Obama: Not every problem has military solution

Obama: Not every problem has military solution

Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 27: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about troop pullout from Afghanistan at the White House on May 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. The administration's plan is to keep a contingency force of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, consolidating them in Kabul and on Bagram Air Base. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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by DAVID JACKSON

USA TODAY

Posted on May 28, 2014 at 10:44 AM

President Obama sought Wednesday to recast American foreign policy after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, outlining an approach built on alliances with other nations designed to combat terrorism and other global threats.

"America must always lead on the world stage," Obama told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy, but he added that "military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance."

He added: "Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail."

In urging multilateral action with other nations, Obama proposed a new fund of up to $5 billion to help other allies battle groups that engage in terrorism.

The president also discussed ways to provide more help for rebels in Syria battling Bashar al-Assad's government.

Obama's prepared speech covered a variety of global problems, including Russia's incursion into Ukraine, Iran's nuclear program, the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, and the Middle East peace process.

"The question we face ... is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead," Obama said. "Not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also to extend peace and prosperity around the globe."

The speech came a day after Obama announced a final drawdown plan for Afghanistan after U.S. combat operations end later this year. In his commencement address, Obama told the West Point graduates that they will be the first class since 2001 not to be sent to combat theaters in Afghanistan or Iraq, though many challenges remain.

More than a dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism remains "the most direct threat to America at home and abroad," Obama said.

The United States remains the world's leader and its economy is strengthening, but that presents challenges as well as opportunities. Obama said. "Technology and globalization" have given more power to individuals at the expense of states, he said, "raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm."

Republicans and other critics have accused Obama of weakness and indecision, encouraging aggressive behavior by Russia, Syria, Iran and China, among others.

Taking issue with critics on both the right and the left, Obama said that "it is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option" — but that does not mean "that every problem has a military solution."

In apparent references to Vietnam and Iraq, Obama said that "since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences."

Obama did not disavow the prospect of unilateral American military action, saying he would use it "when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihood is at stake; or when the security of our allies is in danger."

In other cases, however, "we should not go it alone," Obama said. "Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action."

That includes the proposed "Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund" of up to $5 billion. Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS This Morning that the fund would be used "to help train other countries, other people, in their ability to join in alliances to take on this rising radical extremism that challenges rule of law in so many places."

In his commencement address at West Point, Obama also outlined what he called "elements of American leadership."

They include efforts to provide more public information about U.S. defense programs, including the use of drones and the much-criticized National Security Agency intelligence surveillance programs.

Obama also pledged to strengthened international institutions that can help the global economy, from the United Nations to the International Monetary Fund. He said working with other nations can help the United States forge a long-term agreement over Iran's nuclear program.

Global leadership "requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty," Obama said, but also "to see the world as it should be."

During their service, Obama said to the West Point graduates, "you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts. You will get to know allies and train partners. You will embody what it means for America to lead."

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