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Biden tells West Point graduates winding down of wars gives U.S. new flexibility

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Cadets throw their hats in the air to conclude a graduation and commissioning ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

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WEST POINT, N.Y. — Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday that the United States can now focus on new global challenges after a long decade of war in an election-year commencement address to jubilant graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"Winding down these longs wars has enabled us to replace and rebalance and replace our foreign policy," Biden told the Army cadets and their families at the storied academy's football stadium.

Biden's speech echoed some of the themes of military success struck by President Barack Obama in his commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy last Wednesday. Biden, like Obama, said U.S. combat troops have returned home from Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down and American commandos killed al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

"Those warriors sent a message to the world that if you harm America, we will follow you to the end of the earth," Biden said.

The academy speeches by Obama and Biden counter an assertion from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that the president has led from behind in world affairs. Biden said the United States will continue to take charge internationally and focus on Asia, particularly China, which he called "the most critical relationship to get right."

NATO allies this week affirmed that the war in Afghanistan will halt at the end of 2014. The final U.S. troops left Iraq at the end of last year.

Biden told the 972 graduates of the class of 2012 that they deserve special praise because they decided to pursue military service fully aware of war and danger after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Your generation, the 9/11 generation, is more than worthy of the proud legacy that you will inherit today," Biden said.

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