President Barack Obama pushed back against critics of his foreign policy in his commencement speech Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He argued for restraint before embarking on more military ventures and called for partnering with other countries to deal with many problems.
Some highlights of his speech:
TERRORISM — Obama said terrorism remains America's greatest threat, but he also described a shift to more decentralized networks than the core al-Qaida that carried out the 9/11 attack. He argued it's not feasible to invade every country that harbors terrorists and said that instead America's strategy should shift to partnering with countries where those networks seek a foothold. He said he's asked his national security team to plan for a network of partnerships to address emerging threats across the Middle East and North Africa and he wants Congress to approve a new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion.
MILITARY FORCE — The president rejected the argument that his foreign policy has been too cautious, while also rejecting those who say the United States should not get involved in foreign disputes that don't directly affect Americans. He argued the U.S. should promote freedom as a "moral imperative" and a way to keep the world safe. But he also said military force should not be the primary way to pursue peace and freedom abroad. He said the U.S. should use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when Americans are threatened or allies' security is in danger. But he said without a direct threat, the U.S. should mobilize allies and seek diplomatic solutions.
DRONES — Obama said counterterrorism partnerships will not eliminate the need for drone strikes against terror suspects. He said the strikes should be limited to an imminent threat where there is "near certainty" of no civilian casualties. "Our actions should meet a simple test: We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield," Obama said. He also said there should be more openness about the way strikes are carried out.
SYRIA — Obama stood by his decision not to send Americans troops into Syria and argued there is no military solution that can eliminate suffering there. He said he will work with Congress to increase support for the Syrian opposition against President Bashar Assad, whom he described as "a dictator who bombs and starves his own people." He said Syria would be a critical focus of the new counterterrorism partnerships, with increased support for Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to handle refugees and fight terrorists working across Syria's borders.
NIGERIA — Obama said no American security operation can eradicate the threat from an extremist group like Nigeria's Boko Haram, responsible for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls. He said the world must focus not just on rescuing the girls, but educating Nigerian youth to prevent extremism. He said using the military for diplomacy and development is an important aspect of U.S. strength and should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan.
EGYPT — Obama defended his decision not to cut off relations with Egypt after violent clashes in the streets between police and protesters. He acknowledged that the relationship is anchored in U.S. security interests in the region and said the U.S. will continue to press Egypt's leaders for reforms.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION — Obama rejected skeptics who argue that working through organizations like the U.N. is a sign of weakness. He pointed to isolation of Russia over its action in Ukraine and negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program as examples of effective international cooperation. He said international efforts are more likely to be effective and durable and keep the world on the side of the U.S. He said the U.S. should lead an effort to change the structure of international institutions, such as NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to fight global problems.