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Sunday, October 23, 2016

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called Wednesday for a foreign policy that downplays military intervention in favor of diplomacy and international partnerships, defending his approach as better suited to a world grappling with global threats of terror.

“This is American leadership. This is American strength,” Obama said of efforts to work with Europe to isolate Russia for its intervention in Ukraine and to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear pursuit. He acknowledged that neither crisis has yet been resolved, but argued there’s an opportunity to resolve them peacefully.

In a speech before graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the president sought to rebut criticism that his foreign policy has been one of retrenchment, even as he declared that the U.S. remains indispensable and will strike if its interests are threatened.

“America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will,” he said, telling the cadets that the U.S. military “is and always will be the backbone of that leadership.”

The speech comes amid criticism that Obama’s cautious approach to conflict has emboldened U.S. adversaries such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region earlier this year despite the threat of sanctions.

But Obama argued that a military response “cannot be the only or even primary” solution to every conflict.

“Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail,” he said.

Since World War II, he said, “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.”

The speech came a day after Obama unveiled his plan to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year. Cadets cheered as the president said they would be the first graduating class since Sept. 11, 2001, not to be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.