we have to choose between safety and our ideals. If we yield on our ideals, they have already won."
Speaking to the class of 1,028 midshipmen, Biden highlighted 11 female graduates who will be the first women assigned as submarine officers. "You 11 submariners will inspire our daughters and our granddaughters to serve our country," he said.
Until this spring, the Navy had barred women from serving on subs because of the close quarters and long trips at sea. This year's class includes 219 women.
Biden also singled out Huy N. Truong, who had been injured while serving in Iraq before he entered the academy. "He could barely speak English, he'd just received his green card, yet he put his life on the line for the nation," Biden said. Truong, a native of Vietnam, caught the attention of his command staff, who helped him apply to the Naval Academy.
The crowd reacted with loud clapping when Biden mentioned Sen. John McCain, Obama's 2008 political opponent, in a list of distinguished Naval Academy graduates. "He deserves a round of applause," Biden said. "He is a great American."
Biden spoke for about 30 minutes and began by absolving any in the class facing punishment for minor misconduct. "I always like to forgive minor infractions," Biden said. "We're not bad, we're not bad guys."
The vice president made no significant policy announcements in his speech, though administrations have frequently hinted at policy initiatives during past graduation speeches. Biden also made no mention of Friday's vote in the House of Representatives to end the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays from serving openly in the military. The measure passed in a largely party-line, 229-186 vote as part of a larger defense authorization bill.
Gov. Martin O'Malley introduced Biden, and moments before the vice president spoke, six Navy FA-18 Hornets from the Blue Angels screeched over Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where friends and family watched the ceremony. The proceedings were broadcast, as they have been in the past, on a jumbo screen sponsored by General Dynamics, a defense contracting company.
The vice president also poked fun at a recent gaffe where he was caught saying a swear word in a comment to Obama. "Be careful of your language in front of a microphone," he told the midshipmen.