MANILA, Philippines - President Obama vigorously defended his foreign policy record Monday, arguing that his cautious approach to global problems has avoided the type of missteps that contributed to a "disastrous" decade of war for the United States.
Obama's expansive comments came at the end of a weeklong Asia trip that exposed growing White House frustration with critics who cast the president as weak and ineffectual on the world stage. The president and his advisers get particularly irked by those who seize on Obama's decision to pull back from a military strike in Syria and link it with virtually every other foreign policy challenge, from Russia's threatening moves in Ukraine to China's increasing assertiveness in Asia's territorial disputes.
"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?" Obama said during a news conference in the Philippines.
Summing up his foreign policy philosophy, Obama said it was one that "avoids errors."
White House advisers argue in part that Obama's approach puts him on the side of a conflict-weary American public, some of whom voted for him in 2008 because of his early opposition to the Iraq war. Yet the president's foreign policy record of late has provided plenty of fodder for his critics.
It was Obama's declaration that Syria's chemical weapons use would cross his "red line" that raised the stakes for a U.S. response when Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched an attack last summer. The Obama administration's own drumbeat toward a U.S. strike only fueled the narrative that the president was indecisive or didn't have the stomach for an attack when he abruptly pulled back.
While Obama did not call out any of his critics by name, the White House has often been frustrated with two sets of foreign policy critics: Republican lawmakers like Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who takes a more hawkish position than Obama on nearly every issue, and foreign policy commentators who use their platforms on television or editorial pages to push the president to take a more aggressive approach.
"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 had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests," Obama said.
Obama spoke on the final full day of his four-country Asia swing. The centerpiece of his president's trip was a 10-year security agreement signed with the Philippines on Monday that will give the U.S. military greater access to bases on the Southeast Asian nation, which is struggling to bolster its territorial defense amid China's increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea
Despite Obama's warm welcome from President Benigno Aquino, the United States' increased military role drew consternation from some Filipino activists, who say the agreement reverses democratic gains achieved when huge U.S. military bases were shut down in the early 1990s, ending a nearly century-long military presence in the former U.S. colony.