Obama: U.S. must lead globally but show restraint

WEST POINT, N.Y — In a broad defense of his foreign policy, President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that the U.S. remains the world’s most indispensable nation, even after a “long season of war,” but argued for restraint before embarking on more military adventures.

Standing before the newest class of officers graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, Obama said, “I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.”

Obama’s speech signaled a concerted effort by the White House to push back on those critics, who contend that the president’s approach to global problems has been too cautious and has emboldened adversaries. It’s a criticism that deeply frustrates the president and his advisers, who say Obama’s efforts to keep the U.S. out of more military conflicts are in line with the views of the American public.

Even as the U.S. emerges from the two wars that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Obama said terrorism remains the most direct threat to American security. But he argued that as the threat has shifted from a centralized al-Qaida to an array of affiliates, the American response must change too.

Rather than launching large-scale military efforts, Obama called for partnering with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold. That effort includes a new $5 billion fund to help countries fight terrorism and to expand funding for Defense Department intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, special operations and other activities.

Obama cast the bloody civil war in Syria as more of counterterrorism challenge than a humanitarian crisis. He defended his decision to keep the U.S. military out of the conflict but said he would seek to increase support for the Syrian opposition, as well as neighboring countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq that have faced an influx of refugees and fear the spread of terrorism.

“In helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos,” Obama said.

One plan being considered by the White House is a new project to train and equip members of the Free Syrian Army on tactics, including counterterrorism.

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