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Obama unveils US$5b anti-terrorism fund

US President Obama has used a speech at West Point Military Academy to set out his foreign policy objectives, and the president said there would be a US$5 billion “terrorism partnership fund” to help other countries tackle extremism.

WASHINGTON: US President Obama has used a speech at West Point Military Academy to set out his foreign policy objectives, and attempt to face down his critics over what are perceived as weak stances on a series of international crises.

The president said there would be a US$5 billion “terrorism partnership fund” to help other countries tackle extremism, but there were no new announcements on tackling problems in Syria or Ukraine.

Weak, rudderless, vacillating -- those are just some of the criticisms that have been directed against President Obama's foreign policy recently, at home and abroad.

At West Point, standing with rows of cadets in shiny dress uniform, the president's aim was to look every inch the commander-in-chief.

But his message was more one of a diplomat or strategist-in-chief instead, saying that the military should not always be the primary part of America's leadership in the world.

Mr Obama said: “I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I ever sent you into harm's way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.”

Even as the president was speaking, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine were building roadblocks in the streets of Donetsk.

But Mr Obama said America's ability to shape world opinion has isolated Moscow, and that the US-led condemnation of Russian actions helped last weekend's elections to take place in Ukraine.

He elaborated: “We don't know how the situation will play out, and there will be grave challenges. But standing with our allies on behalf of international order, working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future, without us firing a shot.”

And, said Mr Obama, another place where no US shots were fired is Burma, which he visited in 2012, and where he said American diplomacy, not military might, helped set the country on a path to reform.

Partnership is the name of the game. The president also announced US$5 billion to help train other countries in the Middle East and North Africa in anti-terror efforts, rather than send in US troops solo.

But some experts are concerned that those schemes -- and the president's decision to take a more hands-off approach -- may be ineffective.

Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow of foreign policy programme at Brookings Institution, said: “Any time you're trying to do a light footprint in a place like Mali or Libya and hoping that short, limited and very confined foreign presence can make a big difference, you're hoping to get lucky. And it's not clear that it's going to work.

“So I think we're falling into this dangerous mode which is evocative of how we tried to handle Afghanistan in 2002, 2003, 2004… hoping that a minimalist effort will do the trick, but quite often it hasn't and it may not again.”

This is not a White House itching to send you into battle to show American military might, was President Obama's message to cadets at West Point.

As a result, his speech was not the muscular riposte to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin that some had hoped, but -- with the shadow of Iraq looming -- a more middle of the road approach.

Above all else, the US president wants to be remembered as a leader who ends wars, not one who starts them. 

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