Obama defends leading role for US but cautions against more military actions

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President Barack Obama insists that the US remains the world’s most indispensable nation even after a “long season of war”, but argued for restraint before embarking on more military adventures.

Speaking at West Point, the US Military Academy, Mr Obama offered a broad defence of his foreign policy, saying: “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.”

Mr Obama’s speech came as the White House seeks to take on critics who say the US president’s approach to global problems has been too cautious and has emboldened adversaries.

He and his advisers say his efforts to keep the US out of more military conflicts are in line with the views of the American public.

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

He said he would work with Congress to increase support for members of the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and to Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Mr Obama is calling on Congress to support a $5bn counter-terrorism fund that would help support Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. All those countries have Syrian refugees and they are confronting terrorists working across Syria’s borders.

He also used the speech to reaffirm his decision not to put American troops in the middle of the Syrian civil war.

The conflict is now in its fourth year. More than 162,000 people have been killed and one-third of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million has been displaced.

The president said he will continue to “take direct action” by ordering drone strikes. However, he restated his policy that no drone strike should occur unless there is “a near certainty” that no civilians will be harmed.