Obama pledges aid to Syria groups
US President Barack Obama fought back against critics of his foreign policy by insisting US reliance on diplomacy over military intervention was working to resolve global crises like Ukraine and Iran, and he pledged to ramp up support for Syria's opposition.
In the commencement address at the US Military Academy in West Point, Obama laid out his approach to foreign affairs for the rest of his presidency built on a commitment to act in concert with other nations, and he shifted the fight against terrorism from Afghanistan to more diffuse threats globally.
Obama, stung by unrelenting criticism that he has been passive and indecisive as a world leader, spent a large section of his address countering Republicans in Congress and foreign policy experts in Washington who argue for a more aggressive approach to crises from Ukraine to Syria.
He cast himself as striking a middle ground between war mongers and isolationists.
"Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans," he said. America must lead on the world stage but "US military action cannot be the only - or even primary - component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail," he said.
The vision he set out reflected a president determined to avoid a repeat of what he considers a mistaken war in Iraq and to end the conflict in Afghanistan, where the United States sent troops following the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks. But he likely did little to silence critics who feel he is setting aside a global role traditionally filled by robust American policies.
Republican Senator John McCain, whom Obama defeated in the 2008 election, accused the president of "posturing as the voice of reason between extremes," and suggesting that to oppose his policies is to support the unilateral use of military force everywhere. "Literally no one is proposing that, and it is intellectually dishonest to suggest so," he said.
Obama announced a $5 billion proposal to serve as a "partnership fund" to help countries fight terrorism on their soil. The White House said Obama would work with Congress to find the money for the program in the tight federal budget.
The funds would train and equip other countries to fight "violent extremism and terrorist ideology."
Obama's refusal to use military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for use of chemical weapons last year, after he had threatened to do, hurt his image among allies such as Saudi Arabia.
Obama, however, says his threats paid off with an international deal to secure and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.
He said he will work with Congress to "ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators," but he offered no specifics.
Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq will also get additional resources to help house Syrian refugees. That money will come from the new fund, a senior administration official said.
"As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon," Obama said about Syria.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition welcomed Obama's promise. "The Syrian people and the opposition forces stand committed to work with their friends and to expand strategic cooperation in countering the terrorism enabled by the Assad regime in Syria," it said in a statement.