- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2014

After securing a defense agreement with the Philippines that represents one of the most tangible accomplishments of his weeklong Asia trip, President Obama on Monday attacked his foreign policy critics for not understanding the lessons of history and said direct U.S. military involvement in places such as Ukraine and Syria isn’t the answer.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Benigno Aquino, the president of the Philippines, Mr. Obama didn’t name names but clearly was shooting back at detractors such as Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and leading critic of the administration’s approach in hotspots around the world.

Mr. McCain, for example, has advocated for the U.S. to provide weapons to Ukraine as a way to fend off further Russian aggression — an idea Mr. Obama dismissed out of hand on Monday while also painting the opposition to his foreign policy as too eager for war.

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?” Mr. Obama said. “Frankly, most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people have no interest in participating in. … Do people actually think us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could deter the Russian army?”

Mr. Obama made the comments after confirming the White House on Monday will announce a new round of economic sanctions against Russia. The sanctions will remain targeted at specific individuals and will not be the kind of broader “sectoral” sanctions that some have called for.

Before the 45-minute press conference, the White House also announced a new defense agreement with the Philippines that will provide for bilateral training exercises between the two nations. The deal also will involve sending more American planes and ships to the nation and will see more U.S. service members rotating through the Philippines.

The deal is one of the most significant accomplishments of the president’s Asian trip, which thus far has failed to produce a final agreement on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a key goal going into the weeklong visit.

But the defense agreement, by boosting America’s military presence in the Pacific even further, may raise tensions with China.

“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China,” the president said when asked about the U.S. policy toward the burgeoning Asian power.

The Philippines, Japan and other Pacific nations remain in disputes with China over control of parts of the South China Sea.

Mr. Obama said those issues should be settled peacefully and without the threat of force.

“We don’t even take a specific position on the disputes between nations, but as a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes,” he said.

Meanwhile, the administration is set to impose further sanctions on Russian leaders in an effort to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine.

But even Mr. Obama admitted that he’s not sure if the new steps will truly have an impact.

“The goal here is not to go after [Russian President Vladimir] Putin personally. The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions he’s engaging in in Ukraine could have an adverse effects on the Russian economy over the long haul and to encourage him to actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to diplomatically resolving the crisis in Ukraine,” the president said. “These sanctions represent the next stage in a calibrated effort to change Russian behavior. We don’t yet know if it’s going to work.”

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