US isn't global policeman but we must lead by diplomacy – Obama
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has sought to re-define the notion of a muscular US foreign policy, warning against "military adventures" and saying that America must lead the world through diplomacy and aid, not war.
The speech has been interpreted as an attempt by his administration to shake off the perception that America has assumed the role of a global policeman.
Facing down accusations of weakness over his handling of crises in Syria, Ukraine and Iran, Mr Obama said that working multilaterally in concert with allies was a sign of strength, not weakness.
"This is American leadership. This is American strength. In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge," Mr Obama said, addressing cadets at West Point military academy.
Reminding his young audience that they were the first class since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, who would not experience combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr Obama argued that no one should mistake US withdrawal for American decline.
"America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise – who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away – are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics," he said.
Mr Obama argued, however, that US strength did not rest solely on military might or a willingness to go to war.
"US military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance," said Mr Obama, adding that Americans should not conclude that every problem had a military solution simply because of the prowess of their armed forces.
"Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail," he said.
The speech, which was billed as defining Mr Obama's foreign policy vision, advocated a middle way between the isolationism of a war-weary US public and the interventionism demanded by hawks.
"The question we face – the question you will face – is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead, not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also to extend peace and prosperity around the globe," said Mr Obama.
While pledging that he believed in the exceptionalism of American values "with every fibre of my being", Mr Obama urged a more pragmatic diplomacy that mixed strategic realpolitik in Egypt, boldness in Burma and economic sanctions against Russia.
"We must mobilise allies and partners to take collective action. We must broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and – if just, necessary, and effective – multilateral military action."
"We must do so because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, and less likely to lead to costly mistakes."
Mr Obama's nuanced approach to foreign policy has won him mixed reviews from the US public, with a recent 'Washington Post'-ABC poll finding that only 47pc of Americans approve of his handling of foreign affairs, compared to 60pc when he took office in 2009.
Mr Obama defended his decision to stay out of Syria's civil war, which has claimed at least 150,000 lives.
Announcing a new $5bn (€3.6bn) 'Counter-Terrorism Partnerships Fund', Mr Obama said he would work with Congress to "ramp up" support for the moderate Syrian opposition, emphasising the need for other nations to share the burden.
"We will continue to co-ordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab world to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and make sure that those countries, and not just the United States, are contributing their fair share of support to the Syrian people," he said.
White House aides said afterwards that Mr Obama was considering ordering the US military to train certain rebel groups, but would first need authority from Congress. The CIA is already training rebels at camps in neighbouring Turkey and Jordan.
Mixing realism with aspiration, Mr Obama summed up by arguing that a pragmatic US foreign policy did not necessarily mean giving up on the goal of spreading universal values of "human dignity".
"Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be – a place where the aspirations of individual human beings matter," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)