In a broad defense of his foreign policy, President Barack Obama announced a new strategy Wednesday, calling on Congress to approve a $5 billion “partnership fund” to promote anti-terrorism collaboration worldwide.
Standing before the newest class of officers graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, Obama said the United States remains the world’s only indispensable nation. “We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries,” he said. But he defended his recent decisions against military action, calling them a sign of strength, not weakness.
Obama argued that because the primary threat to the United States has shifted from a centralized al-Qaeda to an array of terrorist 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 the new $5 billion fund to help countries fight terrorism and to expand funding for Defense Department intelligence, surveillance, and other activities. Countries he cited for the funds included Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Mali. But the ongoing conflict in Syria, he said, will be a “critical focus” of the partnership strategy. Obama cast Syria’s bloody civil war as more of a counterterrorism challenge than a humanitarian crisis, and the Associated Press is reporting the Obama administration may authorize training for Syrian rebels.
Splintered anti-government forces in the country, mingled with Islamic extremists, have led the charge in a surge of murders of Christians and Muslim minorities alike. In an apparent attempt to ease those concerns, administration officials say the “moderates” trained would be “carefully screened members of the Free Syrian Army.”
By supporting them, Obama said Wednesday, “we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.” He also called for aiding Syria’s Arab neighbors who are caring for refugees—but who also are supporting the Syrian opposition, presumably without screening.
This preference for acting as part of an international coalition was the centerpiece of Obama’s address. He challenged skeptics who see that approach as a sign of weakness and argued instead that it highlights America’s ability to lead on the world stage.
He took credit for mobilizing public opinion against Russia and the subsequent sanctions isolating it. He also praised negotiations with Iran, stating the United States has “a real chance” at a breakthrough agreement. But while pledging to take action when “our people are threatened,” he never mentioned imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, or any other American Christians detained abroad.
The president’s speech came one day after he outlined plans to wind down America’s lengthy war in Afghanistan by the end of 2016. The blueprint calls for keeping 9,800 troops in Afghanistan for training and counterterrorism operations, even after combat missions end later this year. That final contingent would withdraw within two years.
Celebrating the prospect that the graduating officers probably wouldn’t head to Iraq or Afghanistan, he promised any future direct action to protect American interests would have to pass a test. “We should not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield,” he said.
Obama praised U.S. international humanitarian efforts and pledged to “continue to push” to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, a promise he made before becoming president. He also took the opportunity to mention the “creeping national security crisis” called climate change. Leading on international collaboration, he said, means “putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.”
“Global leadership requires us to see the world as it is,” Obama said, but also “as it should be.”