Obama, along with Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen and the Lafourche parish president, Charlotte Randolph, strolled the white sand of Fourchon Beach. Obama knelt to pick up the nickel- to quarter-sized tarballs on the beach where yellow tape cordoned off the water and 7 miles of boom resembled a string of pompoms.
Looking to the water, Obama said conditions were ideal for keeping oil away from the shores.
"It's calm, which means that a lot of boats are out there right now and they're in a position where they can help prevent (the oil) from getting close to shore," he said.
The president praised Lafourche's work in responding to a spill now estimated to be at least twice the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. "This parish has been as effective as any in coordinating and working to make sure they respond quickly."
Obama's administration has received criticism for its response to the spill. A USA Today/Gallup poll indicated 53 percent of Americans believed the government has done a poor job responding to the emergency.
BP reported some progress as it continued to try to cap the spill using a so-called "top kill" method. The full top kill procedure could take up to two more days, BP said. The method involves pumping heavy fluid, known as drilling mud, into the head of the leaking well on the sea floor. Officials said they hoped the drilling mud would stop the flow so cement could be pumped in to seal the well.
Oil has been spilling into the gulf since April 20 when the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon exploded. It sank two days later. Eleven rig workers died.
U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia Minuit said oil is spewing at a rate of between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, CNN reported. The spill rate means 260,000 to 540,000 barrels had leaked as of 10 days ago -- more than the 250,000 barrels spilled when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
"The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times," Obama said, including countering violent extremism and insurgency, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials, preventing conflict, helping poor countries feed themselves and care for their sick and fighting global warming.
"If we are successful in these tasks, that will lessen conflicts around the world," the president told about 20,000 people at the academy, on the Hudson River north of New York City. "It will be supportive of our efforts by our military to secure our country. We must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership."
Noting this is the ninth straight wartime West Point graduation, Obama said the threat of global terrorism "is no less important today than it was in those days after 9/11."
He said the war against international terrorism differs from other wars in one key respect: "There will be no simple moment of surrender to mark the journey's end -- no armistice, no banner headline. Though we have had more success in eliminating al-Qaida leaders in recent months than in recent years, they will continue to recruit, and plot, and exploit our open society."
Obama said failed terror plots like the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner and the failed Times Square car-bombing "show that pressure on networks like al-Qaida is forcing them to rely on terrorists with less time and space to train" them.