Barack Obama has insisted that the US cannot solve all the world’s problems with military intervention amid criticism from opponents that his foreign policy is too “weak”.
Speaking at the US Military Academy in New York, he argued for restraint before embarking on more military interventions like the costly ongoing war in Afghanistan.
The President said: “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.”
The White House is trying to win ground from critics who argue that the administration’s approach to international problems has been too cautious and emboldened adversaries.
Mr Obama said terrorism remains the most direct threat to American security but he argued that as the threat has shifted from al-Qa'ida to an array of affiliates, the response must also change.
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 US Congress to support a counter-terrorism fund that would help support Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq in their work with refugees and against extremists.
He also used the speech to reaffirm his decision not to put American troops in the middle of the Syrian civil war.
Mr Obama said: “As president, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision.
”But that does not mean we shouldn't help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.“
Earlier this week, the President outlined a plan to withdraw all but 9,800 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and the rest by 2016, ending more than a decade of US military engagement.
Critics fault him for not intervening in the Syrian civil war and for not being more effective at countering China's assertiveness in the South China Sea and Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
”There's an extreme indecisiveness and cautiousness that just worries people,“ said Senator Bob Corker, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Additional reporting by AP and Reuters