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US to boost aid to Syrian opposition

By Lesley Clark
McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Barack Obama used a commencement address today at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to defend his foreign policy against critics who say he’s too tepid -- and said the U.S. will increase support for the moderate opposition in Syria.

Obama pledged to work with Congress to “ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator” and called for Congress to support a new counter-terrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion, which he said would allow the U.S. to “train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.” Those resources, he said, would help Syria’s neighbors – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq – as they host refugees, and confront terrorists working across Syrian borders.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. looks at Syria “as part of a broader counterterrorism challenge, and that is why we're going to continue increasing our support to the moderate opposition, who offer the best alternative to both the murderous Assad dictatorship and the extremists who have exploited the crisis.”

Much of Obama’s speech sought to put U.S. foreign policy in a new context as the U.S. exits conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but faces a myriad of challenges elsewhere.

The speech comes a day after Obama laid out his plans to cease combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year and remove almost all troops within a year.

He took on critics who have charged that his approach to foreign policy is too timid and has emboldened U.S. adversaries, saying military action cannot be the sole answer.

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

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